Season Opener Preview: W&M vs. Virginia Tech

VT Lane Stadium

When the Tribe travels to Blacksburg this weekend, they better bring their A game. Virginia Tech may arguably be the hardest team that William and Mary has faced in a long time. Tech is widely known as the best team in Virginia, and for good reason. The Hokies have played in a bowl game every year since 1993, the second longest bowl streak in the country. Like legendary Tribe coach Jimmye Laycock, Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer has transformed the team since coming arriving in 1987. Tech’s Lane Stadium seats 65,000 fans and is one of the loudest college venues in the nation.

Tech’s program is known for churning out NFL players, including stars like Bruce Smith, Michael Vick, and Brandon Flowers. In addition, they had 3 players drafted to the NFL this past year, including first round pick Kyle Fuller, on top of many UDFAs who signed with other clubs. 

The Hokies’ defense is scary good. They ranked 10th in the nation against the run last year and 8th against the pass last season. This placed them fourth in the nation in overall defense, trailing only Louisville, Michigan State, and National Champion Florida State.

Although Tech’s defense is among the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) elite, thankfully, their offense is far from it. Tech ranked 103rd in rushing offense last year and 63rd in passing. This ranked them 102nd in overall offense for the FBS. To make matters worse, they graduated three-year starter and quarterback Logan Thomas.

While Thomas shouldered much of the blame during the Hokies’ struggles last year, there was no denying his raw ability. He was a dynamic dual threat quarterback that fit Frank Beamer’s scheme well. Ultimately, the Hokies may struggle this year trying to replace a player who garnered 3200 total yards and 20 touchdowns a season ago.

Almost exactly like the Tribe, the biggest question mark this year for the Hokies is at the quarterback position. Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer was just announced this week the starter for the season opener. According to the Daily Press, “[Brewer] arrived in late May and participated in a summer’s worth of player-organized workouts but didn’t officially practice with the team until training camp started Aug. 4. He played in 13 games at Texas Tech over two seasons, throwing for 440 yards and five touchdowns. He inherits and offense that ranked 101st nationally last season.”

Tech’s offseason featured a hotly contested battle between Mark Leal, Michael Brewer, and Brendan Motley for the coveted quarterback competition. Leal appeared in Tech’s bowl game last year against UCLA when Logan Thomas went down with injury, but was far from impressive in that outing. On the other hand, both Motley and Brewer have not played a single snap for Tech. Tech’s offense will most likely be bolstered by a strong running game, as Tech boasts two very solid running backs in Trey Edmunds and J.C. Coleman.

Other Players to Watch for Tech:

  • Running Back Trey Edmunds: Virginia Tech returns their most prolific runner from a year ago in Edwards. He gained 675 yards on the ground with 10 touchdowns last year.
  • Wide Receiver Demitri Knowles: The Hokies’ number one wide receiver. Had 641 yards receiving and 3 touchdowns last year.
  • Cornerbacks Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson: These two corners are one of the best duos in the nation. A combined 11 interceptions between the two of them a season ago—they will be covering star Tre McBride and Sean Ballard.
  • Listed as a “Rover” is Kyshoen Jarrett: While the Hokies graduated their top two tacklers, they return Jarrett, who was third on the team with 71 total tackles last year.
2013: Tribe vs. WVU
2013: Tribe vs. WVU

While Virginia Tech is certainly the heavy favorite to win this game, William and Mary is not a team that the Hokies should take lightly. While Tech has been used to crushing lower Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) teams like Western Carolina and Austin Peay in the past, this Tribe team is not a cupcake FCS opponent. The Tribe is ranked in the top 25 in every FCS preseason poll, and with a defense that ranked 8th in total defense and second in scoring defense in the nation, one could argue the team looks more FBS than FCS on the defensive side of the ball.

And the depth is not only on defense, but across the board, offensively and defensivelyOne player to keep an eye on is senior Mike Reilly. Reilly was second the FCS in sacks last year, and absolutely shined in the game against West Virginia a year ago. In that game, Reilly garnered one sack and a forced fumble, showing that he has the talent to play not only against FBS competition, but can also dominate it.

On top of a strong defensive line, Tribe linebackers Luke Rhodes and Airek Green will be busy as Tech attempts to impose their powerful running game. If the defense can keep the Hokies’ running game in check and force the Hokies’ inexperienced quarterback to constantly throw the ball, the Tribe has a real chance to hang with them.

On offense, the biggest question mark as Tribe fans all know is the quarterback position. After losing senior Raphael Ortiz to an injury, it was just announced on August 25 that the team will turn to sophomore Steve Cluley. Leading up to the recent announcement, it appeared that Cluley was getting the majority of the reps with the 1’s, so it is no surprise to us that he gets the nod against Virginia Tech. If you want to learn more about Steve Cluley, click this link to read our quarterback profile!

Aside from the Tribe’s question mark at quarterback position (mainly due to Cluley’s lack of playing time), the team is proven and deep at all other positions on offense. The receiving corps is experienced and led by superstar Tre McBride, another Tribe player who has consistently dominated FBS competition (to the tune of 100 yards against Maryland and West Virginia), as well as experienced receivers Sean Ballard and Bo Revell. The running backs are led by Mikal Abdul-Saboor, a player who has more than enough size to run through FBS competition.

The Tribe’s offensive line is experiencing some turnover this season, but there is no doubt that they also have serious depth. If the starting quarterback plays well and the rest of the offense plays to its potential, then this squad can be much better than it was a season ago.

WM Sports Blog’s Prediction: William and Mary 17, Virginia Tech 14

Call us CRAZY. But we all remember the game in 2010 when FCS James Madison stormed into Blacksburg and beat the then 13th ranked Hokies by a score of 21-16. Just how did they do it? Forced turnovers, a consistent and steady offense, and no turnovers on offense. The Dukes forced three turnovers in the game, the defense held Tech to 16 total points, and the JMU offense scored just enough without turning the ball over. These three factors will be absolutely paramount for the Tribe in this game. If they can force turnovers and consistently perform on offense without any turnovers of their own, this team certainly has a chance to shock the college football world.

This is going to be a great one. We here at the blog have been looking forward to it for quite some time. If the Tribe can pull off a win, it will go down as one of the biggest wins in program history. Here’s to hoping we see you all at the game; you know we’ll be there in the AWAY section! LET’S GO TRIBE!

P.S. As if the Tribe needed any extra motivation:
2013: West Virginia 24 William & Mary 17
2012: Maryland 7 William & Mary 6
2010: North Carolina 21 William & Mary 17

You think we want it? GO TRIBE.

Update: Check out the game notes here!

-Kyle & Davey

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