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Know Thy Opponent 2015: Virginia Tech Hokies

It is time for the Big Ten-ACC Challenge - FOOTBALL STYLE!

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Quick Question: When was the last time Purdue defeated a Power Five Conference team during the non-conference portion of the schedule? You have to go all the way back to 2007, when the Boilers beat perhaps the worst Notre Dame team of all time. The last time it beat a Power 5 conference team that actually finished with a winning record is even worse. Unless you count the 2002 Sun Bowl win over Washington to the Alamo Bowl wins you have to go back to Notre Dame in 1997. For a non-Notre Dame type win in the regular season you have to go back to September 29, 1979, when Purdue beat Oregon at Ross-Ade Stadium. The Ducks went on to finish 6-5, and I would be born 13 days later.

Part of this comes from lack of opportunity against Power 5 conference teams not named Notre Dame. Part of it comes from teams like California (1992), West Virginia (1995), and Wake Forest (2003) crumbling to losing seasons after being ranked when Purdue upset them. With Notre Dame gone from the schedule for the first time since the Truman administration, Purdue gets a new Power Five opponent as Virginia Tech visits Ross-Ade Stadium for our marquee non-conference game.

2014 Record: 7-6, 3-5 ACC

Bowl Result: Beat Cincinnati 33-17 in Military Bowl

Blog Representation: Gobbler Country

Series with Purdue: First Meeting

Last Season for the Hokies:

If you want to see schizophrenic, look at the 2014 Virginia Tech Football season. The Hokies have made a bowl game every season since 1993. That impressive streak was nearly snapped last year, and would have if not for one of the season's larger upsets. Virginia Tech went to Ohio State on September 6th and won 35-21, earning the same number of victories over the Buckeyes that the entire Big Ten has over them since Urban Meyer took over. As you know, Ohio State only went on to win the National Championship.

As impressive as that victory was, one of their losses was even more absurd. Wake Forest might have been the worst Power Five conference team in America last year. Like Purdue, they were 3-9, but barely snuck past Army and Gardner-Webb for two of their wins. Not only did they beat Virginia Tech, they did so without even scoring a point in regulation, giving us this:

That might be the image of the 2014 college football season. So, yes. Virginia Tech beat the National Champions by double digits in their home stadium at night, then lost a game essentially decided by penalty kicks because both offenses were too horrid to score actual touchdowns, even when TWICE given the ball at the 25 yard line. As for the rest of the season, Virginia played A LOT of fellow 6-6 teams. We had a common opponent as they beat Western Michigan 35-17, but they were 1-3 against fellow 6-6 ACC teams in North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Miami, and Boston College. It was, in total, a mediocre year against a mediocre schedule with bizarre results in those Ohio State and Wake Forest games.

Virginia Tech Offense

As expected from an offense that struggled to score points against Wake Forest, this offense was not a great one. The Hokies ranked 96th nationally in scoring at 24.1 points per game. They were 89th in rushing and 77th in passing. Much of their winning came how they have always done it under Frank Beamer: Through a stout defense. While Purdue was ranked 98th in scoring last season Virginia Tech was 14th nationally at 20.2 points given up on defense versus the 31.7 points per game Purdue gave up. Maybe there is hope for the Shoopfense after all!

The Hokies do return an experienced quarterback in Michael Brewer. The fifth-year senior started all 13 games last season and was at least semi-respectable. He completed 59.4% of his passes for 2,692 yards and 18 TDs against 15 interceptions. Calling him a pocket passer is kind. He had a net -5 yards rushing on 80 carries. He had a 31 yard run and two TDs, but sacks evened things out for him.

What could make things even more difficult is a young offensive line that has only 42 starts among the front five. Their line is not a line of 6'8" 330 pound hulking monsters that Purdue normally faces. The current depth chart on their Rivals site (last updated in November) has four of five starters under 300 pounds. Should Purdue be able to generate a pass rush it could even things out. There is still talent here with guard Wyatt Teller as a preseasons First Team all-ACC selection.

Virginia Tech lacked their signature strong running game for most of last season. The top two rushers were J.C. Coleman (533 yards, 3 TDs) and Marshawn Williams (475-4). Both are back this season, but combined to barely rush for 1,000 yards. Overall this is an offensive attack that is night and day different than the one Purdue will face in the season opener at Marshall.

Sophomore receiver Isaiah Ford is coming off of a good debut season where he caught 56 passes for 709 yards and 6 TDs. Tight End Bucky Hodges also gives Brewer a big target to throw to after he had a solid 45-526-7 season. Look for him to be the next TE that Purdue refuses to cover on third and long or in the red zone. Cam Phillips (40-498-3) is a reliable third option while Ryan Malleck (24-195-2) started 12 games last season. The line may be inexperienced, but Brewer definitely has some consistent targets to throw to.

Virginia Tech Defense

This is where Purdue could have a very, very long day. Our offense is still very much a work and progress, and we had better hope a lot of progress occurs in the first two games. The Hokies feature six players that are on the preseason First- or Second-Team all-ACC list, and this includes all four defensive linemen. Ken Ekanem, Dadi Nicolas, and Luther Maddy are all First Team selections and Corey Marshall is a Second Team selection. Nicolas had 9 sacks last season, but was second to Ekanem's 9.5. This is basically a nightmare defensive line that will be facing a sack-addled Danny Etling, an inaccurate Austin Appleby, or freshman David Blough.

It does not get a lot better for Purdue when it comes to the lineabckers, either. Deon Clarke is a Second Team all-ACC preseason selection after having 74 tackles, 11 for loss, and five sacks. Behind him is an excellent secondary featuring Kendall fuller and chuck Clarke. They didn't have a ton of interceptions last year, but Fuller broke up 15 passes and had 17 more defensed.

This may be the best defense we see all season unless a miracle happens and we face Ohio State in the Big Ten title game. The Hokies have all of the tools in place to slow an offense that already has had major issues in moving the football. When you consider Purdue has a suspect passing game that completely collapsed after Danny Anthrop was hurt last season and little experience at running back it could be a very long day.

Virginia Tech Special Teams

It is a homecoming of sorts for punter A.J. Hughes, who played in high school against Etling at Terre Haute North. He averages just about 40 yards per punt and has been second-team all-ACC before. Joey Slye also returns as a sophomore kicker who was 20 of 28 on field goals last season. He has a decent leg too with a 49-yarder as his best.

One thing to note about special teams is Beamerball. Coach Frank Beamer has always had a strong emphasis on special teams, especially when it comes to blocking kicks. It has not been as prolific of late, but the danger is always there. There is also some danger in Greg Stroman, who is one of the ACC's best returning punt returners.

Game Outlook

Ho boy.

Just about the only thing that encourages me here is that their offense might be as lousy as our own. We're going to have to play sharp because this is a nasty defense we're playing that does not need much of a lead to make it hold up. They are just fine with scoring only 20 points a game because this defense can hold opponents to 10. It could be a game where Paul Griggs is called in to make some huge long field goals, so having him might be an advantage.

This is still the only team that has beaten Ohio State in Columbus in four years. That's discouraging. There is also that bizarre Wake Forest result, which is encouraging. Wake Forest might have been worse than Purdue last season, but they still won a rock fight with VaTech.

That might be what Purdue has to do here. Unlike Marshall, the Virginia Tech offense is in no hurry to run 50 plays in a half. If the defense can have a solid game it should favor us, especially if the Shoopfense can return to being the Shoopfense that played very well at Minnesota last season. We have seen some offensive flashes so far. While Virginia Tech is strong defensively, they are not impenetrable.

Way To Early Prediction

Virginia Tech is the better team and probably should win, but I have to admit I have had a "good feeling" about this game for awhile. If we could beat Marshall it gives us a lot of momentum. Beating a "name" program like Virginia Tech, who is consistently a top 25 team, would be a huge victory and the start of something big. For now, I think the Hokies win, but don't be surprised if Purdue hangs around a long while like it did against Oregon a few years ago. Virginia Tech 23, Purdue 13