In Frank Beamer’s final season as Virginia Tech head coach, the Hokies’ offense sputtered, as did the team as a whole. It was a troubling trend that had began years prior. Virginia Tech wasn’t generating offensive production, nor did it have a unit that opponents feared. All that is likely to change with the hiring of Justin Fuente as head man. Fuente brings an offensive mind with him to Blacksburg, which should work as a perfect complement to Bud Foster’s defense and the special teams legacy of the Hokies.
No one is quite sure how the team’s offense will look under Fuente in 2016; we’re not even sure if he knows yet. There are still so many moving parts for a brand new coach. The thing he has decided on is who his quarterback will be: junior college transfer Jerod Evans.
Evans threw for 38 touchdowns to just three interceptions in JUCO last year. Those statistics don’t translate perfectly to the FBS level, but they do speak to his decision-making and maturity at the position. Shaky quarterbacks don’t have a 38-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio at any level. Coach Fuente spoke of ball security as one of the defining characteristics of his starting quarterback, which may be the reason he went with Evans over the incumbent Brenden Motley or true freshman Josh Jackson.
The reason holding onto the ball is so important (beyond the obvious) is because Fuente, along with offensive coordinator Brad Cornelsen, will be running a spread offense that focuses on tempo and opportunities over finding the perfect play. VT fans are elated with this change from an offense that always appeared slow, methodical and mistake-prone. Hopefully Evans will be the guy to excel in the spread. He has the dual-threat skills and played in a similar system at Trinity Valley.
He certainly has a nice group of skill players surrounding him here in Virginia Tech, led by wide receiver Isaiah Ford. Ford may be the best player in the ACC that no one talks about. He also may turn out being the best wide receiver in school history; he already recorded the best receiving season. He and Cam Phillips form a great one-two punch on the outside for the Hokies. With tight end Bucky Hodges lined up alongside them, defenses have reason to be concerned.
That trio combined for 73.5 percent of all receptions on the team last year, 77.5 percent of the yards and 79 percent of the touchdowns through the air. There is no concern about the good things this starting group can achieve. Depth is the biggest concern. There is not much experience or past production surrounding this group. Hopefully Fuente’s system does a better job of acclimating green players than the Hokies had in the past.
The same depth concerns exist along the offensive line as well. Starting left tackle Jonathan McLaughlin has been moved to right tackle, though perhaps not permanently. Either way, he has never developed into that lynchpin folks were expecting, and the entire unit has struggled in recent years. That won’t become any easier with a new blocking scheme to learn. The good thing is the running backs running behind this line can make the big guys look better.
Travon McMillian, Shai McKenzie and company bring a load of talent and versatility to the running back position. McMillian is the lead guy here after he topped 1,000 yards as a freshman in 2015 on just 200 carries. Yet McKenzie had been in line for a large role before going down for the season. The pair, along with greater depth behind the two, gives Fuente what he needs: substitution options for his up-tempo pace.
A lot will depend on the line, but the pieces are here for an exciting unit in Fuente’s first season at Virginia Tech. That offense will be tested early with a game against #9 Tennessee in the second week of the regular season.