The Virginia Tech game looms as a potentially huge contest for NC State in 2015; the Pack conceivably could be 5-0 heading into that Friday night matchup, which could make for something special. We know all about what happened to the Hokies last season, as they fought inconsistency from the quarterback spot, but what about 2015?
I caught up with The Key Play contributor Pierson Booher to discuss this year's edition of the Hokies, and you'll never believe this, but their defense is going to be fearsome once again. We hit on that topic, Tech's quarterback situation, and more. Check it out below. I've also answered some questions about NC State for Pierson, which is available to read right here.
BTP: After an up-and-down season from Michael Brewer, what are the expectations for the QB position heading into 2015? Is anyone challenging Brewer for the starting gig, or is he going to be the guy for sure?
Pierson: Heading into spring practice, the quarterback position was considered up-for-grabs. After being slowed early in camp by nagging injuries, Brewer quickly re-established himself as the leader of the offense. Last year’s back-up, Brenden Motley, challenged for the starting role for the second consecutive off-season but was unable to top the impressive Brewer. What really stood out was Brewer’s consistency, his accuracy on deep balls (an area that Hokie offenses have struggled in for as long as I can remember), and advanced knowledge of the playbook.
Heading into the 2014 season, Brewer was looked on as more of a game manager. This was due in part to his limited time practicing with the team – remember, he did not arrive in Blacksburg until May – and the time required to learn Offensive Coordinator Scot Loeffler’s complex system. Expectations reached critical mass following his almost heroic performance in Tech’s upset win over Ohio State, and the truth of the matter was that game was more of an anomaly than a glimpse into his near-term potential. Brewer played hurt from thereon, and when you pair that with a supporting cast largely composed of freshmen you can begin to understand the inconsistencies that plagued the offense last year.
In 2015, most people expect a more mature Brewer; a guy that can execute the entire playbook, is back to full health, and a leader that spent the entire off-season developing solid chemistry with those around him. Will he light the world on fire? I highly doubt it. But I think we will certainly see major improvement from him compared to a year ago.
BTP: Aside from getting better production from the quarterback, what needs to change for the Hokies to be more productive offensively this season? Do they have the pieces to execute those changes?
Pierson: It all starts with the offensive line. After years of recruiting athletic big bodies (specifically tight ends) and converting them to linemen, the staff has re-focused their efforts in recent years to bring in more prototypical linemen. Thankfully, that approach looks to be yielding positive results. Despite losing three starters along the offensive line, many will argue that this year’s unit will see more success than in seasons past.
This team desperately wants an effective rushing game that can gain yardage regardless of field position. Over the last few years, the line has really struggled to impose their will near the goal line and in short yardage situations. This has not only hampered the offense’s ability to prolong drives and put points on the board, but has limited their ability to keep defenses on their toes and truly capitalize on many of the brilliant plays that Coach Loeffler has installed. If the line can continue to improve, Loeffler could do a lot of damage with the weapons he has at his disposal.
BTP: There is a lot of buzz about Virginia Tech's defensive line -- is that the best group in the ACC? And who are the guys up front you expect to have big seasons?
Pierson: I have been talking up this defensive line all off-season as having the potential to be the best defensive line in program history. Anchor Luther Maddy returns after missing virtually all of 2014, and slides back into a line-up that returns 21.5 sacks and 43 tackles for a loss. Maddy gets incredible push up front, is a disruptive force inside and will be a huge help against read option teams looking to establish the run between the tackles (e.g. Georgia Tech). Ends Dadi L’homme Nicolas and Ken Ekanem accounted for 9.5 and 9.0 sacks last season, respectively, and you can’t overlook versatile tackle Corey "The Million Dollar Man" Marshall.
One thing to remember is that DL Coach Charlie Wiles likes to rotate his lineman to keep them fresh over four quarters, and that requires upwards of eight solid options along the line. Two guys from the second unit that I expect to make an impact are tackle Nigel Williams, who has been rock solid in orange and maroon, and redshirt freshman Vinny Mihota. Mihota vaulted up the depth chart during the spring after moving outside from tackle, and has been really impressive during the live action we've seen. He's enormous for a Hokie DE - 6'5" and 270 pounds - but he is the quickest off the line and his explosiveness has caused serious disruptions in the backfield.
BTP: Virginia Tech has been very, very confusing over last few years -- not that I need to tell you that. I mean, last year, the Hokies went from winning at Ohio State to the Wake Forest thing that happened. (I am terribly sorry about that.) Truly you all have captured the spirit of the Coastal Division. Do you expect the Hokies to be more consistent in 2015, and will that be entirely up to the offense, or is it more complicated than that?
Pierson: You had to bring up the Wake game, didn’t you…If there was ever a #goacc moment, that was one for the ages. The simple answer is yes, I expect them to be more consistent. The truth is this team can really only go up after the last few disjointed seasons. As always, the defense will be the strength of this team. What has frustrated many fans over the last number of years has been the offense’s ineptitude and how that has virtually wasted talented defenses. When this team has had average or above-average offenses, they have really soared. While the defense will match (and potentially surpass) the results of past units, I don’t believe that this offense is well rounded enough to compare to, say, 2010 behind Tyrod Taylor and David Wilson. It has a number of dangerous weapons in wideouts Isaiah Ford and Cam Phillips, three talented tight ends in Bucky Hodges, Ryan Malleck and Kalvin Cline, and a stable of talented and complimentary running backs. Brewer will be better, as will the line. As frustrating as it is, yes, the ceiling of this team will likely be determined by how far this offense can go. Again.
BTP: I suppose this all leads to a larger question, which is, can the Hokies be a breakout team in 2015? I'd take Tech in every single one of its ACC home games this year, but what about those trips to Miami and Georgia Tech? And how many wins are enough to win the division in 2015?
Pierson: On paper, this team has a lot of potential. Coach Beamer’s teams have always had a number of talented players on the roster, but very rarely have we seen so many talented units on the roster. The defensive line is fantastic; Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson are lock-down corners; the wideouts are coming off impressive freshmen seasons; the tight ends have the ability to transform the entire offense; and the running backs – though banged up – are extremely versatile. With that being said, I still feel like this team could be one more year away from really taking off. While the team returns an awful lot of key contributors, many of these guys are still quite young (approximately 80% of last year’s scoring came from freshmen). If everything breaks right, the Hokies could surprise and go 11-1 or 10-2; if injuries pop up again or the offense fails to come together, 8-4 or 7-5 is very much in play.
Because there are 4-5 teams that could arguably win the Coastal, I am assuming multiple teams finish with 6 wins, so 7 ACC victories would likely be required without a tie-breaker. Miami is always a terrifying trip – the distance, distractions and humidity can be a recipe for disaster – and Georgia Tech is always a test in discipline and intestinal fortitude. If this Virginia Tech team stays healthy, I think they match up well against their divisional foes. But if there is one thing we’ve learned over the past decade, anything can happen in the wacky world we like to call the ACC Coastal.