Ten FCS teams have beaten FBS competition this year, and that includes four victories over Power 5 teams. Montana defeated Washington, Jacksonville State famously knocked off Florida State, East Tennessee State beat Vanderbilt, and Northern Arizona beat Arizona.
Sometimes there is no rhyme or reason to these games. Northern Arizona was 0-2 when they beat Arizona, with a 42-16 loss to Sam Houston and a 34-7 loss to South Dakota. Not only were they 0-2, but they were a non-competitive 0-2…and then they beat Arizona. Jacksonville State had been beaten 31-0 by UAB before knocking off Florida State, though to be fair UAB is a better football team than FSU.
Virginia Tech will play a better FCS opponent on Saturday than Northern Arizona and Jacksonville State. It’s not likely that the Hokies will lose, but they also can’t afford to take Richmond lightly. Historically, the Spiders are a solid team and a good FCS program. If you recall, Mike London once won a National Championship there with Dave Clawson’s players.
However, they haven’t been as good in recent years, ever since Danny Rocco left and took the Delaware job at the end of the 2016 season. Rocco went 43-22 at Richmond, and he was replaced by former Chattanooga head coach Russ Huesman. Huesman has gone 20-21 since his arrival, and has only gone 13-16 in CAA games as compared to Rocco’s 26-14 conference record.
This year’s iteration of the Spiders is 2-1, with victories over Howard (38-14) and Lehigh (31-3), and a tough loss to No. 12 Villanova (34-27). Both Howard and Lehigh have been poor in recent seasons, so it was tough to evaluate Richmond based on those two games, but the close game against a very good Villanova program indicates that the Spiders have improved this season. Still, Richmond fans will be disappointed with the loss, as their team led 27-13 with 9:02 remaining before the Wildcats ran off 21 straight points.
- Virginia Tech vs. Richmond: Noon, ACC Network
- Virginia Tech-Richmond roster cards: Click here
- Game notes from Hokiesports: Click here
- Blacksburg weather: Click here
The Richmond Offense
The Spiders lit up a poor Howard program for 530 yards in their first game, but their numbers have dropped as their competition has upgraded each week.
Total yards vs. Howard: 530
Total yards vs. Lehigh: 358
Total yards vs. Villanova: 326
Yards per play has seen a similar regression…
YPP vs. Howard: 7.1
YPP vs. Lehigh: 5.3
YPP vs. Villanova: 5.7
7.1 is a great number, 5.7 is mediocre, and 5.3 is well below average.
For the third consecutive week, the talent level of Richmond’s opposition will increase. The Virginia Tech defense will bring size and athleticism that the Spiders haven’t seen in their previous three games, and to have a chance to pull the upset they’ll need to start trending in the good direction on the offensive side of the ball.
Richmond is bigger across the board than most FCS teams, and they are also bigger than the Middle Tennessee team that the Hokies faced two weeks ago. Here’s their offensive line from left to right…
LT Tim Coleman (6-4, 320, r-Sr.)
LG Cade Salyers (6-4, 325, r-So.)
C Clayton McConnell (6-4, 290, r-Sr.)
RG Ryan Coll (6-5, 324, r-So.)
RT Joe More (6-5, 302, r-Jr.)
That’s a Power 5-sized offensive line, and it’s an especially big line for the FCS level. But it doesn’t just stop at the offensive line. Here are their other starters…
QB Joe Mancuso (6-4, 215, r-Sr.)
RB Aaron Dykes (5-11, 202, r-Jr.)
TE Connor Deveney (6-5, 256, r-Fr.)
WR Leroy Henley (6-2, 215, r-Sr., ECU transfer)
WR Jonathan Johnson (6-3, 196, r-Sr., ECU transfer)
WR Isaac Brown (6-1, 202, r-Jr.)
Not only are the Spiders a big team, but they are also a very experienced team in most positions. However, their size and experience hasn’t helped them put up good numbers offensively the last two weeks, as indicated above.
Against Lehigh, the Spiders didn’t throw it particularly well, going 13-of-24 for 152 yards, with two touchdowns. That’s only 6.3 yards per attempts. Meanwhile, the running game was the problem against Villanova, with Richmond finishing with only 79 yards on 3.3 yards per carry. The Spiders didn’t lose any yardage due to sacks against the Wildcats, so those rough numbers are a direct result of the traditional running game.
Brown has been Richmond’s top receiver with 12 catches for 193 yards and two touchdowns. Redshirt freshman wideout Jasiah Williams (5-11, 186) of Thomas Dale High School had eight catches for 85 yards against Howard, and he was CAA Rookie of the Week as a result, but he hasn’t played since as a result of a violation of team rules. His absence doesn’t help a Spider offense that appears to be limited. As of now there is no word on whether or not he’ll return for the game this weekend.
The Richmond offense, while dominating an overmatched Howard team, has struggled as they’ve faced more talent each week. This offense doesn’t seem to have the balance or the explosiveness to do much against the Virginia Tech defense.
The Richmond Defense
Like their offensive counterparts, the Richmond defense is much bigger than most FCS defenses, and in fact is similar to many Power 5 defenses in size. The shortest defensive lineman in the two-deep is 6-2, three of the four defensive tackles are 290+, none of the ends are below 240, and two of the three linebackers are 225+. In the secondary, all four starters are 6-feet or taller, including a 6-2 cornerback and a 6-3 strong safety. Signing big players seems to be a recruiting philosophy of Russ Huesman.
Opponents are averaging 350.7 yards per game and 5.8 yards per play against the Richmond defense, though this unit was rolling along smoothly until late last week. After allowing 14 points against Howard and only three against Lehigh, they led a very strong Villanova squad 27-14 with nine minutes remaining. That’s when the wheels fell off, with three Wildcat touchdown drives late in the game. Here are the three drives…
10 plays, 76 yards, 3:55 TOP
2 plays, 51 yards, 0:28 TOP
4 plays, 68 yards, 1:03 TOP
18.5% of the total yardage allowed by Richmond this season came on those final three Villanova drives. Better put, 18.5% of the total yardage allowed by the Spiders in 2021 came on just 16 plays. Yikes.
Outside of those 16 plays, the Richmond defense has been solid. Opponents are only 10-of-36 (27.8%) on third down conversions this season (with Villanova going 7-of-14 and the other two opponents going 3-of-22), though Tech’s talent level will be a step up in competition. It’s difficult to compare Richmond’s statistics to other FCS opponents, because the NCAA’s website hasn’t updated FCS stats through three games at the time of this writing.
Let’s take a look at some of their key players on the defensive side of the ball…
DT Kobie Turner (6-3, 290, r-Sr.): Turner was the Co-CAA Defensive Player of the Year last season, and a FCS Preseason All-American heading into 2021. The former walk-on is also an accomplished piano player.
LB Tristan Wheeler (6-2, 228, r-So.): The CAA Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2019, Wheeler was a Preseason FCS All-American this year. He was a high school teammate of Virginia Tech starting offensive guard Kaden Moore at Freedom High School in Bethlehem, PA.
LB Tyler Dressler (6-3, 245, r-Sr.): A First Team All-CAA player in in 2019.
With those three players, it appears that Richmond’s defense is most likely strongest right up the middle. Meanwhile, defensive end Darius Reynolds (6-2, 250, r-Sr.) has been the most disruptive player this season with four tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks.
In the secondary, cornerback Tyrek Funderburk (6-0, 185, r-Jr.) was a Second Team All-CAA player in the CAA’s abbreviated season this past spring. The Spiders also brought in reinforcements at safety, with AJ Smith transferring in from VMI after starting for four years and helping the Keydets to the FCS playoffs this past spring.
Overall team depth is critical on special teams, and that’s an area where FBS teams generally have the advantage over FCS teams, thanks to the 85-63 disparity in available scholarships. Outside of field goal kicking, Virginia Tech’s special teams have been good this season.
In hindsight, perhaps that was one of the most disappointing aspects of the West Virginia game. We pointed out in our game preview that the game could potentially be decided by the kickoff return teams, and that’s a battle the Hokies won. They shut down one of the best return men in the country while breaking off a big kickoff return of their own. However, redzone struggles meant the offense (and placekicker John Parker Romo) couldn’t turn that advantage into points.
For the second straight week the Hokies will face a tough kickoff returner. Aaron Dykes (5-11, 202, r-Jr.) returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown last week against Villanova, and he had a 35-yard return against Howard. He also had two returns for touchdowns back in 2019. He’ll double as a running back, though he’s not as dangerous in that role, with 847 career yards and 4.2 yards per carry.
Placekicker Jake Larson (5-11, 174, r-So.) is 4-of-5 on the season with a long of 43 yards. For his career he is 25-of-32 (78.1%), and three of his misses were blocked. Punter Aaron Trusler (5-8, 168, So.) is just the latest of what appears to be a rapidly developing line of Australian punters to the United States. He’s averaging 38.3 yards per punt, while pinning the opposition inside the 20 on two occasions.
Punt return doesn’t appear to be a threat for Richmond, as the Spiders have only managed to return one punt for five yards in three games. Meanwhile, Tech has allowed just two returns for a total of eight yards through their first three contests.
Considering their overall talent and depth advantage, special teams should be a battle the Hokies can easily control, provided the game doesn’t turn into a field goal kicking competition.
How many of you had Virginia Tech at 4-0 through the first four games of the season? Yeah, me neither. I would have had them at 3-1 or 2-2, and I think that’s the case for most of it. Through three games, the Hokies have one the game where they were favored, and they’ve split the two games where they were underdogs. Underdogs lose most of the time, so a 50% mark there isn’t a bad thing.
Now we have another game where the Hokies are favored, and after that we’ll have a game against Notre Dame similar to the UNC and West Virginia games – a contest that can go either way that will probably come down to turnovers, field position, taking advantage of key opportunities, and random events. It will be another one of those 50-50 games, and if the Hokies win it, then they’ll be 2-1 in such games this season, and I think that’s all any of us could have asked for through five games before the season began.
But we’re still an Arachnid and a bye week away from Notre Dame. That game against the Irish won’t mean anything if Tech doesn’t beat Richmond on Saturday. It’s not a big game, but it becomes a big game if the Hokies lose it. Ultimately, I don’t think the Spiders have the offensive firepower for that to happen.
Chris’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 38, Richmond 10
Will Stewart’s Take: When we analyzed and predicted the MTSU game, it was easy to figure out what to focus on. MTSU was small, and that’s where I hung my hat on my aggressive prediction.
With Richmond, size is not an issue. That’s a big football team for an FCS squad. I make up the roster cards for TSL, so I notice when teams are particularly small, large, experienced or young as I type in the starting lineups. So I noticed what a sizeable team the Spiders are.
What does that mean? I have no idea, ha-ha. They could be big and slow, or big and so-so, or big and fast. Not having seen them play, I don’t know. But it’s unlikely that their guys are particularly athletic as a group, or they would be playing FBS ball. But yes, they’re big.
Not knowing much other than that about the Spiders, I’ll take a different approach to picking the score. Virginia Tech hasn’t scored 50+ points since game two of the 2018 season (62-17 over William & Mary), so that’s out, and I didn’t even predict that against MTSU, anyway, going with 45-10 as the score.
As a matter of fact, Virginia Tech hasn’t scored over 35 points in eight straight games, during which they have averaged just 23.6 points per game. In their last two games against FCS schools, the Hokies beat Furman 24-17 and Rhode Island 34-17 in 2019.
So before I predict big numbers like 40+ against an FCS team, I will take that stuff into consideration and dial back my expectations. We saw some issues against WVU that could be ongoing factors for the rest of the season. We’ll find out more in the coming weeks.
Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 34, Richmond 13
Yes, two field goals by John Parker Romo!
David Cunningham’s Take: By my count, Virginia Tech is 15-8 under Justin Fuente after a loss. In poor seasons in 2018 and 2020, the record was dragged down a bit. The point still stands, though: the Hokies usually respond.
I’m interested to see how much different, if at all, Tech looks this week. We’ve talked about the offensive struggles and problems all week, especially the receivers. Are they going to be able to break away and get separation from these Richmond defenders?
I went to middle and high school with Darius Reynolds, Richmond’s defensive lineman that has four TFLs and 2.5 sacks through three games so far this season. That’s just a fun tidbit. But he’s very large, and always was, even in high school. He’s 6-2, 250. That’s about what the rest of the Spiders’ defensive line is.
Tech’s defense, which has been really good so far this season, will do its job. I’m curious to see how many points the offense puts up. Depending on how the Hokies play, this one could be closer than many think.
Richmond is going to pose a threat for the Hokies up front, which could be dangerous for a VT offensive line that struggled at West Virginia. I think Fuente & Co. will take care of business, but I’m not sure it will be pretty. Then again, how many Hokie games in recent memory are?
David’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 31, Richmond 14
What's your prediction for the 2021 Virginia Tech-Richmond game?
- Hokies Win by 11+ (71%, 855 Votes)
- Hokies Win by 1-10 (24%, 292 Votes)
- Richmond Wins by 1-10 (4%, 44 Votes)
- Richmond Wins by 11+ (1%, 17 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,208
Last Game’s Virginia Tech-West Virginia Prediction Poll Results
Game Result: WVU 27, Virginia Tech 21
What's your prediction for the 2021 Virginia Tech-WVU game?
- Hokies Win by 11+ (27%, 499 Votes)
- Hokies Win by 1-10 (54%, 1,017 Votes)
- WVU Wins by 1-10 (16%, 306 Votes)
- WVU Wins by 11+ (3%, 57 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,879