William & Mary vs. Virginia Tech Complete Game Preview
The 2014 season is finally here for the Virginia Tech Hokies. No more talk about who will play quarterback this fall—that's settled for now with head coach Frank Beamer naming Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer the starter over the weekend—or how the Hokies will replace several defensive stalwarts.
This Saturday in Lane Stadium, the Hokies play host to the William & Mary Tribe.
Surprisingly, these schools have somewhat of a rich history. The Hokies lead the all-time series, 40-18-4, but Beamer has only presided over one contest between the two teams—a 44-3 Hokies win in 2007.
Both teams are coming off similar 2013 campaigns. The Tribe finished 7-5 last season but had some big wins over the likes of conference foes Delaware and New Hampshire.
The Hokies finished 8-5 and had some disappointing losses to teams they'd previously dominated.
Will Brewer prove the right selection for Beamer? Saturday is a bit of a warm-up for Tech as it heads to Ohio State in Week 2. But the Hokies better not overlook the Tribe.
William & Mary: Keys to Victory
Win the Battle on Special Teams
It's no secret that the Hokies have struggled on special teams in recent years. When you're a team that is such an underdog—like William & Mary will be on Saturday—you must make plays on special teams.
The Tribe have a player in Tre McBride who can make big plays on special teams. McBride, a starting receiver, is also an excellent return man. He averaged more than 127 all-purpose yards per game in 2013. If McBride can help get the Tribe in good field position on a few occasions, it could make things much easier for the offense.
Remember, the Hokies will have six new starters on defense this Saturday.
Pressure, Pressure, Pressure
What do you do when you face a first time starter at quarterback? You pressure him relentlessly.
Michael Brewer has only been at Tech since fall camp, so if the Tribe can get pressure on him early, they can force a bad decision or two.
In addition to Brewer, there are some questions along Virginia Tech's offensive line. Last year's starting tackles, Laurence Gibson and Jonathan McLaughlin, swapped places, and Gibson is now on the left side. In addition, Augie Conte is making his first career start at right guard. Left guard David Wang has had his share of struggles in recent years, too.
Virginia Tech: Keys to Victory
Get Brewer Comfortable
For a player who is making his debut at quarterback, it's imperative that he be comfortable. Offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler must try to establish the run early in the first quarter and call some quick three-step drops for Brewer. The QB needs to have a chance to get the ball in his receivers' hands for some yards after the catch. The Hokies have some talented playmakers who are capable of big plays every time they touch the ball.
If Brewer can get into a rhythm early, it will help Tech in Week 2 at Ohio State.
Play Typical Virginia Tech Defense
Yes, the Hokies have six new starters on defense. But do you think defensive coordinator Bud Foster is concerned?
Foster never worries about what he's lost; he is always looking to create the next great Hokies defender. Defensive tackle Luther Maddy and cornerback Kendall Fuller are this year's stars. Maddy can dominate a game from the inside by disrupting the opposition's running game or getting after the quarterback.
It will be interesting to see who plays linebacker for the Hokies this weekend and how well. Currently, Tech has Deon Clarke, Chase Williams and Ronny Vandyke at linebacker. That is the group Foster wants on the field, but Vandyke and Clarke have had trouble staying healthy. This could be an excellent group if everyone stays on the field.
William & Mary Players to Watch
QB Steve Cluley
The Tribe will start sophomore Steve Cluley, per Tim Pearrell of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, under center this weekend at Virginia Tech. It's a tall task for a player who has attempted just nine career passes, completing four of them. But Cluley, who was competing with Frank Brown IV and Christian Brumbaugh, is the only quarterback with experience. That's important going into a place like Lane Stadium to open the season.
Cluley must play mistake-free if the Tribe have any chance at winning this game.
RB Mikal Abdul-Saboor
Abdul-Saboor is a big (5'11", 215 pounds), talented back with experience. He finished last year with 840 yards rushing and six touchdowns to lead the team.
The Tribe need to keep possession of the ball as much as possible. If that is going to happen, Abdul-Saboor must have a big game. He is capable.
LB Airek Green
William & Mary's most versatile defender, Green had a terrific 2013 and was named first-team All-CAA. He was third on the team in sacks, tied for first in tackles for loss and led in interceptions. He can line up anywhere in the front seven and wreak havoc.
Mike Reilly may get most of Tech's attention, but Green is a player Tech must account for on every snap.
Virginia Tech Players to Watch
QB Michael Brewer
Brewer is the man everyone will be watching Saturday. Replacing a three-year starter at quarterback is never easy, but no one is asking Brewer to carry the offense as much as Logan Thomas once did. He needs to composed and relaxed and make smart decisions with the football. If the running game can get going, his job will be much easier.
WR Isaiah Ford
Along with tight end Bucky Hodges, perhaps no player created as much buzz in fall camp as the true freshman from Jacksonville, Florida. Ford was recently elevated to first string at split end, and it is much more than just being named the starter. Loeffler and Beamer believe in Ford and realize he can score every time he touches the ball.
Ford could also be an outstanding return man, but his biggest impact should be in the passing game. He is polished for such a young player.
CB Kendall Fuller
The sophomore had a standout freshman year in 2013. He led the team with six interceptions and became the Hokies' top corner after brother Kyle's injury. He's not only capable of shutting down the opponent's top receiver, but he can line up at whip linebacker or safety. He's a very good tackler and can make an impact at several positions.
What They're Saying
Beamer is always going to make the next opponent sound like a national championship contender, so when he praises that opponent, it sometimes has to be taken with a grain of salt. But Beamer still has the JMU game from 2010 fresh in his mind when he discussed the Tribe, per Andy Bitter of The Roanoke Times.
"I’m worried about winning the ballgame right now," he said. "I’ll tell you this: West Virginia didn’t get a chance to get their reserves in the game last year. Nor did North Carolina [in 2010]. You’re in on a dogfight. Get ready for it."
William & Mary coach Jimmye Laycock felt Cluley was the right guy under center because he played well this summer, not just because he's the most experienced option, per Pearrell:
He’s done a solid job. It’s a situation where we weren’t going to have a whole lot of experience at that position anyway. We’ll have to see how things progress. I’ve been very encouraged by the way he’s played in preseason. I think he must have worked hard during the summer because he’s definitely improved a great deal over the spring [practices]. Now it’s a matter of getting out and playing.
It's tough to see William & Mary entering Lane Stadium this weekend and upsetting Virginia Tech. Yes, the Hokies have struggled in recent years and once lost to JMU a few years back, but hopes are high in Blacksburg, and the coaching staff won't allow 2014 to begin with anything but a victory.
If the Hokies struggle against the Tribe, that could spell big trouble when they head to Columbus to face the Buckeyes the following week.
Look for Tech to start slow, but the defense will be dominant and force several turnovers as the Hokies' ground game gets going in the second half.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 34, William & Mary 6