This week's Inside The Lunch Pail mailbag is a little more abbreviated as Hokie fans seem happy to have VT Football on a bye this weekend. Even with that, VT's top 20 ranked soccer teams are both bush with major,ACC games this weekend.
With that said, here's this week's edition of Inside The Lunch Pail.
@BcroftVT920: How much has Hazelton's absence affected the offense?
While Virginia Tech has plenty of receiver talent, it's hard to not think that there hasn't been at least some effect. However, the ways that Hazelton's absence have affected the offense are more nuanced and go beyond the talent level of the rest of the receiving corps.
One of the biggest things with Hazelton is the fact that he and Ryan Willis have excellent chemistry. Time and time again, especially in the first few games that Willis was the starter, Hazelton was the favorite for the Hokies' starting QB. Even when Hazelton was clearly not 100%, he was still Willis' go-to receiver. While Tre Turner has appeared to build that rapport, there's a comfort that Hazelton has with Willis that could make a big difference.
Secondly, one thing that we haven't seen much are the 50-50 balls that became popular playcalls for Hazelton and Eric Kumah. With Kumah gone and Hazelton hurt, that part of the passing game has almost been non-existent and forced the Hokies to adapt. Once Hazelton is healthy, expect the element to return to the offense.
Third, not having Hazelton has led to more attention being put on Tre Turner. While Turner has been steady so far, the lack of Hazelton has allowed a greater focus on Turner in the passing game limiting his ability to make big plays. Add Hazelton back in and "Big Play Tre" Turner's biggest plays should no longer be limited to jet sweeps like his 29-yard touchdown carry against Furman.
While the talent is there for Ryan Willis already, having his safety blanket of Hazelton back should not only open things up more but give Willis an increased comfort that should make him more effective.
@cdulaney74: What's the realistic win total?
At this point, the range of win total possibilities is quite wide. The Hokies have shown in streaks that they have the talent to still compete for the ACC Coastal crown while also having the fight that you need. However, there are also plenty of concerns from questionable offensive playcalling and approaches to sloppy mistakes with inconsistent tackling and questionable turnovers especially from Ryan Willis.
The good news is that many of the issues are things that should be fixable.
First, the Hokies have shown that they can tackle at a high level. The thing that must improve is consistency, something that experience, and good experience in particular, should help improve. Last week showed a greater amount of tackling consistency that should be an encouraging sign.
Second, the ball security issues haven't appeared to be consistent with one or two star players. Rather, those who have had fumbles have appeared to fix the mistakes with Tre Turner being the latest as he showed in the second half against Furman.
Third, playcalling adjustments have been limited but VT has shown that they can make some. Look at the running game in the third quarter where the Hokies turned to Keshawn King as the main back and used well-designed jet sweeps and end arounds to stretch the field. That adjustment showed that there is at least some recognition that adjustments can be made and that the offensive staff can make ones that make a positive difference.
However, the interception issues for Ryan Willis are one major concern without a clear answer. Willis has shown signs of regressions from last season more than overall growth and at some point has to show improvement in those areas, especially as a senior QB. If he doesn't show improvement, even as a gunslinger QB, the Hokies have to at least give someone else the chance to have the full reigns with this offense though that also seems unlikely.
The Hokies have also shown a stubbornness with their offensive schematics to date with an offense that doesn't seem to fit the personnel as well as it could. Willis has plenty of air raid style thigns that he does well while he has struggled running RPOs and traditional option plays that the Hokies continue to go with. Fail to make those adjustments, and Virginia Tech's offense may not get close to reaching its potential.
It's pretty much impossible to make any sound prediction about this team today but a range of 5-9 wins still seems likely with either end of that having the potential to send Justin Fuente towards an extremely hot seat or to relieve all pressure that has built up since losing to Old Dominion in 2018.