Quick 2019 Recap:
Coming off a disappointing 6-7 season in 2018, the Virginia Tech Hokies’ 2019 season didn’t get off to a much better start, going 2-2 in their first four games with wins over Old Dominion and Furman. In week five however, their season would start turning around when they made Hendon Hooker the starting quarterback.
After Hooker was given the starting job, the Hokies went on a tremendous run over their next seven games, going 6-1 including wins over Miami, North Carolina, and Wake Forest. That series of games was capped off with back-to-back shutouts over Georgia Tech and Pitt by a total score of 73-0.
While the Hokies were feeling good going into the end of the season, they did stumble in their final two games, falling to in-state rival Virginia 39-30 (their first loss to UVA since 2003), followed by losing to Kentucky in the Belk Bowl 37-30. All in all, they would finish their season 8-5.
Offensive Player to Watch: QB Hendon Hooker
Through the air, Hooker was pretty accurate, completing 61 percent of his passes for 1,555 yards and 13 touchdowns. He also did well protecting the ball, tossing just two interceptions over the course of the season, with both of those interceptions coming in the loss to Virginia.
He showed some ability on the ground as well, picking up 356 yards and five touchdowns. He’ll be a quarterback that the Nittany Lions can’t take lightly based off his performances in 2019.
Defensive Player to Watch: LB Rayshard Ashby
Senior linebacker Rayshard Ashby is by far the Hokies best player on the defensive side of the ball after racking up his second-straight 100-plus tackle season last year with 119 stops. He was a nemesis in opposing backfields with 17 tackles for a loss and five sacks as well. There’s no doubt Ashby is going to be playing in the NFL in 2021, but before doing so, he’ll look to put in another dominating season in Blacksburg.
Major Changes for 2020: A majority of the Hokies’ changes heading into 2020 came on the defensive side of the ball. Long-time defensive coordinator Bud Foster retired after 2019 with safeties coach Justin Hamilton receiving the promotion. Former Minnesota head coach Tracy Claeys is entering his first year with the program as their linebackers coach, and the program also made hires at cornerback and on the defensive line. Player-wise, the Hokies return most of their notable players and starters from last season.
Penn State Wins If: The Nittany Lions will win this game if they play to their strengths. While Virginia Tech is talented, the Nittany Lions have quite the talent advantage over the Hokies. It probably won’t be a cakewalk but when considering the expectations set for the Nittany Lions in this game, it’s one they probably should win by multiple scores. The offense will have to play rather mistake-free football, while the defense will need to contain the Hokies’ passing game.
Virginia Tech Wins If: The Hokies will win if they can find a way to take advantage of the Nittany Lions’ secondary that was shaky down the stretch last season. The Penn State defense probably may still be looking to shake off some rust in their second game, so there may be more mistakes to take advantage of than usual.
Additionally, the Hokies defense will have to fluster the Nittany Lions’ passing game, which involves getting to Sean Clifford often while trying to create separation issues for a rather inexperienced Penn State receiving core.