Breaking down Virginia Tech's first four opponents of 2016.

What kind of start will Virginia Tech get off to this season? Much will depend on how it handles its first four games, as we break down their first four opponents.

September 3: Liberty

Series History: No previous games.

On Saturday, September 3 the Hokies take on their first opponent of the season, the Liberty Flames. Last season, Liberty finished third in the Big South, with a record of 6-5. Liberty’s biggest opponent last season was West Virginia, a game that they lost 41-17. The Flames finished the season 3-1, including a final minute comeback against Coastal Carolina.

Liberty leaned heavily on its passing attack, gaining 260 yards a game compared to 120 on the ground. The difference between the two phases is exemplified most by the first down differential between the two. The Flames gained 72 rushing first downs compared to 124 through the air.

Quarterback Josh Woodrum started all 11 games for the Flames last season. He finished 242-390 on the season, with 12 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. Receiver Darrin Peterson led the team with 906 yards and 68 receptions for 7 touchdowns. No other receiver had more than 2 touchdowns. However, both Woodrum and Peterson have graduated, so Liberty will be looking to find a replacement for its most productive offensive players. Quarterback Damian King has positioned himself well to take over for Woodrum. The Flames will also be looking to replace their starting runningback, Desmond Rice.

Defensively, sophomore cornerback Chris Turner led the team with 4 interceptions. Nick Newman led the team with 74 tackles, but Avery James was close behind with 71.

Photo by Danny Parker
September 10: Tennessee

Series History: Eight games spanning 1896-2009. Last matchup was a 37-14 Hokies victory in the 2009 Chick-fil-a Bowl. Virginia Tech is 3-5 all-time against Tennessee.

This is game that has been marked on nearly every college football fan’s calendar: The Battle at Bristol. The Hokies will take on Tennessee in the most attended football game in history at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Tennessee is a team that is almost perennially on the verge of breaking through. This season, they are returning nearly every leader from a team that finished 9-4 (5-3 SEC). They are led by quarterback Josaua Dobbs, who completed 205 of 344 passes for 15 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. His top target was receiver Von Pearson, but Dobbs really shared he football. Seven receivers had at least two touchdowns on the season and no receiver had more than three.

Jalen Hurd, had a big year with 1288 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns. Quarterback Joshua Dobbs finished third on the team in rushing with 671 yards, speaking to his dual-threat ability.

The biggest question mark of the Volunteer offense is their field goal unit. Kicker Aaron Medley was accurate on extra points, making all 55 attempts. His accuracy had a sharp decline past forty yards, where went 5-12 on kicks – including missing all three attempts past 50 yards. 

Defensively, Tennessee was led by cornerback Todd Kelly, who had three interceptions on the season. Two other players had two apiece: Brian Randolph and LaDerrell McNeil.  Jalen Reeves-Maybin was all over the field for the Volunteers with 105 tackles, with 66 solo tackles. The next-best mark was 70 by Randolph.

September 17: Boston College

Series History: 24 games spanning 1993-2015. Last matchup was a 26-10 Hokies victory in the 2015 regular season. Virginia Tech is 16-8 all-time against the Eagles.

The Hokies shift gears to an ACC opponent the next week when they take on Boston College. The Eagles finished 3-9 (0-8 ACC) on the season. Boston College’s 2015 campaign is best known for the historic, or rather infamous, mark they achieved: going winless in both football and men’s basketball in ACC play.

Even though the Eagles didn’t win a conference game, they were certainly close to winning some. Duke, Wake Forest, Louisville, Notre Dame, and Syracuse were all decided by 3 points or less.

Defensively, Boston College was rated as one of the top units in the country – and deservedly so. They held four opponents to under 10 points. The problem with the 2015 Eagles team was the offense.

Defensively, they held teams to 254 yards a game, 171.5 passing and 82.3 rushing. They return most of the unit that kept them in a majority of their games on the season.

September 24: East Carolina

Series History: 20 games spanning 1956-2015. Previous matchup was a 35-28 Pirates’ victory in the 2015 regular season. East Carolina has a two game winning streak in the series, but Virginia Tech owns a 13-7 all-time series lead.

The Hokies next opponent is one that defeated them in the 2015 season: East Carolina. The Pirates won the game against Virginia Tech 35-28. East Carolina started the season 3-2, but finished the season with a 5-7 (3-5 AAC) record to miss a bowl game.

The Pirates will be led on offense by quarterback Blake Kemp, who had 2658 passing yards during the 2015 season. His top target is receiver Isaiah Jones, who had 98 receptions and 1099 yards to go along with 5 touchdowns. East Carolina is primarily a pass-first team, which did hurt their rushing attack.

Chris Hairston led the team with 165 carries and 754 yards. His longest run was 45 yards, which ended with a touchdown, one of his eight on the season.

Defensively, Zeek Bigger led the team with 98 tackles. The next-two highest totals were 82 and 70, by Jordan Williams and Montese Overton, respectively.

Following those three players, there was a significant drop-off to only 40 tackles.

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