No podcast this week. Aaron McFarling is off gallivanting in Myrtle Beach covering the Salem Red Sox, so we had to skip it this week. We’ll get it up and going again before East Carolina. If you missed these stories earlier, check them out:
– Here’s today’s story about Virginia Tech’s sports nutrition staff and how they help keep the Hokies fueled for practice.
– Last night’s injury report is here. RB J.C. Coleman (ankle) and WR Charley Meyer (hamstring) are probable.
Western Carolina at Virginia Tech
- Where: Lane Stadium, Blacksburg
- When: 1:30 p.m.
- TV: None (online on ESPN3.com)
- Records: Western Carolina 0-1, Virginia Tech 0-1
- Series: First meeting
- Last meeting: None
- Line: Virginia Tech by 42
When Virginia Tech passes
The Hokies have a lot of work to do in this department after an opener in which they dropped anywhere from seven to 11 passes (it depends on who’s counting). Quarterback Loagn Thomas isn’t all to blame for his 5-for-26, 59-yard stat line against Alabama, but offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler thinks he could have done some things much better, like finding checkdowns quicker. It’ll help if his receivers’ work with the JUGS machine does the trick. The Hokies don’t appear to be standing pat at receiver. Josh Stanford was listed ahead of D.J. Coles on the most recent depth chart update, perhaps a sign that receivers coach Aaron Moorehead wasn’t thrilled with the veteran Coles quitting on a few routes last week. Demitri Knowles, who was responsible for at least five of Tech’s drops, will need to bounce back. Charley Meyer returns from a hamstring injury to help out. The 0-line did its part. Thomas was only sacked once against Alabama.
Junior safety Ace Clark was a preseason second-team All-SoCon pick after making 88 tackles last season and two picks. He made a team-high 11 tackles in a the Catamounts’ opener against Middle Tennessee and should have another busy day Saturday. Free safety Sertonuse Harris was second on the team in tackles last year with 93. Western Carolina wasn’t terrible against the pass last year, giving up 185 yards per game through the air. Granted, that might be because teams could run the ball against it so easily that there was no need to throw it. Middle Tennessee threw for 205 yards against this group last week.
Edge: Virginia Tech
When Virginia Tech runs
It seems the Hokies know what they’ve got in Trey Edmunds, who ran for 132 yards in his debut, the most ever for a Tech tailback in his first appearance. Now, J.C. Coleman is back from an ankle injury and Joel Caleb returns from a one-game suspension. Chris Mangus also showed last week that he could factor in. That looks a lot like last year’s ineffective four-headed back, but it seems like Tech has more defined roles with this group. There’s no doubt that Edmunds will be the workhorse. Coleman’s probably No. 2, with Mangus and Caleb possibly getting in on certain formations. I bet they all get regular work Saturday, though. The o-line will try an encore to its strong showing against Alabama. The Hokies averaged 4.6 yards per carry. The last team to do that against the Tide was — you’re not going to believe this — Georgia Southern in 2011 (7.72 yards per carry from the triple option team!). For a non-option team, you have to go back to LSU, which averaged 5.0 yards per carry in a 2010 win.
Run defense was not exactly Western Carolina’s forte last year. The Catamounts gave up 329.4 yards per game on the ground, second worst in the FCS to Idaho State. That included 38 touchdown runs. Things don’t appear to be much better this year. Middle Tennessee racked up 270 yards and four touchdowns on 49 carries in the opener. Middle linebacker Courtland Carson led the team with 97 tackles and six tackles for a loss last year. Freshman outside linebacker Bryson Jordan is the son of former NFL and MLB player Brian Jordan.
Edge: Virginia Tech
When Western Carolina passes
The Catamounts used both Eddie Sullivan and Troy Mitchell in the opener and plan to do so again this week. Sullivan is considered the better passer of the two, although Mitchell had a better game against Middle Tennessee, completing 7 of 15 passes for 161 yards and two touchdowns. Sullivan was 12-for-21 for 96 yards. Both threw a pick. Karnorris Benson finished with 113 receiving yards and a touchdown, only the fourth WCU receiver to top the 100-yard mark in a game in the last three seasons. He led the team in receiving last year with 19 catches for 349 yards. The Catamounts spread things out with their formations, so plenty of receivers will get on the field. The offensive line gave up three sacks in the opener.
That’s not a great sign, because Virginia Tech’s defensive line was a menace against Alabama. The Hokies went seven or eight deep, too, getting a strong showing from their first team but also down to what many consider the last player on the two-deep up front, Nigel Williams, who had a sack and 1.5 TFLs against the Crimson Tide. Tyrel Wilson won’t play after getting his ankle rolled up on in a middle drill Tuesday. All that means is that Dadi Nicolas will get more playing time on both ends of the line. In the secondary, the Hokies also looked sharp in the opener. Freshmen Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson didn’t look overwhelmed by the spotlight. Things should only get easier after playing the No. 1 team in the country in your debut. Kyle Fuller is coming off the best cover day of his career. All three should get plenty of playing time in the nickel if WCU spreads things out as expected.
Edge: Virginia Tech
When Western Carolina runs
Mitchell is a threat on the ground too. He led WCU with eight rushing touchdown last year, the most ever by a Catamounts quarterback. He and running back Shaun Warren will have to shoulder the rushing load again with sophomore Darius Ramsey (a team-high 503 rushing yards last year) likely out with a foot injury. Warren ran 13 times for 55 yards and a touchdown against Middle Tennessee. Mitchell ran 11 times for 38 yards. The Catamounts ran for 166.9 yards per game last year, 45th most in the FCS.
Again, Virginia Tech’s defensive front is going to create problems. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster told Frank Beamer‘s website that Jack Tyler (8 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1 sack) and Tariq Edwards (6 tackles, 1.5 TFL) had the highest production totals on the team. Part of that was the defensive front staying on blocks to free them up. Part of it was just them being active. Safety Kyshoen Jarrett came up to help on the run quite a bit too. Add it all together and the Hokies were the first team to hold the Crimson Tide to under 100 yards rushing since LSU did it during a 9-6 victory in 2011. Bama’s 2.53 yards per carry was its lowest since facing eventual national champion Auburn in the 2010 regular season finale.
Edge: Virginia Tech
All sorts of coverage breakdowns led Beamer to address his personnel on kickoffs and punts. Expect more veterans in the lineup this week. Based on the amount of time Tech devoted to coverage teams at prominent times in practice, it’ll be a major point of emphasis from here on out. Punter A.J. Hughes averaged 45.1 yards per punt in the opener, although his lack of hang time on a few contributed to Bama’s big return day. Kickoff specialist Mitchell Ludwig didn’t necessarily show off the big leg Beamer raved about in the preseason. Jarrett had a 43-yard punt return in the opener. Knowles still needs to get going on kickoffs.
The Hokies weren’t the only ones with coverage woes in the opener. Western Carolina gave up a 57-yard punt return for a touchdown in the opener. Punter Clark Sechrest was a preseason All-SoCon pick after averaging 41.9 yards per punt last year. He didn’t fare so well against Middle Tennessee, though, averaging 36.9 yards per punt. Kicker Richard Sigmon hit on only 50 percent of his field goals last year (6 of 12).
Edge: Virginia Tech
Beamer took a lot of criticism this week — and deservedly so — for Tech’s special teams miscues in the opener. Once hailed as the master of special teams, his units have been lacking recently. Perhaps the shift back to using more veterans will help the Hokies regain some semblance of their former dominance in that aspect of the game. Bud Foster has his defensive crew humming right now and Loeffler seemed to have a decent offensive plan against a very tough Alabama defense, even if it wasn’t executed correctly. Western Carolina coach Mark Speir inherited a tough situation with the Catamounts, a team that’s had seven straight losing seasons. He’s going about things with a youth movement — 64 percent of the roster is underclassmen. It’s going to take time to reverse course for this program, though.
Edge: Virginia Tech
This shouldn’t be a close game. Like Austin Peay last year, Western Carolina isn’t just an FCS team. It’s a pretty bad one. The Catamounts have gone 1-10 in each of the last two seasons, with both of their wins coming against Division II Mars Hill. So things should be decided by halftime Saturday, which wouldn’t be the worst thing for a Virginia Tech team wanting to simply get a few things going (passing game, special teams) as a tuneup for the rest of a non-conference slate (ECU, Marshall) that might be a tougher test than many think. I think the Hokies get a good lead early in this one and let the backups get a considerable number of reps in the second half. Tech is a young team once you get past the starters (and even with the starters in some cases). This is an opportunity to ease a lot of them into college action.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 52, Western Carolina 7