Pinstripe Bowl Preview: Shorthanded Virginia Tech Faces Maryland

Virginia Tech Maryland 2013
The last time Virginia Tech and Maryland met, on Nov. 16, 2013, this C.J. Brown touchdown run beat Virginia Tech 27-24 in overtime. (Ivan Morozov)
  • Virginia Tech vs. Maryland: Wednesday, December 29, 2:15, ESPN
  • Virginia Tech vs. Maryland Betting Line: Virginia Tech +3.5
  • Virginia Tech-Maryland roster cards: Click here
  • Game notes from Hokiesports: Click here
  • New York weather: Click here

Shorthanded Virginia Tech (6-6, 4-4) will face the Maryland Terrapins (6-6, 3-6) in the Pinstripe Bowl on Wednesday afternoon. The Hokies will play the Terps with a coaching staff that is mostly on the way out, and numerous Virginia Tech players have opted out of the bowl game and/or hit the transfer portal.

The list of players who won’t be available for the Pinstripe Bowl are…

QB Braxton Burmeister: Transfer portal
QB Knox Kadum: Transfer portal
DE Amare Barno: Opt out
WR Tre Turner: Opt out
WR Tayvion Robinson: Opt out/transfer to Kentucky
OG Lecitus Smith: Injury/opt out
DT Jordan Williams: Opt out
CB Jermaine Waller: Opt out

That’s seven of Virginia Tech’s usual 22 starters on offense and defense who will not be available to face Maryland due to opt outs and the transfer portal, and more bad news (which will get to later) was revealed on Monday.

Tech will particularly be hurt in the passing game, but they’ll be facing a Maryland defense that was torched by Big Ten offenses this year. Check out the points allowed by the Terp defense in conference play…

Illinois: 17
(5) Iowa: 51
(7) Ohio State: 66
Minnesota: 34
Indiana: 35
(22) Penn State: 31
(8) Michigan State: 40
(8) Michigan: 59
Rutgers: 16

To Maryland’s credit, they played four teams ranked in the top 10 at the time of the game, plus another top 25 opponent. Still, those numbers are pretty staggering.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at see what we can expect from this contest.

Connor Blumrick Virginia Tech
Connor Blumrick is QB1 for the Pinstripe Bowl. (Ivan Morozov)

The Virginia Tech Passing Game vs. The Maryland Passing Defense

The Hokies will be without their top quarterback and top two wide receivers for the Pinstripe Bowl, and backup quarterback Knox Kadum is gone as well. Here’s what Tech does have at those two positions for this game…

QB Connor Blumrick: 7-of-16 (43.8%), 42 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs, 41 carries, 231 yards, 5.6 ypc, 2 TDs
QB Tahj Bullock: True freshman who has never played a down

WR Kaleb Smith: 20 catches, 260 yards, 13 ypr, 2 TDs
WR Da’Wain Lofton: 7 catches, 98 yards, 14 ypr, 1 TD
WR Jaylen Jones: 1 catch, 15 yards

Blumrick ended his Texas A&M career as a backup H-back/running back, and now he’ll be Virginia Tech’s starting quarterback. He’ll have to do so in a scenario where the Hokies are missing their top two playmakers at wide receiver, and starting two true freshmen.

Per Mike Niziolek of The Roanoke Times, Lofton’s status for the game is to be determined. He also said Smith was at Virginia Tech’s Sunday practice at Columbia but was in a brace and walking gingerly. If those two guys can’t go, then Tech’s leading receiver for the Pinstripe Bowl will be Jaylen Jones, who caught one pass all season.

True freshmen Dallan Wright and Christian Moss could get into the action at outside receiver, and both are listed in the two-deep. Senior Changa Hodge, who returned late in the season from a torn ACL, will also play, though he didn’t catch a pass this season. Jaden Payoute hasn’t played since the Syracuse game, and his status is unknown, though Niziolek reported that he was at practice on Sunday. Things have gotten so thin at wideout that walk-on Tink Boyd is listed in the two-deep at slot.

Here’s the full WR depth chart released by Virginia Tech:

With Burmeister, Turner and Robinson in the lineup, you would like Tech’s chances to make somethings happen in the passing game against a Maryland defense that ranks No. 101 out of 130 FBS teams in PFF coverage grade. However, with so many backups on the field, it will be hard for the Hokies to find consistency in the passing game against any opposition right now.

The player to watch in Maryland’s secondary is safety Jordan Mosley (6-1, 205, Sr.). He was Honorable Mention All-Big Ten this season, and Second Team All-Big Ten according to PFF grading. He was an outstanding player in 2021 against both the run and the pass, and the Hokies will likely try to avoid him at all cost. The rest of the Maryland defense has been well below average against the pass, but does Virginia Tech have the personnel to exploit it?

The Virginia Tech Running Game vs. The Maryland Defense

Here’s a look at the offensive line depth chart, which you can see is mostly intact, except for Lecitus Smith:

With Tech’s offensive line being nearly whole, Raheem Blackshear electing to play in this game despite declaring for the draft, and the strengths of Connor Blumrick in comparison to his weaknesses, Virginia Tech is going to lean heavily on the run in this game. Just take a look at what the Hokies did in their regular season finale against UVA…

  • Rushes: 47
  • Passes: 16

I would expect a similar emphasis on the run against Maryland, and perhaps even more of an emphasis with the backup quarterback and so many inexperienced receivers on the field. The final numbers will of course be dictated by circumstances during the game (if Tech is leading, it’ll run it more, but if it falls behind by two scores, it’ll have to throw it more). The most ideal start to the game would be the Hokies getting the ball first and then driving down the field and scoring a touchdown.

Fortunately, Maryland’s rushing defense has been even worse than its passing defense, as the Terps rank No. 109 out of 130 teams in PFF run defense. That bodes well for a Hokie offense that was dominant on the ground for the second half of the season.

Syracuse: 44 carries, 260 yards, 5.9 ypc
GT: 53 carries, 233 yards, 4.4 ypc
BC: 34 carries, 162 yards, 4.8 ypc
Duke: 41 carries, 297 yards, 7.2 ypc
Miami: 43 carries, 227 yards, 5.3 ypc
UVA: 47 carries, 320 yards, 6.8 ypc
Averages: 43.7 carries, 249.8 ypg, 5.7 ypc

Virginia Tech has one massive advantage in this game, and it’s very important that they play that card as much as possible.

The Terps have had terrible linebacker play this season, and the defensive line hasn’t been much better.  Of 178 Power 5 linebackers who have played 300+ snaps this year, Ahmad McCullough (6-2, 225, Jr.) ranks No. 177 in PFF grade. Ruben Hyppolite II (6-0, 230, So.) hasn’t been much better, ranking No. 169 out of 179. Both players have been equally bad against the run and the pass, and you can expect the Hokies to try and find multiple ways to take advantage of them. They’ll be challenged by Tech’s running game, but also expect VT to try and find a few creative ways to exploit them in the passing game.

Defensive end Sam Okuayinonu (6-2, 280, r-Sr.) has been Maryland’s best defensive end this season. He’s posted 8.5 tackles for loss and six sacks, and he’s been the only Terp defender up front that can be classified as having an above average season in 2021.

Even if the Terps stack the box, the Hokies should be able to find some success on the ground in this one. If they don’t, then we’re in for a long afternoon.

Virginia Tech’s defense will miss Amare Barno (11) and Jordan Williams (12) on Wednesday. (Ivan Morozov)

The Virginia Tech Defense vs. A Pass-Happy Maryland Offense

Maryland has thrown it 464 times this year and run it 411, and those numbers include 26 sacks. This is a team that likes to put the ball in the air behind quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa (5-11, 200, Jr.).

Tagovailoa isn’t very big, but the Alabama transfer has been very effective for Maryland though the air this season, completing 308-of-450 (68.4) passes for 3,595 yards, with 24 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. You’d like that interception number to be a little lower if you are head coach Mike Locksley, but this is a guy who is capable of putting up big numbers on any given week.

Of course, some of those run/pass numbers could be skewed by the fact that Maryland fell behind by so many points against Big Ten foes this year. In closer games, the numbers were more balanced…

Runs vs. WVU: 44
Passes vs. WVU: 36

Runs vs. Indiana: 46
Passes vs. Indiana: 40

Will the Terps be as pass-happy against what looks to be a close contest against the Hokies? They averaged 3.7 ypc against West Virginia, and just 1.7 against Indiana, so their best bet seems to be putting the ball in the air.

Running back Tayon Fleet-Davis (r-Sr.) shouldn’t be discounted, however. He finished the regular season with 664 rushing yards and averaged 5.5 yards per carry. He bookended his season with 100-yard rushing performances against WVU (123) and Rutgers (152), though he only had double-digit carries in three other games thanks in part to the Terps falling behind by so many points. Assuming a closer game on Wednesday, I think we should expect him to get double-digit carries against the Hokies, especially with Amare Barno and Jordan Williams opting out. He’s also a major threat in the passing game with 32 receptions for 305 yards and a touchdown.

The big question is how Tech’s secondary will hold up against some quality Maryland pass catchers. Wide receiver Rakim Jarrett (6-0, 190, So.) is a former top 100 recruit from DC. He caught 56 passes for 769 yards (13.7 ypc) and five touchdowns on the season. Tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo (6-3, 250, Sr.) hauled in 49 catches for 433 yards and five touchdowns.

Overall, Tagovailoa likes to spread the ball around, with 10 different players catching 18 or more passes this season. It’s a good overall passing game, and the Hokies will be without opt-out cornerback Jermaine Waller. However, in truth, Waller wasn’t the same player later in the season after being injured in the Pitt game. Cornerbacks Armani Chatman, Dorian Strong and Brion Murray will be tested in this one, as will Virginia Tech’s safeties.

Niziolek also reported that two of Tech’s cornerbacks – Murray and Nadir Thompson – were not at Sunday’s pre-bowl practice. Interim head coach J.C. Price said their statuses are to be determined.

It’s imperative that the Tech defense hold up and allow the Hokie offense to play to its strengths. If the Terps get up 14-0, 17-3 or a score similar to that, then VT is going to have to get away from the running game to a certain extent, which doesn’t bode well considering how inexperienced the Hokies are in the passing game. It will be tough to shut Maryland down completely, but it’s very important that Tech stay within arm’s length.

Malachi Thomas Virginia Tech
With Tayvion Robinson transferring to Kentucky, the punt return depth chart lists three guys, including Malachi Thomas. (Jon Fleming)

Special Teams

The Terps don’t play special teams very well. Kicker Joseph Petrino is just 11-of-18 on the season, while they rank No. 106 out of 130 teams in kickoff return average and No. 122 in punt return average. If they manage to break off any decent returns against the Hokies, that would be disappointing.

Unfortunately, Tech is without elite punt returner Tayvion Robinson, and we aren’t sure who is going to be replacing him. The official depth chart says Malachi Thomas OR Da’Wain Lofton OR Raheem Blackshear, so I really don’t know what to expect.

Maryland has allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown this season, so there could be an opportunity for Keshawn King, assuming he’s returning kicks for Tech in this one.

Final Thoughts

Raheem Blackshear has declared for the NFL Draft, though he’s still going to play in the Pinstripe Bowl, and I don’t blame him. He knows that he’s going to touch the ball a lot with Tech down so many quarterbacks and wide receivers, and he’ll be facing a defense that hasn’t exactly been good against the run. He’s been a very good player in the second half of the season…

Syracuse: 10 carries, 78 yards
GT: 14 carries, 83 yards
BC: 12 carries, 67 yards
Duke: 12 carries, 117 yards
Miami: 2 carries, 3 yards (I’ll never understand it)
UVA: 18 carries, 169 yards
Total: 68 carries, 518 yards, 7.6 ypc

We should see a heavy dose of Blackshear in this one, and he’ll want to finish off his career with another good game.

Connor Blumrick and the Tech receivers don’t have to be prolific, but it’s important that they take advantage of the opportunities that are given. I expect there will be a time or two in this game where the Hokies scheme up the Terp defense and a receiver is running wide open, and it’s important that the Hokies connect.

This one is all about the start. If Tech gets off to a slow start and Maryland takes a double-digit lead, then it’s tough to see the Hokies coming back. However, if Tech controls the pace and is able to play their style of football game, I think they’ll have an advantage. Of course, it’s a bowl game, so it’s a bit of a crap shoot. Sometimes teams are interested in bowl games, and sometimes they aren’t, and there’s no way to know in advance.

I think a full-strength Virginia Tech team beats Maryland, perhaps even by double figures, considering how leaky that Terp defense has proven to be. But can an extremely short-handed Tech team that is going through a coaching transition get it done?

I originally picked Tech to win this game when I wrote this preview on Sunday, but since those reports came out on Monday that Kaleb Smith was in a boot and Da’Wain Lofton may not play, I just don’t see how it’s going to happen. It’s possible that Tech’s top receiver in this game is Jaylen Jones, who caught one pass all season. We’re talking about playing with an offense full of backups, and I don’t mean two-deep backups…I mean three-deep and four-deep backups. These quotes from Niziolek’s article don’t exactly leave room for much optimism…

“Virginia Tech’s offense wasn’t very efficient throwing the ball in 7-on-7 drills on Sunday with expected starter Connor Blumrick and backup Tahj Bullock rotating series. The whistle was blown three times between the two of them for holding onto the ball too long.

Bullock, a true freshman out of St. Peter’s Prep, didn’t have a completion of more than 5 yards during the session. He was playing against the second team’s secondary with mostly walk-ons at wide receiver.

The best play of the period came on a final throw from Blumrick, who made a nice deep pass down the middle — splitting the coverage — to Cody Duncan, a walk-on, second-year tight end out of Tennessee. The play drew jeers from the defense, which had shut the offense out until that point.”

Sounds promising, huh?

Chris’s Prediction: Maryland 31, Virginia Tech 17

Will Stewart’s Take: This is the first bowl game Virginia Tech has ever played in that I personally thought was meaningless. I mean, what does it matter? Most of the coaches won’t be here next year, and a lot of the players won’t, either. Whether VT wins or loses doesn’t affect the arc of the program one bit. The outcome makes no difference to me, and I’ve never felt that way about a VT bowl game before.

Since the pressure of winning or losing doesn’t exist in my head (although you may feel differently), that means that there are elements to this game that are kinda fun. Connor Blumrick as QB for a full game? Sign me up. That guy loves playing, and I love watching him play. A chance to see Da’Wain Lofton and Jaylen Jones get some serious PT, even if VT doesn’t throw the ball much? Sign me up. My man Josh Fuga in a starting role? Good stuff.

However … Maryland starts 10 seniors/graduate students and has a total of 15 in their two/three-deep published depth chart. With the opt-outs and transfers, Virginia Tech lists zero starting seniors/graduate students (though we include Sr. Tae Daley as a starter in ours) and has just four in their depth chart: Change Hodge, Johnny Jordan, Tyrell Smith, and Tae Daley.

The Virginia Tech depth chart has 22 freshmen/redshirt-freshmen listed on it, including seven listed as starters. Maryland has just five listed, none of them in starting roles. This is a mature Maryland team playing a very young Virginia Tech team that is transitioning between coaching staffs.

This does not look like it’s going to be much fun, so I’m rooting for Virginia Tech to hang in there, battle, and make it interesting. A win would be gravy and a story to tell for years, but every moment that this game simply stays competitive makes it interesting to me.

As long as the Hokies keep giving back whatever the Terps hand out, this could be fun to watch. But it’s hard to see this rag-tag bunch hanging with a team that has no opt-outs and is a lot older and more experienced.

Will’s Prediction: Maryland 38, Virginia Tech 16

David Cunningham’s Take: Like Will stated, this is as close to a meaningless game, in many aspects, as you’ll find. Most everyone at Virginia Tech is more interested in the incoming staff and the coaching change. Still, it’s an opportunity to finish the season above .500 and send the players and staff that will not be returning out the right way.

Part of me feels like this is a game the Hokies should really win. The other part of me wonders how invested some of this team actually is, considering there is so much going on around them in the facility back in Blacksburg. I think it would be somewhat difficult to focus for many, but it seems like J.C. Price will have the team ready.

Virginia Tech is the better team… but we’ve seen multiple times this season where Tech lost to an inferior team, like Syracuse. Sometimes games are just like that.

Taulia Tagovailoa is dangerous at quarterback and Maryland can throw it, and Tech’s defense has been on and off on the back end at times this year. I think it honestly comes down to who actually wants to be there more and who can get off to a faster start.

Connor Blumrick and Raheem Blackshear will probably run the ball 45 times on Wednesday afternoon in the Bronx, as you’d expect. I think that’s the right thing to do if you’re the Hokies, and there’s a good chance it might work. Sprinkle in the occasional pass (a one-to-five ratio of pass-to-run, something like that) and they’ll be able to keep Maryland on its toes.

In the end, I’m picking Virginia Tech. I think a J.C. Price-led team is going to come out fired up, especially knowing the significance of playing in Yankee Stadium after everything the organization did for the university back in 2007-08. If Tech can get out to an early start, which I think it can, it should be able to hold off the Terps. The VT defense doesn’t have to be great – just good enough to get a few stops and slow Maryland down.

I think it’ll be close, but I’ve got the Hokies on a John Parker Romo walk-off field goal. 

David’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 30, Maryland 27

What's your prediction for the 2021 Virginia Tech-Maryland Pinstripe Bowl game?

  • Hokies Win by 1-10 (39%, 470 Votes)
  • Maryland Wins by 11+ (31%, 372 Votes)
  • Maryland Wins by 1-10 (23%, 271 Votes)
  • Hokies Win by 11+ (7%, 86 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,199

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Last Game’s Virginia Tech-UVA Prediction Poll Results

Game Result: Virginia Tech 29, UVA 24

What's your prediction for the 2021 Virginia Tech-Virginia game?

  • Cavaliers Win by 11+ (53%, 686 Votes)
  • Hokies Win by 1-10 (26%, 335 Votes)
  • Cavaliers Win by 1-10 (14%, 182 Votes)
  • Hokies Win by 11+ (7%, 87 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,290

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2021 Virginia Tech Football Predictions Tracker - TSL Staff
Will (7-6)
David (7-6)
Chris (6-7)
Notre Dame
@Georgia Tech
@Boston College
2021 Virginia Tech Football Predictions Tracker - Fans (7-6)
Fan Poll
Hokies Win by 1-10
Hokies 17, UNC 10
Hokies Win by 11+
Hokies 35, MTSU 14
Hokies Win by 1-10
WVU 27, Hokies 21
Hokies Win by 11+
Hokies 21, Richmond 10
Notre Dame
Hokies Win by 1-10
Notre Dame 32, Hokies 29
Pittsburgh Wins by 11+
Pittsburgh 28, Hokies 7
Syracuse Wins by 1-10
Syracuse 41, Hokies 36
@Georgia Tech
Hokies Win by 1-10
Hokies 26, GT 17
@Boston College
Hokies Win by 1-10
Boston College 17, Hokies 3
Hokies Win by 1-10
Hokies 48, Duke 17
Hokies Win by 1-10
Miami 38, Hokies 26
Virginia Wins by 11+
Hokies 29, Virginia 24
Hokies Win by 1-10
Maryland 54, Hokies 10

27 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. I think what the NCAA and the NFL have done to college football is criminal. Sorry to see players desert their team at season’s end. Tech should wear uniforms devoid of logos so as not to have the HOKIE name drug through the mud in this farce of a bowl game.

  2. Going to be interesting on many levels. When we need to pass (and I think they’ll let Blumrick throw) we could move Raheem to the slot and have Thomas in the backfield. Give it to Raheem on a jet sweep or throw a wheel route to Thomas. Get the tight ends involved in the passing game. Do jump or shuttle passes from Blumrick when they think run. There’s all sorts of ways we can keep the Turdles off balance. This is an audition for Corn, so he can try to be unpredictable or be the same. Hoping JC said be unpredictable.

  3. Sounds like we’ll be able to run the ball at will, and with a limited passing game Blumrick and Boyd are going to have to carry the load on the ground. Fortunately neither is as fragile as Burmeister

  4. Our punter will be an All American, after this game. No player is dedicated to a school anymore, sad.

  5. Hmmm. The Hokies have to plug and play walk-ons and back ups while playing musical chairs with available coaches. Sounds like 2020 all over again. I think there’s a victory to had here, it’s a bit a of a crap shoot but the W is certainly within their grasp. I learned not to pick against against a JC led team after the Hoo game. Hokies by 1-10.

  6. As Captain Kirk would tell Spock … Never tell me the odds. There are opportunities here for 2nd and 3rd string players here to stand up and make a difference in the game. I would imagine JC is telling his “not ready for prime time players” just that. Hokies win by +11

  7. Whatever happened to listing experience? Much is being made of how many non-senior starters there are for VT…but shouldn’t that be put into context? The OL has three players who might not be seniors but they have ho much playing experience? The defense might not have many senior starters but Holifield, Tisdale, Conner, Garbutt, Pollard, Chatman, Strong..have how much experience. I understand that comparison but you would think that it would be complemented with indications of certain levels of experience.

    1. play like the Philly Eagles – Run the ball, maybe even have a 2 back set (Eagles don’t but doesn’t mean can’t be done) and pass 12-15 times just to make sure the Safeties play back in depth.


  8. I could see it going either way for the same reasons mentioned in the article. Which team wants to win the meaningless game more? I think a person would be crazy to bet this game. A person would be even crazier to bet the Hokies to cover.

  9. The portal and players opting out for other reasons has ruined bowl games. This needs to be changed. Doubt I’ll even watch the game. College football has shot itself in the feet so much the average fan has lost interest in the game. Sad when you think about it.

    1. I really want very badly to call BS on this take. Unfortunately, I just can’t. Change is inevitable of course and I am older (VT76) but I just don’t see these changes ending well for college football in general. It will be interesting to see what the game looks like in 2035 or 15 years after COVID and NIL. Will it still exist in colleges and if so what will it look like.

      1. I have major concerns as well. It’s like so many other issues these days, it’s more about picking up steam like a freight train and being rapidly pushed through (partly as a result of propaganda partly as a result of bandwagon effect) rather than careful examination and understand of how the rules should be constructed so the unintended consequences aren’t more damaging than the initial issues.

        1. rather than careful examination and understand of how the rules should be constructed so the unintended consequences aren’t more damaging than the initial issues.>>>>

          You know we’re talking about the NCAA. What should we have expected from this dysfunctional organization. It’s easy to reduce the Portal damages by simply making the portal for immediate transfer and play start January 5th following the season. If a player wants to jump that date – then they sit out a year. Simple.

          1. Totally agree but sitting a year was the old way, they won’t go back if anything it will keep “progressing” off a cliff.

      2. In 15 years, college and pro football will merge into one 150+ team league. Big coaching $$$, paying players. College eligibility time (seasons played) limits eliminated. Expect to see the Green Bay Packers at Lane. A Mike Vick like QB play for the Hokies until he is 35 years old. Need another RB? Trade two VT linebackers to Alabama for a spare 5 star RB.

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