This is the first part of a series previewing SU’s 2021 Football Opponents.
It’s been a busy first day down here at the 2021 ACC Kickoff and the Fizz has been overflowing your cup of Syracuse Football soda. Click here to access the content hub where every article has been linked for your convenience. Be sure to head over to twitter and follow @OrangeFizz for exclusive pictures, interviews, and more.
We’ve already given you a birds-eye view of the Virginia Tech Football team heading into the fall. This piece is meant to zoom in and focus on specific pieces of the Hokies squad. The 2021 VT season hinges on the performance of quarterback Braxton Burmeister.
The redshirt-junior has had an interesting career as a college football player. He was once a blue chip recruit from La Jolla, California that was projected to be the quarterback of the future at Oregon. The former four-star dual threat quarterback recruit started five times and played in seven games as a freshman in 2017. Like many young signal callers he struggled with turnovers as a true freshman with a lackluster two touchdown to six interception ratio.
After taking his lumps as a frosh, Burmeister came back and played in four games as a sophomore in 2018. That would be the end of his career as a Duck though because Justin Herbert rose to the top and seized the starting job.
Instead of setting for a backup role out west, Burmeister announced his decision to become a Hokie. His quest for immediate eligibility was denied by the NCAA for the 2019 season. So the signal caller bided his time in that “offseason” and used it as an opportunity to take a redshirt and practice with the scout team.
Twenty-twenty was an interesting year of Virginia Tech and its quarterback situation. The Hokies had three different quarterbacks play in Hendon Hooker, Quincy Patterson II, and Burmeister. The Oregon transfer began last season as QB1 for VT and racked up a 3-1 record before missing a bulk of the latter half of the season with injury. He later returned from the sideline and played two of his best games off the bench and demonstrated what he could be for Tech in the future.
Hooker took over and started the seven games in between Burmeister’s injury and return before he was hit an injury. Patterson II played in relief duty last season due to issues with depth caused by misfortunes. Hooker and Patterson II have since transferred to Tennessee and North Dakota State, respectively.
This was Burmeister’s job heading into 2020 and it’s his job once again entering this season. The question now becomes can he avoid injuries and pick up where he left off in the tail end of last year. The gunslinger went 10-12 (83.3%) for 127 yards against Clemson in a 45-10 loss. That was the highest completion percentage Burmeister totaled all of last year and it came against arguably the best defense the ACC has to offer, albeit on just twelve tosses.
His next performance is stronger evidence as he registered a 68% completion percentage on 15-22 passing for 212 yards and a score, paired with seven rushes for 36 yards. That came against Virginia in the regular season finale, another respected defensive unit in the conference.
The question now is can Burmeister continue that steady play he showed to end last season and can he complete an entire season without injury or any other hindrances?
What doesn’t help answer the first question there is the fact that Khalil Herbert is gone to the NFL. (Something with Herbert’s just doesn’t align well with Burmeister). Last season VT quarterbacks could benefit from opposing defense’s stacking the box with more defenders and opting to send more blitzes and pressure. When defensive units opt to scheme this way it allows the passing game to erupt if it can beat man-to-man coverage and zone coverages that always have leaks and holes.
That could happen this year as the Hokies return several impact players in the backfield like Raheem Blackshear who racked up 409 yards from scrimmage in his first season in Blacksburg. There’s also Jalen Holston who some say has a game that’s very comparable to Herbert.
Either way, Burmeister has noticed the differences between PAC-12 defenses and ACC units in his three years spent on the East Coast.
“PAC-12 defenses are a lot more coverage based, you see a lot of nickel defense in the PAC-12. In the ACC you see a lot more physical defenses with more linebackers on the field, especially against us last year people kinda stacked the box. In the PAC-12 I didn’t really see that very much.”
In a sense, the ACC favors the quarterback because the defenses are more run-oriented. That statement is only true if the thrower has some talented pass catchers on the outside. Luckily for Burmeister and Head Coach Justin Fuente, the Hokies are loaded on the outside.
Wideouts Tre Turner and Tayvion Robinson return after combining for 72 receptions, 1,121 yards, and six touchdowns in 2020. The dynamic duo form one of the best combinations in the ACC this fall. Throw in flex tight end James Mitchell and you’ve got a buffet of weapons to connect with via the aerial attack. Mitchell told the Fizz that having Turner and Robinson in the boundaries makes his job a whole lot easier.
“Tre and Kaleb Smith can stretch the field and then Tayvion’s gonna hit those mid routes and it definitely allows me to find those voids and get open in the zones and really not a lot of teams will be able to just focus on one guy or bracket one guy because there’s a lot of options across the board.”
The options are plentiful for Burmeister when it comes to the passing game and don’t forget he’s also an athlete as a dual-threat player. Coach Fuente believes he’s one of the best pure athletes on the roster.
“Braxton is, and he’s probably going to get mad at me for saying this, but he’s one of the top three or four athletes on the entire team. He’s got a chance to be really, really explosive.”
He forced two other talented quarterbacks to depart the program for other opportunities, now can he rise up and take the reins of the Hokies offense and do so for a full season? That’s something we’ll have to find out this fall. VT could run into some serious problems if he is sidelined again. There is little-no proven depth behind Burmeister.
Syracuse and Virginia Tech are set to do battle in a crossover game on October 23rd in Blacksburg, VA.
Stay tuned for more coverage from the ACC Kickoff through Thursday, you can find all the content by accessing our media hub.