Positives for Virginia Tech Football Entering the Offseason

Virginia Tech’s 2018 season did not come to a merciful end. The Hokies lost a back-and-forth slugfest with Cincinnati by a score of 35-31, which included a 64-yard drive by the Bearcats in the final minutes that sealed the Hokies’ fate.

The Hokies finished this year 6-7, marking the program’s first losing record since 1992. This was an infuriating season for fans, mired dismissals of star players, embarrassing defeats and calls of changes to the coaching staff.

But Tech’s season of agony and despair is over. Virginia Tech can now focus on finishing up the 2019 recruiting class and get ready for winter workouts. The focus in Tech’s football offices will no doubt be turning towards next season over the coming days and weeks, so our focus should turn as well. I’ve written extensively about Virginia Tech’s struggles in 2018. Now, let’s focus on some of the positives heading into 2019.

Options at quarterback

Despite losing Josh Jackson to a broken leg early in the season, Virginia Tech’s quarterback play was relatively good all season long.

Here are Tech’s quarterback stats for 2018…

  • Josh Jackson: Three games, 36-of-58, 575 passing yards, 20 carries, 61 rushing yards, six total touchdowns, one interception
  • Ryan Willis: 12 games, 213-of-364, 2716 passing yards, 113 carries, 354 rushing yards, 28 total touchdowns, nine interceptions
  • Quincy Patterson: Three games, 1-of-5, nine passing yards, nine carries, 25 rushing yards
  • Hendon Hooker: Three games, four carries, 57 yards, one rushing touchdown

Neither Jackson nor Willis played bad, in the overall scheme of things. Both had low points in their seasons, but in the aggregate, the two played well. Patterson and Hooker failed to make a serious impact on the season.

Next year, there will be an open quarterback competition. Jackson, Willis and Patterson (and Hooker if he sticks around) will be fighting for the job, with all three having a legitimate argument. Jackson is the most experienced and has the most time in the offense. Willis presents a higher upside, in terms of throwing the ball, while Patterson is the up and coming prodigy.

Whoever wins the starting job at quarterback should give Virginia Tech good quarterback play. If things go right, the level might be even higher than that. But Tech fans should have little reason to worry about their signal caller in 2019.

Serious talent and depth at wide receiver

Both Damon Hazelton and Eric Kumah emerged as legitimate threats on the outside this season, catching a combined 93 passes for 1,361 yards and 15 touchdowns. Hazelton started the season hot, catching touchdowns in eight of Virginia Tech’s first nine games. Kumah emerged later in 2018, hauling in five touchdowns in Virginia Tech’s final six contests.

Hazelton and Kumah should both be starting next season, given that Kumah returns to school and doesn’t test the NFL waters. Tre Turner came on late in the season as well and with the three all slated to return next year, Tech’s starting receivers are very good.

Even the backups should be able to hold their own. Hezekiah Grimsley has played in 23 games in two seasons and caught 31 passes for 382 yards this year. Should he return, Phil Patterson gives Tech another older player with three years in the program. Freshmen Darryle Simmons and DeJuan Ellis are coming off redshirt seasons and Tech signed four receivers in the 2019 class.

Not only does Virginia Tech have top-of-the-line talent at wide receiver, they have the depth to match it. The Hokies should have no problem putting explosive players on the field in 2019, which will raise the offense’ level of success.

More experience on defense

I don’t need to run through the statistics to tell you how bad Virginia Tech’s defense was in 2018. Bud Foster’s unit let down the team repeatedly this season.

Things should improve. Even though many of this year’s starters struggled, 10 of them will return next season. Most of this year’s starters will be back next season with another year in the strength and conditioning program, as well as another spring season to learn the defense.

Returning that many starters doesn’t guarantee that Virginia Tech will return to their normal defensive ways in 2019. But it does mean that most of them should improve. Dax Hollifield is already pretty good for a true freshman, and another year should make him one of the better linebackers in the conference. Houshun Gaines proved to be a borderline-elite pass rusher before suffering a season-ending knee injury. Bryce Watts and Caleb Farley have nowhere to go but up after this season, and another year of experience should help Divine Deablo be a better safety.

Fans should expect the defense to be better in 2019. How much better is the real question. Are there any other areas you’re expecting to improve in 2019? Leave them in the comments below.

15 thoughts on “Positives for Virginia Tech Football Entering the Offseason”

  1. It has been mentioned many times but basic fundamentals, especially TACKLING, must improve. In addition, there appeared to be many missed assignments. It looked like we were simply overpowered at the point of attack in many games. Hopefully, another year of experience and our weight program will fix this. If not, it will be another down year

    1. Virginia Tech was uncharacteristically poor at tackling this season. I find it hard to believe Foster would let them struggle in that area for two years in a row.

    1. I’m really curious to see how the loss of Peoples changes things. He was a jack-of-all-trades kind of player and I don’t think there’s anyone on the roster that can fill that role.

  2. the key it seems to me is not the talent, its the position coaching. Can Mitchell and Nix do a better job at their end. They need to know that THEIR positions are on the line this coming season. Same for Charley W. for that matter.

    1. I do believe talent and players are more important than coaching, but I do have serious questions about both Brian Mitchell and Tyrone Nix. Neither of their groups performed well and in my eyes, most of their players regressed this season.

  3. In the Military Bowl on several plays it seemed that there were wide areas of turf right in the middle of the field where we had no defenders when the ball was snapped. On a couple of those plays Cincinnati ran right to those gaping holes. Are we supposed to line up this way, or were players out of position. In these cases once the runner got past the line of scrimmage there was no one there (for example, a safety) to make a play.

  4. I believe we lose 3 offensive line starters to graduation this year. In 2018 we recruited Tenuta, Harris, Kane, and Culver for OL, and in in 2019 we recruited Hanson, Pritchard, and Hudson. Will any of these new recruits be able to contribute next year?

  5. Special Teams: I know we lost Stroman who is an amazing open field athlete but we need to; and I would expect to improve in special teams. Get back to putting your best players on special teams. Those are opportunities to turn games around as we saw with Tre Turners blocked punt against UVA. Two Hokies missed perfect opportunity to block a put vs Cincy.

    1. Having older players on special teams will help. Many of Tech’s special teamers this season were young guys with little game experience.

  6. My defense of this year’s squad was always men playing against kids. The kids we played are all talented but putting so many kids on the field at the same time playing against teams loaded with men was a disaster waiting to happen. Juniors, RS Juniors, Seniors and RS Seniors playing with college experience and multiple years in a college weight room had us over matched all over the field. Multiple spots where they exploited their strengths against our weaknesses. The defensive side of the ball wont suddenly be great next year but I expect it to better compete as our kids develop into men.

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