Opponent Analysis: Virginia Tech Hokies — 2021 Syracuse Football preview

Va Tech
Syracuse plays Virginia Tech in football. Photo Credit: Kicia Sears, The Juice Online.

As we countdown to kickoff in September, we’re going to be doing a team-by-team opponent preview each week over the summer. This week, we’re previewing Syracuse’s matchup with Virginia Tech on Oct. 23 with three major storylines.

Can Braxton Burmeister Take The Next Step?

The biggest question facing the Hokies is at the most important position. With Hendon Hooker and Quincy Patterson transferring to Tennessee and North Dakota State respectively, the job is Burmeister’s to lose. He played well enough to win in limited work last season evidenced by his 3-1 record as a starter, but this was a run-first Tech team that averaged 240 rushing yards per game.

Burmeister has good legs for a quarterback, rushing for at least 35 yards in every game he appeared in, but with less than 170 passing yards in five of his seven contests, he has a lot of work to do from a throwing standpoint.

With running back Khalil Herbert drafted by the Bears, and three holes on the offensive line thanks to the NFL Draft and transfer portals, the pressure is on Burmeister to take a big step forward and develop more as a passer if the Hokies expect to be competitive in 2021.

Replacing NFL Talent

Virginia Tech had four players taken in April’s NFL Draft, including a pair of players in the first round. Replacing that level of talent won’t be easy.

Cornerback Caleb Farley was arguably the best defensive back in the country last year, only falling to the 22nd overall pick because of injury concerns, but this might be the area of least concern for the Hokie’s coaching staff. Farley opted out of the 2020 season due to Covid concerns and the rest of the group played well. Led by Jermaine Waller and safety/nickelback Chamarri Connor, the position appears set to take a step up this year.

Offensive line is a different story as perhaps the hardest hit position group. Left tackle Christian Darrisaw was taken in the draft by the Minnesota Vikings, guard Doug Nester transferred to West Virginia, and versatile lineman Bryan Hudson joined Louisville. Darrisaw was a first-rounder, while Nestor and Hudson were both 4-star recruits.

Luke Tenuta played well last year and looks to be the favorite to replace Darrisaw, and Lecitus Smith was one of the best guards in the ACC. But losing two of five starters and a promising depth player on a run-first team- with quarterback questions- leaves offensive line coach Vance Vice with a tall task.

» Related: Previewing Syracuse’s matchup against Wake Forest

Eleven Players Make All-ACC Preseason Team

The good news for Virginia Tech is 11 total players making Athlon Sports’ 2021 All-ACC Preseason Football Team. Of note are first team selections CB Jermaine Waller, DE Amare’ Barno, and TE James Mitchell, and second teamers G Lecitus Smith and DB Chamarri Conner.

Waller went down to injury last year, but is a talented playmaker who tied for the team lead in 2019 with three interceptions to go along with 13 passes defensed. He’ll slot right back into a starting role with Dorian Strong and, along with Chamarri Conner, give the Hokies a formidable trio of defensive backs.

Barno converted from linebacker to defensive end in 2020 and impressed in his first year at the new position. He had 6.5 sacks and his 16 tackles for loss were tied for second in the country alongside NFL draft names like Jaelon Phillips and Joseph Ossai.

Despite losing a few key starters to the NFL draft, the Hokies appear to have the depth to make up for the losses. If they get improved play from the quarterback and the defense can stay healthy, they should be in position to contend for a top five finish in the ACC.

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About Rutger Sears 7 Articles
Rutger is a freelance writer and as a Syracuse native, has an affinity for all Syracuse University Athletics. From Donovan McNabb to Mike Powell, Rutger has seen greatness in many forms don an Orange uniform over the last 30 years. He currently covers Orange lacrosse.