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2021 Summer Reading: Early look at Virginia Tech’s Week 3 opponent West Virginia

2021 Summer Reading: Early look at Virginia Tech’s Week 3 opponent West Virginia

West Virginia Football

West Virginia running back Leddie Brown runs the ball against Iowa State in a NCAA college football game, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020, in Ames, Iowa. (AP Photo/ Matthew Putney)

Editor’s note: The Roanoke Times is taking an early look at every game on Virginia Tech’s 2021 schedule over the next three weeks. Check back for stories Monday through Thursday each week looking at a different opponent.

Could this be a preview of a future ACC rivalry game?

College football could be in for another round of realignment in the years to come, but for now this remains just part of a home-and-home series that wraps up next season with West Virginia visiting Lane Stadium.

Tech goes into this year’s game with a three-game win streak in the series, but the only Hokies still on the roster from the team’s win over West Virginia in 2017 are Jalen Holston, Emmanuel Belmar and Devon Hunter, who mostly played special teams in the win.

The other two wins came in the early 2000’s with Frank Beamer as coach.

This game will take on a much more significant meaning if Tech loses its opener against North Carolina since the Hokies won’t be able to afford a 1-2 start that includes a loss against a middle of the road West Virginia team.

Tech’s performance against non-conference opponents has been a major issue for Fuente and company in recent years.

The Hokies have gone 5-4 against non-conference opponents since 2018, and that record is 5-6 if you include the team’s two bowl losses. Two of those wins are against FCS opponents, and none of them are against power five opponents.

Fuente needs to reverse that trend in a hurry.

Last time vs. Virginia Tech: Virginia Tech W 31-24 at FedEx Field

What happened? Then No. 21 Virginia Tech beat No. 22 West Virginia in the first matchup between the teams since 2005.

West Virginia tied the game early in the fourth quarter, but Josh Jackson orchestrated a game winning drive that included a 46-yard run through the middle of the line that got the Hokies down to the 2-yard line.

Running back Travon McMillian scored the go-ahead touchdown three players later.

Tech’s defense struggled for much of the game — West Virginia put up 592 total yards — but stopped the Mountaineers twice in the final seven minutes to close out the victory.

In his first career start, Jackson had 336 total yards (101 rushing) and scored two touchdowns. Receiver Cam Phillips had seven catches for 138 yards with a touchdown.

Position(s) of strength: West Virginia’s offensive line is pretty loaded.

The team is returning multiple starters up front including left tackle Brandon Yates, center Zach Frazier (he played mostly at guard last season) and former Virginia Tech starting guard Doug Nester. Nester will likely slide over to a tackle spot, a role the Hokies had envisioned for him before he decided to leave the program.

The team’s strongest offensive lineman in the early going of the season was guard James Gmiter, but a bout with COVID-19 sidelined him.

West Virginia also added Virginia transfer Ja’Quay Hubbard, and has multiple other linemen with experience.

The Mountaineers hope that experience leads to some improvement in run game that was struggled as a group far too often last season. They finished with less than 100 yards as a team in five of the team’s 10 games (the offense only averaging 2 yards per carry in those games). The line also gave up 76 tackles for loss (ranked No. 112 nationally).

Leddie Brown will be the team’s starting back after rushing for 1,010 yards (5.1 yards per carry) and nine touchdowns. He’s also a proven threat catching the ball out of the backfield with 50 career catches for 387 and four touchdowns. The 5-foot-11, 216-pounder has played in 31 career games. West Virginia’s defense is in for some significant retooling especially in the secondary.

Georgia hired away the team’s talented defensive backs coach and co-defensive coordinator Jahmile Addae. Addae had a successful two-year stint at his alma mater with a passing defense that ranked No. 1 in the country last fall by allowing only 159.6 yards per game.

Starting safety Tykee Smith followed Addae to Athens, and starting cornerback Dreshun Miller left for Auburn. Smith did it all last year with 61 tackles, two interceptions, eight tackles for a loss and five pass breakups. Miller, a former Eastern Arizona College, had a breakout year with a team-high eight pass breakups.

Head coach Neal Brown hired Louisville’s ShaDon Brown to replace Addae, and Brown got some good news when the defense’s other starter corner, Alonzo Addae, opted to return for a sixth year. He had 66 tackles (38 solo) with two interceptions and seven passes defended last season.

West Virginia will also need to replace starting nose tackle Darius Stills and starting linebacker Tony Fields to the NFL after they earned first-team All-Big 12 honors.

Lingering questions: West Virginia asked a lot of starting quarterback Jarret Doege last season. Doege averaged 37 pass attempts a game — he attempted 50 passes in a single game twice — but struggled with his consistency.

He only completed 42.9% of his passes in the red zone, and only threw four touchdowns in the second half all season (only one came in the fourth quarter). For a pure pocket passer, those numbers aren’t good enough.

Those struggles weren’t from a lack of experience since he came to West Virginia in 2019 after starting 30 games in two years at Bowling Green.

The quarterback’s season ended on a down note when he was benched in a 24-21 win over Army in the Liberty Bowl for Austin Kendall, who has since transferred to Louisiana Tech.

While Brown said that Doege was one of the team’s most improved players coming out of spring camp, he will have a long leash regardless. Doege is the only quarterback on the roster with any experience going into 2021 after Kendall’s departure.

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