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From the Other Side: Talking Virginia Tech with Andy Bitter



Oklahoma State is in Orlando for their final game of the 2017 season. While Big 12 play is always fun, it’s also nice to end the season in a bowl game against a team most of us aren’t that familiar with.

In this case, that’s the Virginia Tech Hokies in the Camping World Bowl. To help better familiarize myself with VT, I spoke with Andy Bitter of the Roanoke Times. We discuss the leaders on offense and defense, who will take the place of VT’s big missing players, the Hokies’ secondary, and more.

If you’re interested, the full audio interview is available to listen to at the bottom of this post. As always, I apologize for my shortcomings as an interviewer.

Phillip Slavin: Tell me who are the leaders on offense and defense for Virginia Tech?

Andy Bitter: Offensively I would have said Cam Phillips but he’s hurt for the game. He had sports hernia surgery, gonna miss his final college game which is kind of a bummer because he had such a great Virginia Tech career. In his absence I’ll go with Wyatt Teller, he’s a left guard. He’s a talkative guy but he’s not talked with the media all year. I think he’s been happy with how he’s played and as a leader he didn’t want to jinx that at all. He’s a very powerful blocker. Maybe he’s not the rah-rah leader type, but I think a lot of people follow his example, with how he approaches the game. He’s a guy that sets the tone on offense.


Ricky Walker [USATSI]

Defensively I think there’s a lot of guys to choose from. Probably Ricky Walker on the defensive line. He’s a defensive tackle that, quite honestly, got robbed of the All-ACC team voting. He was honorable mention, but on my ballet I think I had him second team. I thought was certainly worthy of something better than an honorable mention. The coaches have described him as the “bell-cow” on defense. He’s sort of the leader of that group. What he says, everybody listens, he sort of sets the tone on everything. If I’m going to pick somebody on that side of the ball I’m going to pick Ricky Walker.

PS: You mentioned Cam Phillips missing the game. I also saw that leading rusher Travon McMillian announced his plans to transfer. That means Virginia Tech will be without their leading receiver and leading rusher. That’s obviously a big loss. Who do you see filling in those roles?

AB: We say leading rusher with Travon McMillian, but the carries have been so eratic. He led the team with 439 yards. It’s not like this was a 1,000-yard rusher. He has been in the past, but something with this new coaching staff just never clicked. You even go back to their last game, I think he had two carries. I don’t really see that as a huge loss in this game. Deshawn McClease, Steven Peoples are the two guys that were very peoductive in that Virginia game. Both ran for 71 yards. Jalen Holston is a freshman who’s come along. I think they have plenty of tailback options that they can turn to.


Cam Phillips [USATSI]

Receiver is a lot bigger question mark. Cam Phillips is not just the leading receiver this year, and second or third in the ACC when he finishes the year, he’s Virginia Tech’s all-time leading receiver in terms of yards and receptions. You don’t take someone like that out of the offense and not be missing a major piece. They have some young receivers who have stepped up during the season. Sean Savoy is a freshman who was second in all the receiving categories they have this year. Eric Kumah is a sophomore who’s stepped-up his game in the second half of the season, sort of a third-down target. Then they have some younger guys, had a guy Grimsley who had five catches in the Virginia game. C.J. Carroll is another guy. So they have some options it’s just that you lose someone of that seniority and ability it becomes very tough to replace that with any single one person. I don’t think they can quite honestly.

PS: The bowl game is one expected to feature strength vs. strength with OSU’s offense facing off against VT’s defense. Looking at VT’s offense hasn’t score a lot this season. Do you think they’ll be able to keep up the offensive pace against Oklahoma State or will they be able to slow Oklahoma State down?

AB: I think that’s going to have to be the goal because I don’t think they can win a shootout. I go back to that season opener. Obviously Virginia Tech was more at full strength back then, but they played a West Virginia team that plays a lot like Oklahoma State. I think OSU is a better version of that WVU team, but it’s an air-raid type offense. West Virginia out-gained Virginia Tech by about 160 yards in that game. They went up and down the field, I think they had 590 yards total. But the Hokies really controlled the time of possession. They won the field position battle by a huge margin. I don’t think WVU started outside it’s own 30 yard line at all. The whole game plan was the make West Virginia go the entire length of the field. They can do it, but it’s really difficult to go all the way down there and get a touchdown at the end of the drive. I think if there’s a blueprint the Hokies want to follow, that’s probably it. Now they had some better offensive pieces in that game. I know Cam Phillips had 100 yards. Josh Jackson, the quarterback ran it better than he ever had. Had 100-yard game, broke off like a 60-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. So I don’t know if they can quite duplicate it. But they’re not going to win this game if it’s 45 to 42. I just don’t see that happening with Virginia Tech. If they can keep it in the 20’s, maybe they’ve got a shot. If it’s in the 30’s it’s questionable. If it’s over 40 there’s just no chance.

PS: The strength of OSU’s offense is the depth of wide receiver. What is Virginia Tech’s secondary like and do you think they’re up to the task of slowing down OSU’s receivers?


Greg Stroman [USATSI]

AB: I think they can, just because they have a track record of being a pretty good secondary. They lost some pieces there too to injury. Luke Reynolds is a linebacker, a half safety-half linebacker. He was dinged up at the end of the year, I don’t know exactly what his status is for the game. The real strength of that secondary right now is the cornerback. You’ve got two seniors in Greg Stroman and Brandon Facyson that are pretty battle tested. Stroman was a first-team All-ACC pick. Facyson’s been a three-and-a-half year starter. He’s been a real solid guy over his career. Then you’ve got Adonis Alexander, a 6-3, 200-pound guy. They really like his physicality. He’s been a little erratic with some off-field stuff. He got a suspension earlier this year. But he’s a very, very capable corner as well. They’ve got those three guys that they can rotate in there, as well as at nickleback. They don’t really shy away from playing in one-on-one coverage, or have to rely on help defense or anything like that. They come to VT to play in that kind of defense and have those opportunities. So the fact that they’re going up against a pretty good passing offense. I don’t think they’re so nervous so much as eager about the opportunity, because they call themselves DBU. and I’m sure they’re going to try and back that up in this game to prove they’re worthy of that.

PS: If VT wins the game, what did they do successfully to make that happen?

AB: I think it’s they stayed off the field defensively, which means they were doing really well on third downs, not allowing Oklahoma State to have these prolonged drives. Obviously, they can’t give up the big plays defensively. That’s sort of been a tough spot for this defense. They have given up quite a few long plays. That’s sort of where Oklahoma State can kill you. If you make them go 13 plays down the field, that’s a lot more work than one play for 70 yards and a touchdown. VT is going to have to limit those plays and get off the field on third-down, and then they’re probably going to have to run the ball well, which is something they haven’t done great all season. If they could run for 200 yards or something like that and control the clock, I think that plays into the sort of game plan they need to win this game.

If you have 15 minutes of free time, take a listen to the full interview. Andy and I talk about head coach Justin Fuente in his second year, the impact of Fuente retaining defensive coordinator Bud Foster, and his prediction for the game.


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