Virginia Tech returns eight starters on offense, including every offensive player who scored a point last year. That sounds impressive, until you consider how few points the Hokies scored. They were 93rd nationally in that category in 2014.
Part of that can be blamed on youth and injuries. Mostly, though, Virginia Tech’s offensive struggles last year were the result of the inconsistent play of quarterback Michael Brewer and the porous performance of the offensive line.
Ohio State fans who remember broadcasters comparing Brewer to Russell Wilson during the Hokies September date with the Buckeyes in 2014 may be surprised to learn that Brewer ended his campaign with 18 touchdowns to 15 interceptions. In his defense, he was new to coordinator Scot Loeffler’s offense. Plus, he was sacked on more than 6 percent of the team’s passing plays, even though most of these plays were designed to only cover a short distance.
Brewer did win most improved honors for this spring. However, the line is still an awfully big question mark. The three offensive starters Virginia Tech lost to graduation were a guard, tackle and center. As a result, four of the five projected first-teamers this year have fewer than 10 career starts under their belt.
Brewer does have a gigantic target in 6’5″ tight end Bucky Hodges. Hodges has already broken the Virginia Tech record for receiving yards and touchdown receptions by a tight end in a single season…and he’s just a redshirt sophomore.
Senior running back J.C. Coleman started to hit a groove at the end of last year with 468 yards in his final four games.
But the strength of the team, as it seemingly always has been, is the Virginia Tech defense.
The Hokies starting defensive linemen have combined for 74 career starts, and they’ve all earned All-ACC honors at some point in their careers. True, Luther Maddy, Corey Marshall, and Ken Ekanem all missed spring ball with injuries, but that just allowed the team to build depth at the position. They liked what they saw from Vinny Mihota in particular. So much so, they will have him play multiple spots along the line.
Oh, and we haven’t even mentioned Dadi Nicolas yet. He had such a productive junior season (18.5 tackles for loss and 9.0 sacks while also blocking two kicks on special teams), he considered turning pro. In the end, he decided to return for one last go-round.
The Hokies are likewise strong in the secondary, especially the corners so long as Brandon Facyson is healthy. He played three games last year before being sidelined by a stress reaction in his left leg. Then in December, he needed surgery on a tibia and fibula fracture in the same leg.
Even if he fails to return to form, though, Virginia Tech has an All-American in Kendall Fuller. In the 25 games he’s started, he has eight interceptions and an NCAA-best 34 passes defended.
The hope of defensive coordinator Bud Foster is that a healthy Facyson will allow the spring’s defensive MVP, Chuck Clark, to move to his more natural position of safety or play nickel. Any athlete with that sort of versatility is worth keeping an eye on.
Finally, although the name of head coach Frank Beamer is associated with outstanding special teams, Beamer admits they were lackluster there last year, and he hopes to see improvement going forward. The Hokies return the majority of their specialists. Punter A.J. Hughes had back surgery, though, and will battle Mitchell Ludwig for that job.