Photo Credit: Harley Taylor
The Virginia Tech Hokies, fresh off their first ACC win of the season last Saturday at Miami, return home to Lane Stadium on this Saturday afternoon to take on the Rhode Island Rams. The Rams are the second FCS team that the Hokies have faced in 2019, and on paper, the worst team that Virginia Tech has played thus far on the season.
The Hokies found positive momentum offensively last Saturday with the insertion of QB Hendon Hooker in the starting lineup. While it wasn't always pretty, the offense made enough plays to win the game, and for the first time all season, showed a spark and resiliency when the going got tough.
Tech will look to continue to move things in the right direction on Saturday afternoon, and will look for their first truly convincing win of the season. Here are the keys to ensure that it happens.
1. Continue to Bring Pressure on Defense
When Virginia Tech was at its best defensively last Saturday against Miami, it is when they brought pressure against the Hurricanes' offensive line to put heat on the passing game.
From a skill position standpoint, Miami is by far the best team the Hokies have played, but the Virginia Tech pass rush was so good that it didn't matter. Miami's passing attack struggled to get the ball to their skill position players, and once they did, the Hurricanes already trailed by four touchdowns. Miami ultimately turned the football over five times, throwing four interceptions and fumbling once, and surrendered seven sacks to the Virginia Tech defense.
Rhode Island is not very good up front, and Virginia Tech's young front seven is coming off their best performance of the season. Look for Bud Foster to continue to try to build the confidence of this group on Saturday before heading into an important ACC game against North Carolina in Week 8.
2. Make Rhode Island's Offense Uncomfortable
This goes hand-in-hand with the first point, but it really is imperative for Virginia Tech to jump on Rhode Island early to ensure that the Rams offense doesn't get going.
Despite a 1-4 record on the 2019 season, Rhode Island has masked defensive issues with a capable offense that has managed the game well. On the season, Rhode Island is averaging 27.6 points per game, 419 yards per game, and has converted a modest 44% of its third-down attempts.
Coming off of a defensive performance that looked phenomenal at times, and poor at others, the Virginia Tech defense will need to get Rhode Island into long-yardage situations offensively, and get off the field on third down.
Limiting Rams QB Vito Priore will be imperative, as he's connected on nearly 65% of his passes for 1,717 yards and 12 touchdowns to only three interceptions. He's the x-factor for the Rhode Island offense. This means that the pass rush and tackling of the Virginia Tech defense in open space will be critical to ensuring that the Rams don't gather too much confidence offensively.
3. Aim to create balance offensively
The offensive output last Saturday against Miami was quite uneven. There were high points, such as Hendon Hooker's game-winning touchdown pass with three minutes to play, as well as low points, such as the five three-and-outs in the second half.
While the Hokies looked like they had life on the offensive side of the ball for the first time all season, there were still too many moments where poor playcalling and offensive inefficiency were present. Tech won't turn the football over defensively five times per game throughout the rest of the season like it did last Saturday, so complementary football will be a must throughout the rest of the conference schedule.
The Hokies ran the ball 43 times and threw it 20 times against Miami, inhibiting the rhythm that Hooker could have developed with his receivers.
A more even split with the playcalling could lead to more opportunities for big plays in the passing game, which is an element that has been largely lacking for Tech thus far in 2019. Rhode Island is a good tune-up for the Virginia Tech offense to gain more offensive consistency before playing some stronger defenses down the stretch.