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Q&A on Virginia Tech Football with The Tech Lunch Pail



Virginia Tech
Sep 2, 2023; Blacksburg, Virginia, Virginia Tech Hokies wide receiver Tucker Holloway (11) returns an Old Dominion punt in the fourth quarter at Lane Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Lee Luther Jr.-USA TODAY Sports.

Rutgers football hosts Virginia Tech on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET at SHI Stadium airing live on the Big Ten Network. In an effort to find out more about the Hokies, I was fortunate to speak with Tim Thomas, the editor and founder of The Tech Lunch Pail.

This is an important game for both schools and VT is coming off a 24-17 loss at home to Purdue. Entering head coach Brent Pry’s second season, there is hope that this team can become bowl eligible. Beating Rutgers would be a big win for the program and give hope they can achieve that this season.

Topics discussed include the quarterback situation, injuries, the familiarity of the coaching staffs, key players to know and much more. Let’s kick it off here.

AB: While no decision has been announced, backup QB Kyron Drones was taking reps with the first team this week. Do you expect him to play over injured starter Grant Wells and what boost do you think he could provide the offense?

TT: All signs seems to be pointing towards Drones starting this week due to Grant Wells being out with injury. Some of my colleagues including one of my student writers saw Wells only throwing at practice on Wednesday and not taking part in any further drills involving movement with freshman Pop Watson being prepped like a backup for Drones.

I think it’s possible Drones could provide a spark, but this is also a team that has a big offensive line issue so how much can a true dual-threat QB really spark a running game when you have possibly the worst offensive line in Power 5. I have my doubts going into this one that Drones can provide that much of a spark. We’ll see though if maybe he can add something on QB draws and simply with his scrambling ability along with whether he’s a better in-game passer than in practice.

AB: How concerned are you about the state of the team following the tough loss to Purdue, enduring the six hour weather delay and coming to Piscataway with several key players injured?

TT: The weather delay is what it is. I don’t think that has an impact this week.

Now the injury front could have an impact. Most of Tech’s injuries from last week should be good to go with the exception of Grant Wells and Ali Jennings. Jennings is a massive loss for the Hokies as he was one of Tech’s star WR duo with Jaylin Lane who looks like he’ll be good to go. Tech is going to need guys like Stephen Gosnell and Da’Quan Felton plus the TEs to step up to help fill the gap left by Jennings, but I think Tech’s tight ends can give the Scarlet Knights issues in the pass game.

The status of senior safety Nasir Peoples is also unknown though signs don’t seem great at the moment. If the Hokies are without Peoples, Tech’s number 2 starting safety is either a converted WR in Jaylen Jones or a true freshman in Mose Phillips. Don’t be surprised if Tech uses star CB Mansoor Delane some at safety given that Tech has a strong nickelback in Derrick Canteen who could easily slide to CB.

AB: How much do you think head coach Brent Pry’s familiarity with offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca, Rutgers and Greg Schiano be a positive factor for VT in this game?

You could argue it’s a positive and negative at the same time since Ciarrocca probably knows plenty about Brent Pry’s defensive scheme. However, the shared familiarity and the facT that Pry isn’t calling the defense anymore may give the Hokies an advantage here relatively speaking compared to what Rutgers gains from Ciarrocca’s overlap. Of course, both coordinators have likely evolved their approaches since their time in Penn State so there’s only so much to be gleaned from that past history.

AB: What are the strengths of Virginia Tech?

TT: Let’s start with the pass defense and the talented CB trio of Dorian Strong, Mansoor Delane, and Derrick Canteen; all of who are All-ACC caliber players. Tech’s pass rush has also shown improvement led by Florida transfer Antwaun Powell-Ryland who has 4 tackles for loss including 2 sacks, both of which were against ODU. Powell-Ryland is a guy Rutgers has to account for every time while sophomore Keyshawn Burgos has helped Tech turn DE from a weakness to arguably one of their bigger strengths. Also having a playmaker at LB like Keli Lawson is always a major plus.

Even without Ali Jennings, Tech’s offensive skill guys are a much improved unit with Jaylin Lane being a playmaker out of the slot and Dae’Quan Wright being a dynamic receiving threat at TE. Bhayshul Tuten may have very few yards but he’s broken an insane number of tackles to avoid his numbers from being way worse. If Tech can get him and fellow RB Malachi Thomas in space, they can give teams plenty of issues.

AB: What have the weaknesses been for the Hokies so far?

TT: There’s no bigger weakness than the Hokies’ offensive line which has been atrocious as a run blocking unit and inconsistent pass blocking group. Tech’s run game as a whole has been a mess but the offensive line is the worst I’ve seen for the Hokies in my decade covering this program. Quarterback play is also a concern with Kyron Drones being a big unknown going into this matchup and failing to beat out an inconsistent Grant Wells for the job. We’ll see how Drones does when the lights come on. If Nasir Peoples is out, the second safety position is a big weakness for the Hokies’ defense. Tackling and run fits are also concerns on the defensive side though run fits have improved from week 1 to 2 and the tackling may have been due in large part to Purdue having the ball for 38 minutes last week.

AB: Who are potential x-factors for VT aside from Drones?

TT: I’ve mentioned him a couple times but TE Dae’Quan Wright is a dynamic playmaker as a receiver who had 3 20+ yard receptions last week against Purdue. You almost have to put a safety on him to cover him and even then, Wright will have the size advantage and can shed weak tackle efforts from DBs. Defensively, Keyshawn Burgos has shown plenty of promise this season and with Powell-Ryland certain to get the focus, Burgos has the chance to give Rutgers issues.

AB: What’s your prediction for this game and why?

TT: There’s a reason why the over/under for this game has dropped from a measly 40.5 to an even lower 37 and even that still may be too high. This is a bounce-back opportunity for a banged up Tech team that will need to find some sort of running game this week even if that’s built around screens and swing passes. Personally, I think we may be reminded some of that famous Russell Athletic Bowl between the Hokies and Scarlet Knights with the defensive dual this game proves to be. Having a new QB with a non-existent rushing attack on the road seems like too much to overcome for VT so I’m taking Rutgers but this game could go either way.

Rutgers 17, Virginia Tech 13

Thanks to Tim Thomas for giving great insight ahead of Saturday’s game. You can follow Tim on X here and for his in-depth coverage of Virginia Tech football, click here. You can read my answers to Tim’s questions here.


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