- Virginia Tech vs. Rhode Island: 4pm, The ACC Network
- Virginia Tech-Rhode Island roster cards: Click here
- Game notes from Hokiesports: Click here
- Blacksburg weather: Click here
- Gameday information: Click Here
- Tickets from StubHub:
Rhode Island has had a tough season thus far. After a season opening 41-20 loss at FBS Ohio, they were narrowly defeated in three consecutive games before finally grabbing a 31-28 victory over Brown this past Saturday. Here are their three losses…
44-36 vs. Delaware, 3OT
27-24 vs. New Hampshire
31-27 vs. Stony Brook
Those losses are particularly painful because of how the games were lost. New Hampshire won on a last second field goal, while Stony Brook broke off a 50-yard touchdown with just 11 seconds remaining. And of course, there’s that Triple OT loss to Delaware. That’s some tough luck no matter how you slice it.
Head coach Jim Fleming has done a good job with Rhode Island. He is a former defensive coordinator at Central Florida and North Carolina, and as the head coach at Sacred Heart in 2000 and 2001 he went 21-1, before joining John Bunting’s staff at UNC.
Fleming has improved Rhode Island a lot year by year…
Last season was Rhode Island’s first winning season since 2001. They’d probably be on their way to another winning season with a few more good bounces in those tough losses.
All that being said, this is an FCS team, and we aren’t familiar with their personnel, so this preview will be almost all stats-based.
The Rhode Island Offense
Here’s how the Rhode Island offense ranks out of 124 FCS teams…
Running offense: No. 116
Passing offense: No. 5
Pass Efficiency: No. 35
Total offense: No. 49
Scoring Offense: No. 59
The Rams throw for a lot of yards, though they aren’t quite as efficient as their total number of passing yards per game would indicate. They throw the ball so much because that is easily the strength of their team. Whether it’s an actual strength or simply a relative strength is debatable, but what isn’t debatable is how bad Rhode Island’s running game is.
Yards per Game: 75.3
Yards per Carry: 2.89
The Rams will bring a one-dimensional offense into Lane Stadium against an improved Tech defense, and it’s hard to see that going well for them.
When Rhode Island has the ball, there are three players to keep an eye on…
No. 17, QB Vito Priore (6-2, 187, r-Jr.): 64.9%, 1,717 yards, 12 TDs, 3 INTs. Priore is averaging 343 passing yards per game. However, he’s only carried the ball 19 times for -21 yards (that includes 12 sacks), so he rarely ever runs the football. Priore is a good player, but a non-mobile quarterback with no running game backing him up is generally the best possible matchup for Virginia Tech’s defense. I would expect their game plan to call for many quick passes.
No. 6, WR Aaron Parker (6-3, 208, Sr.): 42 catches, 682 yards, 6 TDs. 16.2 yards per catch and 136.4 yards per game. Parker is used to touching the ball a lot, averaging 8.4 receptions per game.
No. 8 Isaiah Coulter (6-3, 190, Jr.): 34 catches, 505 yards, 4 TDs. 14.9 yards per catch and 101 yards per game. Coulter isn’t quite as productive as Parker, but he sees his share of catches.
Parker and Coulter both attended Gwynn Park High School in Brandywine, MD. Trivia: what former Virginia Tech player who had a cup of coffee in the NFL played for Gwynn Park? First person to respond accurately in the comments section of this article will win a TSL Pass subscription.
One final offensive note: both of Rhode Island’s starting offensive guards are redshirt freshmen, which probably partly explains why they struggle to run the football.
The Rhode Island Defense
Here’s how the Rhode Island defense ranks out of 124 FCS teams…
Rush Defense: No. 124
Pass Defense: No. 48
Pass Efficiency Defense: No. 75
Total Defense: No. 109
Scoring Defense: No. 94
Those aren’t impressive numbers, and the reason is because Rhode Island has a very bad rushing defense. The Rams allow 260.3 yards per game and 6.23 yards per carry. It’s bad against even FCS teams. Check out these numbers…
New Hampshire: 35 carries, 229 yards, 6.5 ypc
Delaware: 42 carries, 198 yards, 4.7 ypc
Stony Brook: 52 carries, 336 yards, 6.5 ypc
Those are very bad numbers, and they are surprisingly bad considering the defensive background of head coach Jim Fleming. They are bad despite having a pretty good amount of experience on the defensive side of the ball. The Rams start seven seniors on defense, plus a redshirt junior and a true junior. There aren’t any youth problems. They’ve just been bad. They also don’t put any pressure on the quarterback, with just five total sacks in five games.
Here are two players to watch on defense…
No. 16 LB Branyan Javier-Castillo (6-1, 216, Sr.): He’s undersized, but Javier Castillo leads the team in tackles (52) and tackles for loss (5). He also has two interceptions.
No. 28 S Momodou Mbye (6-0, 180, r-Sr.): Mbye is Rhode Island’s top ballhawk with four interceptions to his name so far.
Considering the Rams’ struggles to stop the run, this figures to be Virginia Tech’s most productive game running the football this season, particularly with the athletic Hendon Hooker now under center.
Justin Fuente went all Frank Beamer on Tech Talk Live this week when asked about Rhode Island. He talked about how they had taken Delaware to triple overtime, and noted that they had two dynamic receivers who could “play for anybody”, as well as a good kickoff return game. He stopped short of saying the Rams will “get after ya”, or that any of their defensive ends came off the edge like they were “shot out of a cannon”, but it was quite clear that he is a graduate of the Frank Beamer school of coach speak.
He’s not necessarily wrong. I haven’t watched Rhode Island play, but I’ll take his word for it that their receivers are good. As I noted above, they’ve lost some close football games, and they could easily be 4-1 as opposed to 1-4. But…they’re no Furman. Furman was an excellent FCS team and they are currently ranked No. 11 in the country. Rhode Island is 1-4, and they just aren’t particularly good, even for that level.
They aren’t particularly good because they can’t run the football, and they can’t stop the other team from running the football. There’s some bad luck involved when you lose three really close games, but there are also legit reasons for it. In Rhode Island’s case, it’s the running game on both sides of the ball. Yes, all FBS-FCS matchups should be an advantage for the FBS team, but this is a particularly good matchup for the Hokies.
Jim Fleming is a good coach, even if he did have the misfortune of coaching under John Bunting at North Carolina. He went 21-1 at Sacred Heart. Rhode Island has improved every season under his leadership. But I don’t think they are close to Furman level, and I don’t see the Hokies having very much trouble in this football game.
The main thing I want to see from this game is for Virginia Tech to carry over that intensity that they had in Miami last weekend. It’s tough to play at the exact same level each and every week, and I don’t necessarily expect them to necessarily be mentally dialed in 100% for Rhode Island since it’s squarely in between games against the Hurricanes and UNC. But I do want to see them come out with an attitude and play with great emotion. The defense did that against their last FCS opponent, Furman, and this time I want to see it on both sides of the ball.
Chris’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 52, Rhode Island 10
Will Stewart’s Take: This should be Virginia Tech’s lightest-attended game of the season, and perhaps for a while. 52,000+ came to the Furman game, and this one may dip below 50,000. Disregarding last year’s slapped-together Marshall game, the Hokies haven’t gone below 50k since 49,120 fans watched Tech slog to 100 yards of offense in a 17-13 loss to Pittsburgh on October 3, 2015. (That game is the one I’ll remember as being the game that pointed out to us once and for all that it was time for Frank to retire; he made his announcement about a month later.)
As you sit in the stands and watch this one or check it out on TV, squint and imagine that the Hokies are playing ECU, because remember, the only reason this game exists is because the VT-ECU series has been cancelled.
It’s hard to say what this game will represent when it’s over. I expect the Hokies to win. Will it be listless? I hope not. There isn’t really a lot you can say about this one, but what I’d like to see is for the Hokies to get after it on defense and get some chunk plays on offense. Don’t show too much on film for UNC to study in advance of next week’s game, and pray no one for Tech gets hurt.
Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 42, Rhode Island 6