2016 Opponent Look Ahead: Virginia Tech

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    Battle at Bristol image

    Virginia Tech vs Tennessee

    When: Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016 at 7:00pm EST

    Where: Bristol, TN (Bristol Motor Speedway)

    Early line: Tennessee favored by 11 (per South Point Casino)

    Virginia Tech at a glance

    Head coach: Justin Fuente (1st year)

    Conference: ACC

    All-time record: 712–451–46

    2015 results: 7-6 (4-4); Beat Tulsa 55-52 in Independence Bowl

    Record against Tennessee: 3-5; Last meeting was a 37-14 victory for VT in 2009

    2015 Overview: The Virginia Tech Hokies saw the end of an era in 2015, as long-time coach Frank Beamer retired at the end of the season. Although it was sad to see him go, Vol fans can empathize as his departure had a similar taste to the resignation of former Vols coach Phil Fulmer.

    The Hokies really struggled in 2015, just barely becoming bowl eligible with a win in their final regular season game over in-state rival Virginia. Led by running back Travon McMillon and wide receiver Isaiah Ford, the Hokies were 53rd nationally in scoring offense, averaging 31 points per game. An injury to quarterback Michael Brewer made it really tough for the Virginia Tech offense to bounce back after tough losses early in the season.

    Defensive coordinator Bud Foster ventured into uncharted territory as the Hokies struggled to keep teams from scorin,g allowing a staggering 26.3 points per game – good enough for 59th in the country. Although there was a serious lack of quarterback pressure (just 26 sacks), the Hokies defense forced 25 turnovers – six more than Tennessee in 2015.

    If you watched the Hokies in 2015, you could see the weekly struggle. They simply were not as good as a Frank Beamer coached team should be – which is partially why he stepped down. Still, the players found a way to send Beamer out with a win in his 22nd consecutive bowl appearance and beat Tulsa in the Independence Bowl.

    Three questions for this game:

    1. How will the crowd/atmosphere factor in to the game?

    Bristol Motor Speedway is almost big enough to fit both Neyland Stadium and Lane Stadium’s seating capacities inside itself. With an expected 150,000+ fans in attendance, it will easily be the largest college football game ever. And ESPN’s College GameDay very well could be there. But how will that play in to the game? The atmosphere for the game will be electric, and frankly a circus at times. Heck, there’s going to be a Kenny Chesney concert before the game! That’s not something that happens for normal week 2 college football games.

    Nerves will be rattling and it will be very loud. It will be interesting to see if these factors play a part in affecting the game at all.

    2. Which defensive guru will shine?

    Virginia Tech may have had a down year defensively in 2015, but don’t let that fool you. Bud Foster is a defensive genius. Just look at the numbers. He is one of the best defensive coordinators in the country. On the flip side, Tennessee’s first-year defensive coordinator Bob Shoop is no scrub himself. Both guys are arguably two of the top defensive coordinators in the country and this game against one another will be their first test against a worthy adversary in 2016. Foster has more experience and has been at Virginia Tech for over 20 years. Whereas Shoop has more talented players and is expected to have one of the best defenses in the country. It’s safe to say neither team will completely shut out the other, but which defense will look better when it’s all said and done?

    3. How will Jerod Evans perform at QB for Virginia Tech?

    It seems every year at least one quarterback has a coming out party against Tennessee. Last year it was Baker Mayfield for Oklahoma – who was also a transfer quarterback and played Tennessee in the second week of the season. Could JUCO transfer Jerod Evans be the next Baker Mayfield and break the hearts of Tennessee fans everywhere? First he has to win the job in fall camp, but if he does that, as many are expecting, he’s a breakout candidate.

    He was rated 4-stars and the number-one dual-threat junior college QB in the country by 247 Sports last season so to say he doesn’t have potential is just not true. But, will he live up to that potential? And how will he handle the pressure that Tennessee’s defense is going to bring? If he answers the call the same way Mayfield did, Tennessee better watch out.

    How do we expect it to play out?

    First off, let me just point out how cool it is that these teams played three games against each other before the year 1900, first meeting in 1896. Talk about history, right? Anyways…

    It’s so hard to gauge everything in this game. The venue, the atmosphere, Tech’s new head coach and quarterback, Tennessee’s new defensive coordinator…there are just a lot of unknowns. But I see this game going one of three ways:

    1. Both teams have early game jitters with some sloppy play here and there. The game stays pretty close until the 4th quarter when Tennessee’s depth becomes the X-factor to put the Hokies away in a game decided by 10 points or less.

    2. Tennessee slaughters them.

    3. Somewhere between 1 and 2

    Personally, I’m going with option #3. Some nerves are likely to be flying and there may even be a frustrating turnover or two, but I fully expect the better team to win. And make no mistake about it, Tennessee is simply a better team. I do believe Justin Fuente is a very good coach and will be very successful at Virginia Tech in the future. But in his second game at a new school, which happens to be the biggest football game ever attended, I expect the better team to win. Bob Shoop’s defense will be too much for the Hokies’ offense and Bud Foster will struggle to put together a defensive scheme that can stop the running tandem of Jalen Hurd, Alvin Kamara and Joshua Dobbs. So while there may be some early bugs to work out, barring any crazy injuries, Tennessee should win this game comfortably.

    Score prediction: 38-17 Tennessee