As we head full steam into the Virginia Tech football offseason, there are many questions on the minds of the fan base. In his post-season press conference, head coach Brent Pry already said that there will be no coaching changes – as it should be. But after a historically bad offensive year, will any schematic changes be made? How can Tech build – and maintain – the roster? What personnel changes are in store, particularly through the transfer portal?
These are three particular issues of urgency for the program. Let’s take a deeper dive into each:
Offensive Scheme Overhaul
Much has been made of the poor performance of the Virginia Tech offense and their worst record since 1992. There is no need to keep beating that drum.
However, for me, the most eye-popping statistic comes from Chris Coleman of Techsideline.com. During a recent podcast (at approximately the 27:30 mark), Coleman presents the SP+ figures, and Tech’s score of 13.5 adjusted points per game is horrendously bad. He says that going back to 1980, this figure ranks better than only SEVEN Power 5 offenses! So this year’s offense ranks in the bottom ten of modern college football offenses!
To say that the offensive scheme needs tweaking is incorrect. It needs an overhaul. Pry already admitted that the coaching staff misjudged the team to start the season. He said, “I think who we thought we wanted to be initially, we struggled to be that unit.” But give credit to the coaches for acknowledging this and making in-season adjustments. There was success on the ground in the last month of the season. That said, the coaches really need to re-examine their personnel and their philosophies to choose a system that will be successful for this roster.
There are specific areas of need for this offense, and an improvement in key areas will yield significant results. Quarterback Grant Wells threw for 3532 yards with a 66% completion rate in his last season at Marshall, but he only threw for 2171 yards and 59% clip at Virginia Tech this year. Sophomore tackle Parker Clements was an All-ACC third team honoree last year, but this year he graded out considerably worse. No running back rushed for more than 443 yards this year, and other than Kaleb Smith and his 674 receiving yards, no single receiver had more that 256 yards in receptions. This all needs to change.
Yes, there are talent issues for sure, but there are also players with prior success who regressed this year. There are also skill positions that greatly underperformed. That is on the coaching staff, and they have this offseason to figure out how to make schematic changes for the better.
A top priority for the Virginia Tech football offseason is to manage the roster, particularly by keeping the players that will be most helpful.
The first order of business is to convince seniors with Covid-year eligibility to return to Blacksburg for one more year. Coach Pry mentioned in his post-season press conference that he had at least 34 scheduled meetings with players to discuss their intentions and their place on the team. Those meetings should have taken place last week, during the NCAA-imposed dead period, and as of this printing, no announcements have been made from seniors. Either that is good news for Hokie fans, or the players are waiting until the portal officially opens on December 5 to make their announcements.
Because the final home game against Virginia was cancelled, the university decided to honor the seniors at halftime of Sunday’s Virginia Tech – UNC basketball game. There were several seniors with eligibility who did not participate. This does not automatically mean that they will return, but if they do, that will help Virginia Tech a lot next year. Specifically, if tight end Nick Gallo returns, he will pair with Dae’Quan Wright as a dangerous duo. And if defensive tackles Mario Kendricks and Norell Pollard return, then Tech will have all four DT’s in their two-deep returning!
According to Andy Bitter of the Athletic, here are those seniors with eligibility who did not participate (sadly, Kaleb Smith did participate – we would love to have him back!)
If we really read into senior day festivities, here are the #Hokies "seniors" who could return for another year who didn't participate today:
WR Cole Beck
TE Nick Gallo
DT Norell Pollard
DT Mario Kendricks
DE Pheldarius Payne
LB Alan Tisdale
S Nasir Peoples
CB Brion Murray
— Andy Bitter (@AndyBitterVT) December 4, 2022
NIL Can Aid in Roster Retention
The other important aspect of roster management includes NIL (Name, Image, and Likeness). There are several talented young players on this roster, and providing them with competitive NIL opportunities only increases the chances of keeping them in Blacksburg. Thus it is imperative not only to sign these players to good NIL deals but also to generate NIL funds that can keep Virginia Tech competitive in this space for the long term.
To that end, Hokie fans can help – now. On a recent Techsideline podcast, at the 34:45 mark, Will Stewart outlines the current Virginia Tech NIL collectives and how fans can make a difference. The one incredibly interesting opportunity right now is “The Hokie Way.” They are a non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization, so donations are tax deductible.
At about the 39-minute mark, Stewart reveals that an anonymous donor has pledged to MATCH all donations to the Hokie Way, up to $200,000, from now until December 31. Hokie fans, if you want to make a difference – if you want to help keep young talent on the roster and help rebuild this proud program – make a donation to the Hokie Way before the end of the year! (You can make your soon-to-be-matched donation to TheHokieWay.org with this link https://www.thehokieway.org/)
This is a tremendous opportunity for Virginia Tech to be competitive in NIL. It could possibly be the difference in keeping some of Tech’s rising stars in the orange and maroon!
Potential Personnel Changes Through the Transfer Portal
Despite the flurry of announcements this past week, the transfer portal officially opens Monday, December 5th. Fortunately for Virginia Tech, only a few players have announced their intention to transfer (so far). However, there has been a lot of activity throughout the land. Some high-profile names have already announced their intentions to transfer, and Hokie Nation is abuzz.
The activity from the quarterback position has been particularly intriguing. Coach Pry recently excited Hokie fans when he said, “I want to add competition to every room, including the quarterback.” Statistically, Grant Wells had an average year, so Hokie Nation seems to want Pry to sign a big name quarterback out of the portal.
There are plenty. DJ Uiagalelei from Clemson, Jeff Sims from Georgia Tech, Brennan Armstrong from Virginia, Drew Pyne from Notre Dame, Graham Mertz from Wisconsin, Cade McNamara from Michigan. Christian Veilleux from Penn State. The list is impressive, and it is growing. (Although McNamara reportedly is headed to Iowa, which is perplexing, because that decision was made during the Dead Period. But then again, NIL is not supposed to be used for recruiting, so I shouldn’t be surprised, should I?)
Will any of these players want to come to Blacksburg? Will any of them want to play for the Tech offense? (If McNamara is signing on to play on Iowa’s offense, then Hokie fans, there is hope!). More importantly, does Tech want another change at quarterback? Weren’t Hokie fans frustrated with Justin Fuente’s quarterback carousel? Does the fanbase really want to keep that spinning?
This may not be a popular opinion, but the staff should focus on developing Grant Wells and revamping the offense to put him in better position for success. Maybe make a push for Veilleux, since Tyler Bowen recruited him to Penn State and he is a Maryland native. But otherwise, the priorities should be on making scheme adjustments and getting playmakers at the skill positions.
That means Virginia Tech should get a durable running back from the portal, such as Jalen Mitchell from Louisville or Blake Watson from Old Dominion. They should also seek to build talent at the receiver position. Nate McCollom from Georgia Tech and Ali Jennings from ODU are two portal receivers that the Hokies should know well. Either – or both – would fill huge needs in the roster.
And yes, I saw that. I did just suggest the signing of two of Old Dominion’s players to Tech – as upgrades! We know the roster issues in Blacksburg. We saw the Hokies fall to ODU. These are two proven G5 players from an in-state school that might jump at the opportunity to play at a Power 5 school. Each individual amassed 2000 yards over the past two seasons – what recent Hokie has done that? And let’s face it – Virginia Tech is not likely to win portal wars for the top players. So go get proven mid-tier players, continue to develop and improve, and then reap those rewards down the line.
Final Thoughts on the Virginia Tech Football Offseason
As one reader put it, this is the “biggest offseason of Pry’s career.” I do not disagree with that statement. The head coach has several big fish to fry – keeping key seniors who have eligibility, locking down not just the future stars but also those who will contribute, and bringing in the right transfers. On top of that, he has to finish the current recruiting cycle to add depth and fill holes. And perhaps most importantly, he has to make the appropriate changes in scheme to put this offense in position to score more often.
This is a difficult era to be a head coach. There are so many moving parts, especially this time of year. But if Brent Pry can do all that is mentioned above, he will not only continue to rebuild the program, but he should also see results on the field in 2023. I am not talking 8-9 wins, but bowl eligibility should be the minimal goal, and it could be attained. If the Hokies are home for the holidays again next year, right or wrong, the thermostat will go up a little in Jamerson Athletic Center next December. And the Yule log won’t be the source of the heat.
I like Pry and think he is a great cultural fit for the program. But like all Hokie fans, I want to see a return to greatness on the field. Here’s hoping this Virginia Tech football offseason is the beginning of that return.
To read more of my articles on Virginia Tech football, click here.
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