Tag Archives: Jerod Evans

Belk Bowl – ACC Looks for Validation Against the SEC

If you live outside of SEC country there is always a lively debate about which college football conference is the best in the land. If you live in the SEC footprint, there is no debate, and there hasn’t been for decades. If you are a college football fan living in ACC country, your situation is unique. A bit of a poser.

There is no doubt that the ACC is not the best football conference in the land. Fans could credibly argue that the ACC has been the least powerful of the “power 5” conferences since such an alignment came to be. However, the ACC has a couple of programs that can frequently play with the nation’s best in Clemson and Florida State. The ACC also has a few wannabe programs that want to win against the big boys of college football, but just can’t get over that hump. These programs (Belk bowl participant Virginia Tech among them) can usually hang tough with the nation’s best for about a half. Then the disparity in the depth of the talent starts to show.

The Hokies have played well for 30 minutes against the SEC elites when Virginia Tech was close to the top of their game. These crusades into the deep end of the college football swimming pool always end badly for Virginia Tech and by association, the ACC. Maybe the Hokies just don’t have the national recruiting reach. Maybe their recruiting footprint is not as stocked with talent as the SEC. Maybe they don’t have enough bagmen.

The Belk Bowl that pits the Arkansas Razorbacks (7-5) against the Virginia Tech Hokies (9-4) will be another chance for the ACC to prove, not that it is the best football conference in the land, but that it is a respectable conference and that it’s best can win against all comers.

The Razorbacks, like the Hokies, had an up-and-down season. They had big wins against Florida and Ole Miss, but ended the year with an embarrassing loss against pseudo-SEC rival Missouri. The fact that Mizzou got an invitation to the SEC rankles a lot of the HokieNation who feel they have earned an invitation into the best football conference in the land (despite all evidence to the contrary). The Hogs move the ball well on the ground behind the duo of Rawleigh Williams & Devwah Whaley, but they also give up ground in big chunks on defense. The Razorbacks will need both success on the ground and a strong performance from QB Austin Allen to keep Bud Foster’s defense off balance. If the Hogs become one-dimensional, the Hokies defense can thrive.

All of that said, the success or failure of the Hokies boils down to the play of JUCO transfer QB Jerod Evans. If Evans plays well, the Hokies can win this game convincingly. The receiver trio of Isaiah Ford, Bucky Hodges, and Cam Phillips is as good as any in the country. The Hokie’s running game has been by committee but led by QB Evans. If Evans is on target throwing and runs enough to open things up for the running back committee, VT will score enough points to win the Belk Bowl.

However, the Gobbler’s margin for error is thin. The Hogs are well tested and have passed more tough exams than the Hokies took all season. Arkansas played 7 ranked teams in 2016, beating 3 of them. From October 8th through November 12th, the Razorbacks played 5 ranked teams in a row. The Hokies didn’t play 5 ranked teams the entire year.

So the question comes full circle. Toss the stats and the injury reports aside. Is the second place team in the ACC good enough to beat a run-of-the-mill SEC team? The Hokies lost the ACC title game to the playoff-bound Clemson Tigers in a close match that may have been the best performance of the season by the Hokies. The Razorbacks were never in the conversation to make the SEC title game. Not in the pre-season prognostications nor as the season progressed.

Those in SEC country would tell you this game is a walk for the Hogs. They have played by far the better schedule. They have SEC talent that beat more ranked teams than the Hokies played all year. That feeling may be the best asset the Hokies have going for them. If I know the Hokies, they will show up with a chip on their shoulder, already having lost to the SEC once this season in the Bristol Bowl. If Arkansas comes to Charlotte expecting to steamroll an ACC wannabe, they are going to be in for a long night. If they treat this game like an SEC matchup against Florida or Ole Miss they should return to the land of plentiful duck hunting with a win.

This game boils down to who wants it the most. Given that Arkansas spent their season playing ‘Bama, LSU, Florida, & TCU just to name a few and the Hokies spent their season playing Duke, Virginia, and ECU, I give the “want to” edge to the Hokies. I think that is what makes the difference in this game and I’ll give the edge to the Hokies to win in Charlotte.

 

E-mail David at david [dot] rayner [at] campuspressbox [dot] com and follow him on Twitter @dmrayner.

Photo: Wikipedia

Hokies’ Justin Fuente Proved He Was Last Year’s Best Hire

Now that the season is over, I can confidently say that Justin Fuente is my pick for best head coaching hire after last season. The Virginia Tech Hokies have become (somewhat) relevant this season and that isn’t just a fluke.

The Hokies finished the regular season at 9-3, winning the ACC Coastal Division. Granted, winning the ACC Coastal is about the equivalent of winning the SEC East these days. But I’ll get to my SEC East comparison. Virginia Tech then went on to lose in a pretty close game to Clemson at the ACC Championship in Orlando.

Virginia Tech beat UNC, Miami, Pitt, Duke, Notre Dame and a few other opponents. Who did it lose to? Virginia Tech’s three regular season losses were to Tennessee, Syracuse and Georgia Tech. Syracuse is the least excusable loss of the three. And you can blame the Tennessee and Georgia Tech losses almost entirely on turnovers.

In fact, I was at that Tennessee game. I remember just how sloppy it was. Virginia Tech outgained Tennessee by 70 yards, had the ball for two and a half minutes longer and had five more first downs than Tennessee did. But because of the Hokies’ five turnovers (and the Vols’ one), they fell to Tennessee in what turned out to be a bit of a rout.

Virginia Tech outgained Georgia Tech by almost 100 yards and had ten more first downs than the Yellow Jackets did. But Virginia Tech lost by ten points after giving up four turnovers. Georgia Tech only gave up one.

The Syracuse game is a bit of a different story. The Hokies only had one more turnover than the Orange did. But Syracuse quarterback channeled his inner Lamar Jackson and had 311 yards passing as well as 106 yards on the ground.

Aside from these three hiccups, the Hokies really did have a great season under first-year head coach Justin Fuente. Transfer quarterback Jerod Evans may not have been a Cam Newton, but he did what Fuente needed him to do. He racked up over 3,000 passing yards and also led the team in rushing yards.

Compare this to last season when Virginia Tech finished in a tie with Duke for fourth place in the ACC Coastal and you’ll see why I’m impressed. The Hokies, in one year, went from being 4-4 in conference play and unranked to being 6-2 in conference play and ranked somewhere in the Top 25 depending on which rankings you look at.

Just like it was miraculous for Jim McElwain to take the Florida Gators from 4-4 in the SEC to 7-1 last season, it was nearly miraculous for Fuente to do what he did with the Hokies this season. And just like I was anxious to see what McElwain would do this season, I’m very anxious to see what Fuente could do next season.

Now, I know he won’t be the national coach of the year. Some other coaches had even more success this season on a national level. But Fuente’s ACC Coach of the Year honor is well deserved. And of course I think calling him the best first-year head coach for a program is equally well deserved. Heck, I almost wish Florida had held out another year so we could have gotten Fuente instead.

What Fuente did for the Memphis Tigers football program in his four years there was incredible. And it seems like he’s on track to make equally incredible strides with his Hokies.

So here’s to you, Justin Fuente. You may not have the same name recognition as some of these other coaches, but you are truly a coach to keep our eyes on over the next few years. And I wouldn’t be surprised to see you repeat as division champions, just like McElwain did in the SEC East. In fact, I may even be rooting for you to join that club.

You can email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @OGKristenB.

Photo: Kristen Botica

Sorry Hokies, the Battle at Bristol Won’t Be Much of a Battle

I have waited two long years for this game—the Battle at Bristol. And now that it’s here I’m just ready to watch my Tennessee Volunteers run circles around the Virginia Tech Hokies. Run circles…at a NASCAR track…get it?!

I’ve been waiting for a while to get this off my chest. I hate to break it to you, Virginia Tech, but having Justin Fuente won’t just magically turn you into last year’s Memphis Tigers team. And no, Jerod Evans is not the next Cam Newton. Calm down.

Virginia Tech seems like just another wannabe SEC team to me. You hire Justin Fuente after a 37-24 upset over SEC West power Ole Miss. You bring in a junior college quarterback who is most often compared to Cam Newton. I see what you’re doing, but it’s not going to work. You’re like the cheap knockoff version of an SEC team that you’ll find being sold on a street corner in New York City. You look good from a distance, but once you get close enough you’re just another mediocre ACC football team.

And speaking of being a mediocre ACC team, when was the last time you won a championship trophy? No, the ACC Conference Championship doesn’t count. I’m talking about a national title. Spoiler alert: the answer is never. Another acceptable answer would be: in your dreams.

See, I just can’t relate to that. I was raised in East Tennessee in the heart of Vol Country. I may have been too young to know what was happening, but the Vols did win a championship—a national one—in my lifetime. While life as a Volunteers fan has been a little turbulent since then, I can rest easy knowing I’m lucky enough to not be a Hokie fan.

But enough about history, let’s talk about now. I’m sure Virginia Tech fans were licking their lips watching the Vols struggle against Appalachian State last weekend. But if you ask the experts at CBS, they’ll tell you that the Mountaineers are actually ranked ahead of the Hokies. No, I’m not joking. They have Appalachian State ranked 39th and Virginia Tech ranked 50th.

So now you might be resorting to something like, “Well the Vols looked awful and they’re lucky they won that game anyway.” I don’t want to hear it. The Hokies played a mediocre FCS team last weekend and struggled in the first quarter and even the beginning of the second quarter. Virginia Tech only won 36-13. Excuse me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure you’re supposed to beat an unheard of FCS team by a lot more than 23 points. There is absolutely no room to talk about last weekend’s football game for the Vols against a tough FBS team. At the end of the day, Tennessee got a win that was at least as good as Virginia Tech’s win, when you consider the opponents.

As a Vol fan, part of me is honestly glad that last week was a real struggle for Tennessee. There have been ridiculously high expectations for the Vols this offseason and with good reason. But if Tennessee hadn’t been humbled prior to this matchup in the Battle at Bristol, I think the Hokies could’ve taken them by surprise. Now that Tennessee knows its weaknesses, has seen them on game film, and can address them, there will be no element of surprise for the Hokies on Saturday.

Saturday is going to be about just one thing: the talent playing out on that football field. Virginia Tech may have their own knock-off Cam Newton and some good targets for him on offense, but the Vols have more. Tennessee returns 17 starters from last year’s team, a team that finished at No. 22 in last year’s final AP poll. Head coach Butch Jones has a loaded offense behind Josh Dobbs, Jalen Hurd, and Alvin Kamara. And unlike the Hokies, they also have a loaded defense. Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Derek Barnett, and Cam Sutton are just a few of the players that come to mind when I think of that good ole SEC defense.

Virginia Tech fans, I’m glad we could get your hopes up with that mess of a football game we played last weekend. But I hope you spend the entire day in Bristol tailgating very hard so you don’t have to hold onto any painful memories of what this Tennessee team is going to do to you.

You can email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @OGKristenB.

Photo: Bristol Motor Speedway