« Everyone back at Hurricanes practice Wednesday, three days before Virginia Tech | Main | Gameday blog: Miami Hurricanes vs. Virginia Tech Hokies »

Injury update and five questions on this weekend's matchup by Virginia Tech beat writer Andy Bitter

I hope Roanoke Times writer Andy Bitter, who covers Virginia Tech football, is already on the beach -- although now I notice that it's raining in Miami. You hate to hear that.

Before he hopped on the plane, Andy answered five questions about the Hokies in advance of Saturday's 3:30 p.m. game at Sun Life Stadium.

Follow Andy Bitter here on Twitter. 

Here's Virginia Tech's injury report per Andy. Please note that the Hurricanes do not provide us anymore with an injury report, though Al Golden for the most part does a good job of letting us know what's happening injury-wise. They're all coaches, so take it for what it's worth.

I expect Nick Linder (neck/shoulder/trapezius) to play -- or at least try playing. Not so sure about NT Kendrick Norton (ankle) and OLB Demetrius Jackson (cut on foot).

1. Quarterback Michael Brewer sounds close to being back. Will he play this week or will it be Brenden Motley again?

AB: It’s anybody’s guess, really, and I don’t think whatever they say on Thursday’s injury report will be any indication of whether or not Brewer will play. He was probable last week, which in theory means he had a 75 percent chance to play, but he told us this week that they scratched him from the game about a day or two in advance. He broke his left collarbone, so it’s a matter of how quickly the bone heals. There’s not much you can do to rush back from that. He had a plate and six screws put in there, but he has to demonstrate that he take a hit before they’ll put him on the field. He got knocked onto some mats this week by the trainer to get used to that again. But a 160-pound trainer pales in comparison to a 300-pound lineman, so he has a ways to go.

Tech can at least bank on the fact that Motley has been pretty good in Brewer’s place. Not many saw this coming, but Motley’s 1,213 total yards of offense are third in the ACC, his 13 touchdowns accounted for are second to Georgia Tech’s Justin Thomas and his 10 passing touchdowns are second to Clemson’s Deshaun Watson. Heading into the season, each and every Hokies fan would have taken those numbers from Brewer, let alone his backup. There are still things Motley’s seeing for the first time. That was evident when he struggled against Pitt, throwing three picks and for fewer than 100 yards. But he can do things with his feet that Brewer can’t. The Hokies’ offense looks a little different with Motley in the game, with all sorts of read plays, designed QB runs and the potential for scrambling. At this point, even if Brewer is able to play, splitting time with both of them wouldn’t surprise me.

2. Is tailback Travon McMillian’s emergence last week a sign of things to come for the running game or will Virginia Tech continue to split carries?

AB: The fans had called for a larger role for McMillian for a while. He was averaging 7.0 yards per carry in the first five games, got the bulk of carries last week against N.C. State and his average actually went up to 7.4 after he ran for 96 yards, including a 59-yard touchdown that gave Tech some breathing room. He’ll start this week, although the Hokies’ coaches said they haven’t closed the door on Trey Edmunds and J.C. Coleman. Neither of those players have McMillian’s knack for making plays. however. He’s 6-feet, 198 pounds and is plenty athletic. A former high school quarterback, he’s only been playing running back for a little over a year, but his vision and cutting ability seems to come natural. The Hokies’ offensive line remains a work in progress, so having a running back that can make something out of nothing is always a huge plus.

The Hokies said they were going to pare down the running back rotation last week, which they did. McMillian got 11 carries, fullback Sam Rogers got eight and Edmunds and Coleman got none. I don’t know if it will be that extreme this week -- I’d imagine Edmunds and Coleman won’t get shut out again -- but I think there’s a clear mandate coming from the top to get the team’s best play-makers more touches. And McMillian is the best play-making back in the group.

3. The Hokies had a touted defensive line coming into the year. Is that group living up to its billing?

AB: It was pretty touted, with all four of the starters on the line -- ends Dadi Nicolas and Ken Ekanem and tackles Luther Maddy and Corey Marshall -- being named to the Nagurski Trophy watch list in the summer. But their production hasn’t nearly matched that hype. That’s not to say the group has played poorly, but there is plenty of room for improvement. Through five games, Nicolas and Ekanem, who had 18.5 sacks last year, didn’t have a sack between them. Ekanem got off the schneid last week with 1.5 sacks. Nicolas, who has played with a broken hand and jammed fingers, still doesn’t have one, despite a handful of plays last week where he had the quarterback in his clutches. He’s simply having a hard time wrapping up. Maddy’s played pretty well in his second shot at a senior season after getting a medical redshirt, but Marshall’s been nicked up all year, first with a foot injury and lately with a hamstring pull that’s kept him out essentially for the last two games. Woody Baron’s filled in well in his absence and actually leads the d-line with six TFLs and three sacks, but Marshall is a disruptive guy inside if he’s able to play.

The big question with this line is how it will hold up against a bigger offensive line. None of them are all that big. Nicolas is a 223-pound end. Marshall and Woody are 266 and 274 pounds, respectively, at tackle. Even Maddy, the heaviest of the group, is 282 pounds -- big, but not necessarily a massive nose tackle type. That’s part of Tech’s goal on defense: be small, be fast and rely on quickness to fill gaps and disrupt plays. But it doesn’t work at times against massive offensive lines, and the Hokies showed that trouble against Miami last year when the ‘Canes steamrolled them for 364 rushing yards. Duke Johnson had a lot to do with that, but so did a pretty big, pretty physical offensive line.

 4. How will Virginia Tech’s secondary handle a strong Miami passing attack, especially without All-American cornerback Kendall Fuller?

AB: It’ll be a challenge, and perhaps the key to the game for Virginia Tech. Losing Fuller for the year with a torn meniscus was a huge blow, not just from how outstanding of a player he was (he’s projected as a first-rounder next year if he goes pro, even with the injury) but for easing any kind of concerns on the back end. Free safety Chuck Clark leads the ACC with 51 tackles and cornerback Brandon Facyson is a veteran who is rounding back into form after missing last year with a stress fracture. But the other three starters in the Hokies’ nickel package are freshmen -- cornerback Terrell Edmunds, nickelback Mook Reynolds and safety Adonis Alexander. All three have shown some things, but they’re also prone to freshman moments.

Alexander and Reynolds are true freshmen, having enrolled last winter. Alexander reminds the Hokies’ coaching staff a little bit of Kam Chancellor, and he jumped into a starting role in Week 2, but he’s still going to have his ups and downs. Against N.C. State last week, his didn’t make a correct check on a pass play and was late to cover a tight end down the field, leading to a touchdown. But he also notched his third interception late in the game, jumping high to snag a Jacoby Brissett pass along the sideline to clinch the win. You take the good with the bad if you’re Virginia Tech because there are not a lot of options. Donovan Riley and Desmond Frye are veteran guys who could play a couple positions, but they’ve been nicked up. It seems the Hokies are content just putting their young guys out there and seeing if they can handle it. This week will be as stiff of a test as they’ll face. 

 5. Is the end near for Frank Beamer?

AB: It’s a good question, and I don’t think anyone outside of Beamer really knows the answer. He’ll turn 69 later this month, had throat surgery last December that limited him in the leadup of the bowl game and caused him to lose a lot of weight and the program hasn’t lived up to its billing for three-plus years now. The Hokies won 10-plus games in every season from 2004-11. Since then, Tech’s only 25-20, needing wins in the final game of the regular season twice in the last three years just to qualify for a bowl. Both Beamer and athletic director Whit Babcock came out last winter with a joint statement saying they’re not content with how the football program has performed lately and that more was expected. Yet the Hokies sit at 3-3 this year, with puzzling losses to East Carolina and Pittsburgh. It’s more of the same.

There’s obviously more to Beamer’s situation than just looking at how the team has performed lately. You’re talking about someone who made this program what it is today. Nobody’s talking about a 22-year bowl streak or seven conference championships or the great facilities upgrades that Tech has had, including a $21.3 million indoor facility, without Beamer’s contributions. It’s not a good idea to simply kick somebody like that to the curb. But this is also a bottom line business, and the Hokies aren’t winning as much as they’d like. Beamer has always said that’s he’s aware of sticking around too long. He doesn’t want to be a detriment to the program, something Steve Spurrier, who is 1½ years Beamer’s senior, mentioned recently during his resignation press conference. That said, he’s a competitor too. And he more than anyone wants to get this program back to the level it was once at. I also think he would like to coach at the game against Tennessee at the Bristol Motor Speedway next year and at Notre Dame, a couple of career highlights that would be nice to add. If he goes 8-4 or 9-3 this year (which is admittedly a stretch), I think he can make that decision himself. If he goes 7-5 or 6-6 or, gasp, worse, then I think he and Babcock will have a long conversation about the future of this program after the season.

ANDY BITTER

SUSAN MILLER DEGNAN

 

 
 
 

Comments