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Syracuse football 2023 opponent preview: Virginia Tech Hokies

New York wants Mariano Rivera’s song back.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Virginia Tech Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

It’s officially crunch time in our Syracuse Orange football opponent previews. By now, you’ve seen both the easiest and the toughest stretches of the upcoming season, leaving just the final five games to discuss. Simply put, this is where the Orange will make or break their 2023 season.

After surviving the trip to Florida State and then getting a week to recuperate, ‘Cuse will be introduced to their next challenge: Exit Light, Enter the...

Virginia Tech Hokies

School: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Nickname: Hokies

Mascot: The HokieBird

#BRAND Slogans: #Hokies, #ThisIsHome

Alternate #BRAND Slogan Suggestions: #Blokies or #ThisIsntDome

Recommended Blog: Gobbler Country

Conference: ACC

History vs. Syracuse: It’s strange to think of VT as a rival, even though they and SU have history together. The Hokies and Orange played twelve times while both programs were in the Big East, but just twice since ‘Cuse made the move to the ACC in 2013. No moment in the series was more iconic than Donovan McNabb’s last-second touchdown to TE Stephen Brominski to win their 1998 clash 28-26 in front of a sold-out Dome crowd. Their last meeting in 2021 had Garrett Shrader channeling his inner McNabb to also throw a late game-winning TD pass to Damien Alford. SU leads the all-time series 11-8, but they’re only 3-6 down at Lane Stadium.

NCAA Football: Virginia Tech at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Coach: Brent Pry, second season. The Hokies went through some expected growing pains during Pry’s first year as a head coach, but his resume gives a lot of promising reasons for a turnaround. Before the Hokies hired him, Pry spent eight years as a defensive coordinator at Penn State, managing one of the best defenses in the entire country. He was an assistant coordinator at Vanderbilt from 2011-2013 and was brought over to Happy Valley by James Franklin, later earning the promotion to main DC in 2016. He played college football a few hours west at UBuffalo while they were a Division III school, but an injury cut his career short. His first DI job was as a graduate assistant at VT in 1995 - now, years later, he’s come full circle.

2022 Record: (3-8) (1-6)

Recapping Last Season:

The first bad sign of things to come was a shocking 20-17 loss at Old Dominion to start the year. Wins against Boston College and Wofford (FCS) calmed some nerves short term, but then the bottom dropped. The Hokies went on a seven-game losing streak, featuring both blowouts at the hands of West Virginia and UNC, and back-to-back blown 4th quarter leads against NC State and Georgia Tech. Adding insult to injury, those two games were both decided by ONE point. VT finally came through with a one-point win at Liberty in Week 12. The season finale against Virginia was canceled after the shooting on UVA’s campus two weeks prior.

The Hokies offense lacked any sort of punch last year, finishing with the 12th-fewest yards per game (314.1) in the FBS. Junior Grant Wells had a massive regression from his 2021 season at Marshall, going from over 3,500 passing yards to under 2,200. To be fair, he’s a very stationary QB who was on the run a lot more than is ideal, as the o-line let defenders slip through for 30 sacks. The run game was an absolute mess without a clear number one option, and while WR Kaleb Smith had a good senior season with 674 receiving yards, there wasn’t much help in the receiving room either.

Defense was fairly average instead of just flat out bad. DL TyJuan Garbutt was the clear leader of an otherwise unimpressive pass rush, forcing a pair of fumbles and collecting 6.5 sacks. The secondary is where this bunch shined the most, as the Hokies knocked away 41 pass attempts in the shortened season. CB Mansoor Delane had a team-leading eight along with two more forced fumbles. William Ross was rarely called upon for field goals, making 8/10.

2023 Season Outlook:

Virginia Tech will not face an FCS team in 2023, adding an extra challenge in the attempt for their first winning season in four years. Non-conference play is frontloaded, with home games against Old Dominion and Purdue, and away games against Rutgers and Marshall. They’ll host Pitt, Wake Forest, ‘Cuse, and NC State in ACC play. FSU, Louisville, BC, and UVA are the other four road games, and three of them come in the final four weeks of the season.

The QB spot is still wide open between Wells and Baylor transfer Kyron Drones. Malachi Thomas, who missed the majority of the 2022 season, is the best candidate for dissolving the RB-by-committee approach. The offensive line will largely rely on returning upperclassmen to improve from the last campaign. Middle Tennessee, Old Dominion, and Norfolk State all lost their top targets to the Hokies, who hope that at least one of the transfers can be a quick fix.

Garbutt and tackle leader Dax Hollifield are gone, but not much else has changed. Like the other side, the defensive line is counting on bounce back performances from senior Dax Hollifield and others. Derrick Canteen, who had 12 breakups and a pick for Georgia Southern, could challenge for the second cornerback spot.

Syracuse Game Date: Thursday, October 26

Location: Lane Stadium, Blacksburg, Virginia

Odds of Orange Victory: 44%

Very Early Outlook vs. Syracuse:

If there’s one game on the calendar that the Orange should win, but probably won’t, this is it. We all know SU’s immense struggles out of the bye under Dino Babers, and although last year was a reprieve from that, keep in mind how it was against a very weakened NC State. The Hokies will also be exiting their bye week and entering the Thursday night primetime they have traditionally thrived in.

I’m admittedly biased from seeing Pry’s defenses bail out Penn State many times but considering that side of the ball wasn’t the problem last year, this could turn into a battle of attrition, with both sides forcing several turnovers.