Two years ago Monday, we were treated to one of the best Syracuse Football games in recent memory. SU trailed Virginia Tech by nine with just over five minutes left, but a couple late drives with a little luck propelled the Orange to a stunning 41-36 victory over the Hokies. Two years later, we get a rematch, only this time it’s on a Thursday night, something Virginia Tech is famous for in both a good and bad way. It’s good in that it’s really cool, it’s bad in that it will make life very difficult for Dino Babers and company.
It’s safe to say Hokie fans are longing for the 2000s. From 1999 to 2011, ech had 11 double digit win seasons, including eight straight to close out that stretch. Since 2011, the Hokies have just one 10-win campaign in 2016. It’s been a struggle too- Virginia Tech has been sub-500 in four of the last five years. This season’s Hokies squad has seen its highs and its lows. Three straight losses to Purdue, Rutgers, and Marshall left a very poor impression, but a pair of convincing ACC victories over Pitt and Wake Forest have raised eyebrows. Despite below-normal standards for the program, Tech was bowl ineligible last season for the first time since 1992. Are they back in the right direction under…
HEAD COACH BRENT PRY
this guy? Yes, Pry’s first season was a struggle. A 3-8 record won’t impress many but this was his first head coaching gig after VT administration had seen enough of Justin Fuentes (and vice versa). The former collegiate safety brought nearly 30 years of experience as an assistant to Blacksburg, including six years as Penn State’s defensive coordinator. If there aren’t hurdles in a new head coach’s first season, then pigs can fly. Now that Pry has a year under his belt and can start to really put his vision into play, it’s made the Hokies a team to be reckoned with again.
QB KYRON DRONES
Virginia Tech’s QB carousel has been an interesting one this year. Grant Wells got the majority of the reps in the Hokies’ first two contests against Old Dominion and Purdue, but he has since been sidelined with an ankle injury. In came Drones, and he hasn’t been anything spectacular but he has been serviceable. The Pearland, Texas native’s strength has been ball security- he has just one interception- but he showed off his passing prowess with a 321-yard performance against Wake Forest on the 14th. Even still, Drones is a major step back from Cade Klubnik, Drake Maye, and Jordan Travis. Can SU’s defense take advantage?
WR JAYLIN LANE
One way the defense can take advantage is limiting Lane’s effectiveness. His catch and yardage numbers will not pop out of you, but his end zone threat level is why he made this article. Lane has five receiving touchdowns despite missing one of Tech’s games, no one else on the roster has more than two. And even though the South Carolinian’s numbers haven’t been national attention-seeking yet, he went off for 102 yards and two touchdowns against Wake on just three receptions. That is big play threat if there ever was such a thing. Again, Lane doesn’t pose the same threat level that a guy like Keon Coleman with FSU does, but he can still bite you.
DL ANTWAUN POWELL-RYLAND
Powell-Ryland has nowhere the national recognition that Jared Verse with Florida State has, but he poses another very difficult test for the Orange offensive line. The Virginian’s 25 tackles may not impress you, but when 9.5 of them are tackles for loss and seven of them are sacks, then your eyebrows start to raise. These are easily the biggest numbers Powell-Ryland has put up in his career, in large part due to transferring from Florida. He is a prime example of the good that the transfer portal can do for an athlete if the fit is right, and Virginia Tech has been an excellent fir for Powell-Ryland.
LB KELI LAWSON
Powell-Ryland may command the defensive line, but Lawson commands the entire Hokie defense. The redshirt sophomore has done a little bit of everything this year. Lawson leads the team in tackles, including five tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks, along with an interception, four pass breakups, three QB hurries, and a forced fumble. There’s one thing about Lawson that the other three players mentioned don’t have. Though he didn’t play, Lawson had a front row seat to the craziness that was the 2021 matchup between SU and VT. It’s safe to say he might come in with a fire burning inside him.
Yes, Virginia Tech is not on the level of Clemson, North Carolina, and Florida State. But is it crazy to say that this atmosphere will be the toughest Syracuse plays in this year? Combine that with an up-and-coming Hokies team, it will not be an easy affair on Thursday night.