We had furrer4heisman from Gobbler Country on our podcast three weeks ago to give us an early preview of the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, and now we've shared questions and answers as we move to game week. You can find our responses to his questions here.
1. How much do you think the Hokies will go to the air against the Vols, or will they simply rely on Ryan Williams?
I expect us to try and establish the run game early and often. If the Vols prove they can stop the traditional run game with Williams, I think you'll see us use some designed runs by Taylor, zone-read options and Wild Turkey formations to try and get some yards on the ground. We didn't see much of the Wild Turkey this year because Greg Boone got hurt in the opener and Tech couldn't practice it. However, with the few weeks Tech has had since its last game, I expect Boone and even Williams to take some snaps out of the Wild Turkey. If Tennessee stops the run game consistently, then you'll see Tech throw the ball. Both teams have been hit and miss at stopping the run. The Hokies are going to rely on Williams, but they'll also try to get yards on the ground by unconventional means.
It won't be our first or second option on offense but when we throw, Tyrod has to stay efficient and confident like he has been most of the year. He had the highest passer rating in the ACC and was third in the country in yards per attempt.
2. VT's run defense has been great in some games and very vulnerable in others - how well do you expect them to play against Montario Hardesty and Tennessee?
I think Hardesty will get his yards, but the key will be for the Hokies to hold him under 100 yards. If Tech can limit him to 85-99 yards, it should win. However, a big game by Hardesty will spell doom for the Hokies. It will be harder for Tech to stop him because it will be without cornerback Stephan Virgil who is academically ineligible for the game. Virgil was our best run defender in the secondary. If Hardesty can get outside the tackles, he could have a big game.
Hardesty worries me more than any other Tennessee player because he's a good back and stopping him will be the key to the game for the Hokies.
3. How much does the fact that Tech has struggled so often against SEC opponents come into play in the importance of this game?
I think it makes this game very important for Virginia Tech. In the 2006 Peach Bowl, the Hokies faced a team with two fewer wins than they had in the regular season just like this season. While at halftime it looked like Tech was going to cruise to an easy win, four second-half turnovers led to a heart-breaking loss to a Georgia team that came into the game unranked.
This game is important because it comes against a Tennessee whose best wins are against fellow 7-5 teams Georgia and South Carolina. Even that 2006 Georgia team won on the road against an Auburn team that won 11 games and a Georgia Tech team that won the Coastal. So on paper, this is Tech's best chance to beat an SEC team since it beat LSU in 2002. The other SEC losses were against an undefeated Auburn team, a national champion LSU team and an Alabama team that is playing for a national title. So even though Tech has lost four in a row to the SEC, the only game it really should have won was that Georgia game.
It's really important for the conference for Virginia Tech to win this game. Tennessee is going to be a great team under Lane Kiffin, but it's not there yet. If Tennessee wins, it's going to give even more ammo to the argument that the ACC is a second-rate football conference. And if Tech loses this game I'll probably agree with that. While the ACC shouldn't be trying to compare itself to the SEC or any other BCS conference, other people are going to do it so this game is one to circle not just for the Hokies, but for the conference.
It's also important because it's Tennessee. I like Kiffin and I'm impressed by what he's done in his first year in Knoxville, but gawd do I hate Tennessee. There are Vol fans out there who look down their noses at Virginia Tech's program and it would make my New Year's Eve a great one if we went out there and kicked your [Fulmerized.]
4. Outside of Tyrod Taylor and Ryan Williams, who are the players Tennessee fans should watch out for?
On defense watch for Jason Worilds. Whether or not you notice him will be a big factor in whether or not Tech wins. If he's able to get to the quarterback and disrupt the passing game, it means good things for the Hokies, who led the ACC in sacks against conference opponents. However, if the announcers don't say his name a lot it's because he's being stopped by the Tennessee offensive line, which allowed an SEC-low six sacks in league play. My eyes are going to be on Worilds and the tackle across from him on passing downs.
On offense, look for Jarrett Boykin. He's our best down-field threat and had three 100-yard games this year, including back-to-back ones late in the year against Maryland and NC State. He finished fourth in the ACC in yards per catch. Taylor trusts Boykin probably more than any of his other receivers. When he needs a big play, he'll go deep to Boykin. Virginia clamped down on him and he didn't catch a ball in that game, but Tyrod still had over 12 yards per attempt against the Hoos because he was able to distribute the ball to other receivers. Tennessee's pass defense and secondary players are good enough that they don't have to single out one guy to stop. It will be interesting to watch Boykin against one of the better secondaries in the country.
5. Virginia Tech will win the game if... ?
It doesn't turn the ball over, establishes the run game and gets pressure on Crompton.