Rutgers football hosts Virginia Tech on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET at SHI Stadium airing live on the Big Ten Network. In what many consider a must win, here are eight storylines to watch for.
Virginia Tech QB Situation
Starter Grant Wells didn’t finish the Purdue game last week and was limited in practice this week. Backup Kyron Drones took first team reps and could get the start on Saturday. The Baylor transfer is a mobile quarterback and would give the Hokies offense a different dynamic. However, he was just 2 of 7 throwing the ball in a relief performance last week. Whether Wells or Drones plays, expect the Rutgers defense to bring the pressure early and often.
VT pass rush vs. offensive line
The Hokies have good edge rushers and are getting pressure on a regular basis along with a top 20 sack rate nationally. With right tackle Tyler Needham expected to be out and Hollin Pierce still adjusting to the left side, the Rutgers offensive line will be tested. While the run game is critical for Rutgers, quarterback Gavin Wimsatt will likely face the most pressure he has all season. Giving him time to make good throws is a key to this game. How the offensive line rotates lineups in this game is something to watch for as well.
Gavin Wimsatt’s biggest test
This game just feels like Wimsatt will face adversity in a way he hasn’t yet this season. How he handles the pass rush of the Hokies, as well as the ever changing offensive line is obviously key. He can’t let it impact his accuracy and decision making. Being able to navigate pressure and make good decisions, especially in the RPO, is crucial to the offense neutralizing the VT defense. Expect more called rollouts to negate the head coming from edge rushers. Wimsatt’s own ability to run is an x-factor in this game and could exploit Virginia Tech if he can be effective.
Special Teams consistency
Specialists Jai Patel, Jude McAtamney and Flynn Appleby have all been good through two games. The coverage units haven’t had much pressure on them because of that. Rutgers needs the specials to continue to execute and limit mistakes. If they can have a good performance as a whole once again, it would be both encouraging and go a long way in winning this game.
Both teams have significant injury issues. Virginia Tech is definitely without senior tight end and captain Nick Gallo as well s No. 1 receiver Ali Jennings. No. 2 receiver Jaylin Lane did practice this week but is likely a game time decision. Starting safety Nasir Peoples didn’t play last week and was listed as “borderline doubtful” by head coach Brent Pry. It does appear defensive end Keyshawn Burgos, who Pry said was questionable, is going to play.
As for Rutgers, aside from Needham likely out, there are questions on receiver Chris Long, who missed the Temple game. Wesley Bailey was banged up and was limited last week. And Aaron Young could make his season debut, but he could be out again as well. Hopefully, there are no surprises for RU on Saturday’s availability report, which the Big Ten releases two hours before kickoff.
I think the leadership of this team will be huge in this game. In a sense, this is a trap game for Rutgers. The opportunity to be 3-0 heading into the Big House is right in front of them. They’ve played well in the first two games, but still have plenty of room to improve. Virginia Tech is better than Northwestern and Temple. Rutgers will likely face the most adversity in this game then they have so far. Responding to it and sticking to what has been working is key. The swarming on defense, the execution on offense and special teams along with the energy as a whole are important. It starts with the captains and other leaders to set the tone.
VT head coach Brent Pry is the former long time defensive coordinator at Penn State. He has coached with and against Rutgers offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca. He has coached against Greg Schiano and Rutgers plenty. He’ll be plenty prepared to face them once again. It works both ways and Schiano and Ciarrocca will be ready as well. It will of course come down to execution on the field. However, if one side makes better adjustments or finds a wrinkle based on knowing the tendencies of the other, it could be the difference in the game.
It’s a mid-afternoon kickoff on what should be a beautiful Saturday in Piscataway. The one issue is that it is Rosh Hashanah, so the attendance could be negatively impacted. However, there should still be a very good turnout for this game. This team deserves it. Virginia Tech won’t be rattled and they’ll have a decent turnout I think. Hopefully, the Rutgers faithful are in large numbers and help create a great home environment once again.
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