Here's what to look on Saturday when Virginia Tech hosts Richmond at noon...
Virginia Tech vs. Richmond
- Where: Lane Stadium (65,632); Blacksburg, VA
- When: Noon p.m.; Saturday
- TV: ACCNX
- Records: Virginia Tech 2-1 (1-0 ACC); Richmond (2-1)
- Last game: Virginia Tech 27-21 loss to West Virginia, Richmond 34-27 loss to Villanova
- Series: Tech leads 8-34-4
- Last meeting: Tech W 17-10 (11/08/86)
- Line: N/A
Keep an eye on Virginia Tech’s offensive line
With Virginia Tech dealing with multiple injuries at right tackle, the team’s starting lineup is up in the air. Silas Dzansi, who started the first three games at right tackle, suffered an ankle injury in the first quarter against West Virginia. He didn’t return to the game and coach Justin Fuente wasn’t very forthcoming about how involved he was at practice on Monday. He was seen still wearing a walking boot at the team’s athletic facility on Monday. Second-year freshman Parker Clements would be his likely replacement, but he’s dealing with an undisclosed injury and is questionable for Saturday as well. Offensive line coach Vance Vice might have to completely shake things up and one of the more likely options is shifting Lecitus Smith out to tackle. Tech’s offensive line really struggled on Saturday — they allowed six sacks and the offense only averaged 2.6 yards per rush attempt — and need to be more consistent going forward.
Who has the edge?
(Richmond) OFFENSE: Fuente said everything would be under the microscope this week after the offense came away with no points on three separate trips inside the 10-yard line against West Virginia. The Hokies now have the unfortunate distinction of having the worst red zone offense out of all 130 FBS teams. Fuente knows the problems go deeper than that and just about every aspect of the offense needs to improve. Richmond is facing lesser competition, but they have a talented veteran dual threat quarterback Joe Mancuso, who continues to have success getting the ball into his playmakers hands.
(Tech) DEFENSE: Virginia Tech’s defense settled down in the second half against West Virginia and really played well. That was overshadowed by the loss, but it was the defense who put the team in position to win the game by forcing a pair of turnovers and two three and outs down the stretch. They limited WVU to five first downs and 103 total yards in the half. Fuente thought the miscues and missed tackles disappeared when everyone wasn’t trying to win the game in one play. Fuente is hopeful they took that lesson to heart and don’t fall back on bad habits on Saturday.
(Even) SPECIAL TEAMS: Tech kickoff returners Keshawn King and Raheem Blackshear each have a long kickoff return this season. Blackshear is convinced he would have scored a touchdown if cramps hadn’t slowed him down at the end of the run. Richmond also has a dangerous returner in running back Aaron Dykes, who had a 98-yard return for a touchdown last week. It was the third of his career. Tech could use Saturday’s game to give Will Ross a chance on field goal kicks with John Parker Romo struggling.
(Tech) INTANGIBLES: The feel good vibes Tech gained from winning its season opener over North Carolina didn’t survive the trip to Morgantown. Fans were apoplectic over the Hokies’ red zone woes and sounded ready to write off the season. That seems premature, but it would be a troubling sign if Tech doesn’t respond to its uneven performance against West Virginia with a real sense of urgency.
Niziolek’s prediction: Virginia Tech 38, Richmond 10
A repeat of Tech’s performance against Furman from a couple years ago would cause significant panic among the fan base with Notre Dame on deck. Virginia Tech could use a fast start on offense to prevent the boo birds from coming out, but even if they don’t get one the Hokies defense is playing well enough to ensure this is a lopsided win.
Virginia Tech Keys to the Game
Blocked up — Virginia Tech’s pass rush has disappeared for long stretches the last two games. Amare Barno hasn’t recorded a single stat in two games and the Hokies only combined for two sacks last week. Will Justin Hamilton mix in more blitzes? Or can Barno and the guys up front get more consistent pressure while just rushing four defenders? Their job this week will also be a little more challenging since Mancuso is pretty mobile for being 6-foot-4 and won’t stay in the pocket like the last two quarterbacks Tech faced. Richmond also has one of the more experienced offensive lines the Hokies have faced all season (they came into the season with 123 career starts). They are only allowing one sack per game.
The third degree — Richmond’s defense is ranked No. 12 in the FCS in third down defense. The Spiders are limiting opposing offenses to a 27.8% conversion rate. That’s one area Tech’s offense hasn’t struggled with through three games. The Hokies have converted 46.3% of their third down attempts this season and a conversion rate around 50% on Saturday would go a long way towards securing the victory.
Braxton breakthrough — Toughness can’t be the only thing Braxton Burmeister is known for this season. He’s got to start making some plays downfield for things to open up the rest of the offense. Teams are going to continue to stack the box if Tech continues averaging a pedestrian 7.1 yards per pass attempt. There were a couple encouraging moments against West Virginia — the throw down the sideline to Drake DeIuliis and a couple of the 50-50 balls he threw to receivers — but those have been far too infrequent.