- Virginia Tech vs. Rutgers: Saturday, September 16 at 3:30 p.m. ET (Big Ten Network) from SHI Stadium in Piscataway, N.J.
- Betting Line: Rutgers -7
- Roster cards: Click here
- Game notes from HokieSports: Click here
- Piscataway weather: Click here
- Gameday information: Click here
Virginia Tech (1-1) hits the road for the first time this season to take on Rutgers (2-0) this Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET. Like Tech, the Scarlet Knights have been a bit limited offensively, but unlike Tech, they have been dominant on the defensive side of the ball.
Greg Schiano is in his second tenure as the Rutgers head coach. After successfully turning the program around from 2001-11, he tried his hand in the NFL as the head coach of Tampa Bay, then returned to college football as Ohio State’s defensive coordinator. He made his return to Piscataway in 2020, and though his first three seasons weren’t particularly good, his team is off to a solid start in 2023 and is looking to start 3-0.
This is an important game for Schiano and Rutgers. They face Michigan the week after playing the Hokies, and there are plenty of other tough Big Ten opponents on the schedule. They still play Wagner, coachless (sort of) Michigan State, Indiana and Maryland, so a victory over Virginia Tech to improve to 3-0 would go a long way towards bowl eligibility. After going 14-22 and 7-21 (Big Ten) with no bowl games thus far in his second stint, making a bowl would represent a big step forward for Schiano.
The Rutgers Defense: By The Numbers
The Rutgers run defense has been dominant statistically so far:
YPG allowed: 40, No. 3 nationally
YPA allowed: 1.74, No. 6 nationally
However, it hasn’t faced good competition. Northwestern, whom Rutgers beat 24-6, isn’t considered to be very good (though the Wildcats did beat UTEP 38-7 this week). The Scarlet Knights’ other victory came over a bad Temple team (36-7). Nevertheless, they have still held two FBS opponents to a total of 13 points, and it’s not like Virginia Tech will bring a high-octane running game with them to New Jersey. Here’s what the Hokies are doing on the ground so far this year:
YPG: 60, No. 123 nationally
YPA: 1.85, No. 125 nationally
On paper, the Virginia Tech rushing offense vs. the Rutgers rushing defense is one of the biggest mismatches in college football this week. I’ll pause as you recover from reading that sentence.
Here are some other defensive statistics for the Scarlet Knights:
Available Yards: No. 9
Yards per Play: No. 10
S&P+ Defense: No. 20
FEI Defense: No. 35
Sacks per game: No. 37
TFL per game: No. 88
INT per game: No. 4
FF per game: No. 12
Opp. Passing Rating: No. 10
They’ve been excellent at everything defensively with the exception of tackles for loss. Other than that, they swarm opposing running games, force turnovers and get sacks. Opposing quarterbacks are playing very poorly against them.
This defense is coordinated by Joe Harasymiak, who was co-defensive coordinator at Minnesota previously, and he also served as the head coach at Maine. He runs a base 4-3 scheme, but like everyone else, he’ll employ a nickel quite a bit.
The Rutgers Defensive Personnel
It goes without saying that just about everyone has played well defensively for the Scarlet Knights this year, so we’ll focus on just a few individual players who may interest you. Things are a bit spread out statistically. Six different players are responsible for six sacks while eight different players have combined for 10 TFLs. Four different guys have intercepted a pass and three different players have forced a fumble.
LB Tyreem Powell (6-5, 240, r-Jr.): Powell was committed Virginia Tech until newly-hired Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano showed up at Powell’s high school in a helicopter. He started three games as a freshman in 2021, became a full-time starter in 2022 and appears to be coming into his own as a defender in 2023. He leads the team with 17 tackles so far, and his PFF grades have been dominant: 84.6 overall, 84.6 run defense, 83.0 tackling and 80.7 coverage.
LB Deion Jennings (6-1, 235, Sr.): Jennings was an Honorable Mention All-Big Ten linebacker in 2022. He was never a full-time starter until last season, but he performed at a very high level when given the opportunity. Like Powell, he seems to be a very balanced player who is equally good against the run and the pass.
DE Aaron Lewis (6-5, 260, Jr.): Lewis is the best defensive lineman the Hokies will have faced so far this season. He was a Third Team All-Big Ten player last season according to the Big Ten coaches, Phil Steele, and Pro Football Focus. He had 40 pressures a year ago but somehow only managed to come up with two sacks. Arguably his best game was against Penn State when he created seven pressures. He is capable of creating a tremendous amount of havoc for Virginia Tech’s thus-far struggling offensive line.
You could make an argument that those are the three best defensive players for Rutgers. However, the unit also has some weaknesses that haven’t shown up at this point due to the level of competition. There isn’t a proven defensive tackle on the team. In fact, Isaiah Iton (6-3, 290, Sr.) transferred in after failing to see significant action at Ole Miss and Northern Colorado, while Mayan Ahanotu (6-4, 300, Sr.) is a sixth-year player who has been average at best over the last few years after transferring in from Minnesota. Multiple tackles will rotate in and out as the coaching staff attempts to figure out their best rotation.
Rutgers is solid but not spectacular at cornerback where Robert Longerbeam (5-11, 175, Jr.) and Max Melton (6-0, 190, Jr.) hold down the starting positions. Melton was an Honorable Mention All-Big Ten player last season and has six career interceptions. I think the Virginia Tech passing game could effectively challenge this secondary if healthy. Unfortunately, we know that wide receiver Ali Jennings will be out, and wide receiver Jaylin Lane and quarterback Grant Wells are banged up as well. Those are probably the three most important pieces to Virginia Tech’s traditional passing game and it’s possible that none of them will be available in New Jersey.
Likewise, I think Rutgers is vulnerable at defensive tackle, but do the Hokies have the personnel to take advantage? Based on what we have seen through the first two games, the answer is no.
Struggles At Quarterback For Rutgers
Fortunately for Virginia Tech, Rutgers doesn’t have the look of a team that is going to put up very many points. The offensive struggles start with the passing game and quarterback Gavin Wimsatt (6-3, 225, Jr.). He was a 4-star prospect coming out of Kentucky, but his career has left a lot to be desired so far. Here are his year-by-year passing numbers:
2021: 9-of-21 (42.9%) for 45 yards, 0 TDs, 2 INTs
2022: 65-of-145 (44.8%) for 757 yards, 5 TDs, 7 INTs
2023: 27-of-50 (54%) for 361 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs
Total: 102-of-216 (46.8%) for 1,163 yards, 7 TDs, 9 INTs
Wimsatt appears to have mildly improved this year, but he hasn’t been challenged as of yet. His career competition percentage is still below 50% and he’s thrown more interceptions than touchdowns. The Hokies should have a better quarterback this week if he’s sufficiently prepared, and right now I’d bet that it’s Kyron Drones, and that he’ll play the entire game. However, will he have enough help in the running game to open up things in the passing game? If not, the advantage could slip back to Rutgers.
It doesn’t help Wimsatt that his wide receivers aren’t the most gifted group. Greg Schiano admitted in his press conference this week that he tried to recruit Ali Jennings out of the transfer portal, and it’s easy to see why when you look at the career production of the wide receivers in the Rutgers rotation.
Isaiah Washington (6-3, 210, Sr.): Fifth-year player who has never caught more than 19 passes in a season. He’s averaging three catches per game this year.
JaQuae Jackson (6-2, 190, Sr.): An Honorable Mention All-American last year at the Division II level. That’s one step below the FCS level. He has five catches in two games, and his 49.5 yards per game is tops on the team.
Chris Long (6-0, 175, Jr.): Long is a converted defensive back who had 17 career receptions.
Christian Dremel (5-9, 185, Sr.): A fifth-year player with 14 career catches. His career-high of five came in 2020.
Ian Strong (6-3, 210, Fr.): Strong has two career receptions.
Though the Scarlet Knights have several older players who have been around for a long time, they haven’t produced much. They’ve got a transfer who moved up two levels rather than the usual one. To round it out, their fifth receiver is a true freshman.
Has Wimstatt been bad during his career because he doesn’t have good wideouts? Or have the receivers lacked productivity because they don’t have a good quarterback? The PFF grades indicate that Wimstatt is a bigger issue, but it’s probably some of both.
The Rutgers Running Game
The most important player offensively for Rutgers is running back Kyle Monangai (5-9, 210, Jr.). He’s an experienced player whose production has increased each year and is coming off the second-best game of his career against the Temple Owls.
Monangai and the Scarlet Knight running game was stifled by Northwestern in the season opener, but he ran for 165 yards and averaged 5.9 yards per carry last week against Temple. He also had 24 carries for 162 yards (6.8 ypc) against Michigan State last season, which, considering the competition, should probably be considered the best game of his career.
Monangai appears to be a solid back with a low center of gravity, good balance and good power. On top of that, he always seems to fall forward. I think his performances have been inconsistent due to the inconsistencies of the Rutgers offense itself.
Up front, Rutgers rotates more players than most teams. So far, four offensive tackles have played at least 27 snaps, four guards have played at least 38 snaps, while center Gus Zilinskas (6-2, 300, Jr.) has played all but eight snaps. The Hokies should probably be prepared to see eight or nine different offensive linemen in this game. Zilinskas has been the best lineman so far, which makes sense considering he plays the most.
The Scarlet Knights appear to be bang average up front. At times, they’re able to run the ball, but it’s hit or miss:
Northwestern: 44 carries, 122 yards, 2.8 ypc
Temple: 52 carries, 254 yards, 4.9 ypc
Things didn’t go well against Northwestern but went very well at Temple. You can bet that Rutgers will try to establish the running game against Virginia Tech in order to take pressure off of its own subpar passing game. That doesn’t bode well for the Hokies, who have one of the worst run defenses in the country through two games:
Yards per game: 190, No. 118 out of 133
Yards per carry: 4.27, No. 95 out of 133
Those are very bad numbers. That said, the Hokies are capable of playing better that, and they’ll need to start doing so this weekend.
Before we make our staff picks, what’s your prediction?
What's your prediction for the 2023 Virginia Tech-Rutgers game?
- Scarlet Knights Win by 1-10 (39%, 550 Votes)
- Scarlet Knights Win by 11+ (37%, 523 Votes)
- Hokies Win by 1-10 (21%, 293 Votes)
- Hokies Win by 11+ (3%, 43 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,409
Virginia Tech-Rutgers Final Thoughts
All of the numbers indicate that this game will be a crap shoot. Vegas seems to think so too — the over/under opened at 40.5 points. (It’s since dropped to 39.5.) That’s just about as low as you’ll see in college football. Tech out-talented Old Dominion in the passing game but hasn’t been able to get much going other than one quarter against Purdue. Meanwhile, Rutgers methodically beat Northwestern, though it didn’t dominate offensively, and it only led Temple 13-7 in the early fourth quarter before eventually running away with the game.
It goes without saying that Virginia Tech isn’t going to light up the box score with a bunch of rushing yards this week, even if Kyron Drones is the first choice at quarterback. If the Hokies do, that would go against Tyler Bowen’s 13-game trend as their offensive coordinator in which they’re averaging 2.95 yards per carry. A lot of things are going to have to change for that number to make a substantial improvement.
Grant Wells is extremely banged up, and he couldn’t go through team drills in practice on Wednesday. My best guess is that we’ll see a lot of Kyron Drones this week, perhaps even exclusively. We know option 1a at wide receiver (Ali Jennings) is out while option 1b (Jaylin Lane) is questionable, though it seems likely that he’ll play. It seems like this is the week to break out a run-heavy offense, but with Tech’s struggles up front matched up against a run defense that has been nothing short of dominant through two weeks, that doesn’t sound particularly good for the Hokies.
I don’t anticipate the Tech offense scoring many points this week, at least not on its own. As Brent Pry says, the Hokies have to play complementary football. The offense can’t turn it over and the defense must come away with a turnover or two. Special teams must win the field position battle. Most importantly, the Hokies’ run defense must dramatically improve overnight. Here are the rushing numbers for Old Dominion and Purdue against Tech compared to what each of those programs did last season…
ODU: 201 yards, 4.7 yards per carry against Virginia Tech. Averaged 92.5 yards and 3.56 yards per carry in 2022.
Purdue: 179 yards, 3.9 yards per carry against Virginia Tech. Averaged 121 yards and 3.64 yards per carry in 2022.
The Monarchs finished outside the top 100 in yards per game and yards per carry last year. Purdue finished outside the top 100 in yards per game and was 98th in yards per carry. Yet both of those teams (after changes at offensive coordinator, since we’ve been on that topic this week) managed to put up much-improved numbers against the Virginia Tech defense.
If Tech’s rushing defense was as good as it was last season (top 50 in yards per game and yards per carry), I’d be more on the fence about this one. Instead, it has been pretty rough this year despite facing a quarterback last week who ran for just 16 yards. It was mostly the Boilermakers’ power-running game that did the Hokies in, so I’m not sure that it’s a huge deal that Gavin Wimsatt only has 188 rushing yards for his career.
This one can’t possibly be as ugly as the 2012 Russell Athletic Bowl in which Virginia Tech defeated Rutgers 13-10 after trailing 10-0 after the third quarter. (At least I hope it can’t!) The Hokies only ran for three yards that day on the Scarlet Knights (and it took 32 carries to pick up those three yards) despite having a mobile Logan Thomas at quarterback. If I had to pick a past Hokie game to watch, that one would be dead last on my list.
However, this one does have the feel of an ugly, low-scoring affair like the one we witnessed back in 2012. We don’t know who is going to play quarterback for Tech, though I’m assuming it will be Drones, and through two games Tech is one of the worst college football teams in the country in “trench warfare.” The Hokies are outside the top 100 in rushing yards per game and yards per carry on offense; defensively, they’re outside the top 95 in rushing yards per game and yards per carry allowed. In fact, Virginia Tech is one of just four Power 5 teams to rank No. 100 or worse in rushing yards per game, yards per carry and rushing yards per game allowed while also ranking No. 95 or worse in yards per carry allowed.
Something is wrong with the Hokies up front. They are either getting physically whipped, totally outschemed, or both. Until that changes, it’s hard to pick them to win a road game against a team that has proven to be solid in the trenches through the first two games.
Chris Coleman’s Prediction: Rutgers 20, Virginia Tech 13
Will Stewart’s Take: “I’m not sure when the last time was that I had this little hope for a victory. Usually, you can see a path to a win, but with the Virginia Tech offense sputtering so badly … behind such a young offensive line … it’s just hard to see how the Hokies will manufacture much scoring. There isn’t a magic wand the coaching staff can wave here.”
I put that paragraph in quotes because I wrote it during the 2019 season, in our preview to Virginia Tech’s game against Miami. The Hokies had been plastered at home by Duke 45-10 in the previous game, and things looked pretty hopeless. Chris picked Miami by a score of 31-10, and I went with the ‘Canes as well, 31-7.
You know the rest. The Hokies started Hendon Hooker over Ryan Willis, jumped out to a 28-0 lead, and held on to win 42-35. That started a streak in which the Hokies won six of seven games.
Is that going to happen here, with Kyron Drones probably stepping in for the injured Grant Wells? Drones might start, but it’s unlikely that VT will hang 42 points on Rutgers. Tech hasn’t scored 42 points in the last 16 games, since a 48-17 over Duke in Justin Fuente’s last game.
Still, it’s an object lesson that things are rarely as grim as they seem. We’ll see. Rutgers is a tough, physical team, though not good on offense. If the Hokie D hangs in there, this could be another thriller (TIC) like the 2012 Russell Athletic Bowl. I think Rutgers will wear down VT late (like Purdue did), adding a margin to an otherwise close game.
Will’s Prediction: Rutgers 24, Virginia Tech 10
David Cunningham’s Take: Chris published a great article diving into Virginia Tech’s struggles in “trench warfare” on Wednesday. The Hokies have been extremely poor up front on both sides of the ball in the run game. When passing or defending the pass, it’s a bit of a different story, but if you can’t run the ball or stop the run, you’re not going to win very many games.
I wouldn’t even go as far as to say that Rutgers is an average football team, though this might be a solid season for Greg Schiano & Co. But like Purdue, the Scarlet Knights are very similar to the Hokies. This time, however, it seems like their strengths match up well against Tech’s weaknesses. The Boilermakers weren’t great on the ground entering last weekend and struggled to defend the pass. The first part didn’t seem to matter, though — they ran for 179 yards (3.9 ypc). Tech had success in the air for a half — Wells was 13-of-22 for 168 yards and two scores. Yet, he struggled after the quick intermission and was 3-of-11 for 75 yards.
This week in Piscataway, Rutgers is good on the ground offensively, which doesn’t bode well for Tech’s defense, and is even better at stopping the run than Purdue. The only chance the Hokies might have offensively is to air it out, but that’s predictable, and as we saw last weekend, it wasn’t efficient.
It’s going to take a lot for the Hokies to win this game. They’re going to have to be almost perfect on special teams, win the field position battle and force a turnover or two. If Drones can give the offense a spark (I’m assuming he’ll play), that’s great, but he’s not a superhero. There are bigger problems at play here, and it starts up front. Tech should be able to hang around for a half, but I don’t think it’s going to end well, despite it being a low-scoring game.
David Cunningham’s Prediction: Rutgers 23, Virginia Tech 10
Andy Bitter’s Take: This was a game I had pegged as a loss before the season, and the way the first two games have played out has done nothing to change my mind about it. Rutgers, if nothing else, is a physical challenge, precisely the area the Hokies are having trouble with on both sides of the ball. The possibility that Tech might be breaking in a new quarterback doesn’t make this contest any easier.
The Scarlet Knights aren’t a world-beater, and their 2-0 record comes against Northwestern and Temple, hardly a juggernaut of a schedule. But they’ve been strong against the run, have a positive turnover margin and do enough on the ground to be trouble. I don’t think I’d back anybody in this game by a full touchdown, which is where the line got up to by Wednesday, since I think it could be a pretty ugly game. I think the Hokies can muddy things up and keep it close, but picking them to win on the road, even at a place like Piscataway, seems like too much to ask.
Andy Bitter’s Prediction: Rutgers 19, Virginia Tech 16
Last Game’s Virginia Tech-Purdue Prediction Poll Results
Game Result: Purdue 24, Virginia Tech 17
What's your prediction for the 2023 Virginia Tech-Purdue game?
- Hokies Win by 1-10 (62%, 1,148 Votes)
- Boilermakers Win by 1-10 (19%, 352 Votes)
- Hokies Win by 11+ (16%, 286 Votes)
- Boilermakers Win by 11+ (3%, 53 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,839
|Hokies Win by 11+||Hokies 36, ODU 17|
|Hokies Win by 1-10||Boilermakers 24, Hokies 17|
|Scarlet Knights Win by 1-10||Scarlet Knights 35, Hokies 16|
|Thundering Herd Wins by 1-10||Thundering Herd 24, Hokies 17|