Liberty (8-2) is back in action Saturday afternoon as the Flames return home to play host to Virginia Tech (2-8) for a noon kickoff against the Hokies. To help us get a preview of what to expect from Virginia Tech, we caught up with Sam Stromberg of Sons of Saturday.
1. What is the overall feeling surrounding the season within the program thus far and its fans on the team’s performance so far this year?
Sam Stromberg: Well, it has definitely been a disappointment. Yeah, we did not expect too much this season, but almost all Hokie fans thought Tech would be better than 2-8 at this point. Within the program, it seems that there are still good vibes going around. I don’t think Brent Pry has lost the locker room or anything yet; however, that could change very quickly if he has another tough year next season. As fans, we are obviously disappointed. But man, Lane Stadium has still been filling up. I mean, when we hosted Georgia Tech a couple weeks back in the rain, it was nearly full. So that should speak for itself.
2. What has been your feeling/evaluation of Grant Wells thus far and what is the expectation for his production in this game?
SS: Wells has not been great this season. He has been inaccurate in the short/middle pass-game and has poor touch on the ball, especially in the short pass-game. Oftentimes, he locks in on a receiver, missing other open guys. Overall, Wells has not seen the field very well. At the same time, though, Wells has not received much help. The offensive line has been extremely subpar (Wells gets absolutely crushed from the blindside at least a couple times a game). A true run game has never really been established this year either, making it very tough to open up the pass-game. Wells could be successful in a more talented offense, but Tech just does not have the playmakers and offensive line for that yet. Wells has been OK running the ball himself. Regarding this game, I think it just depends on what the OC Tyler Bowen lets him do. If we air it out, he might surpass 250 yards. But I wouldn’t be surprised if a few balls land in the arms of Liberty DB’s.
3. Who do you consider to be the biggest X factor on the Hokies offense besides the quarterback? How about for the defense?
SS: On offense, I would probably say RB Malachi Thomas, but he is injured right now. I would probably have to go with senior WR Kaleb Smith. He is not the flashiest guy, but he is Mr. Reliable for the Hokies. Anytime Tech gives him a chance to catch a ball, he usually comes down with it.
On defense, I wouldn’t necessarily say we have an X factor. 6’6” redshirt freshman LB Keli Lawson has “X factor ability” but just hasn’t played enough yet. If I had to go with someone, it would probably be senior DB Chamarri Conner. Conner is not great in coverage, but he is the most aggressive player on this Hokies defense – he will lay the boom. Conner also leads the team in solo tackles, with 34.
4. What did you expect the record for this team to look like coming into the year and how has it played out differently?
SS: In my preseason predictions, I said if the Hokies start the year 2-2 (we did), it would be a long season. But, if we went 4-0, then I predicted 8-4. I ended up going with 8-4, which, clearly, was very wrong. The main difference maker has been the offense. I did not expect the offense to be this bad. Tech was up 18 on NC State late in the third, and up 11 (and about to score) on Georgia Tech early in the fourth: both games ended in losses. When up, this offense seems to get super conservative – it has been frustrating to say the least.
5. What player has surpassed expectations and has been breaking out this season?
SS: On offense, true freshmen TE Dae’Quan Wright has looked impressive. He is basically a walking first down with his 6’4” frame. Wright will line up all over the field and is a matchup nightmare: it is just a matter of if Tech will get him the ball enough – Wright has not seen nearly enough targets this year. On defense, fellow true freshman CB Mansoor Delane has looked promising. Delane took the starting CB position a couple weeks back and has many Hokie fans excited for his future. He had his first interception last week vs. Duke.
6. Where do you think the Flames will struggle the most against this team?
SS: Honestly, this is a tough one, because the Hokies are not great in any one aspect of the game. I know Liberty ranks top 35 in rush offense, but the Hokies have been OK defending the run. Take away the abysmal performance against Pitt (Israel Abanikanda ran for 320 yards and 6 TDs), and Tech has actually been pretty solid against the run. So, if I have to go with one, then I say there is a chance Liberty does not get a ground game going, but I say that with little confidence. If OC Tyler Bowen lets Wells air it out, there is also a chance we get a rhythm in the pass game, but again, I say that with very, very little confidence.
7. What is your final score prediction for this game?
SS: I could see the Hokies winning this game closely, especially after seeing Liberty lose to UConn last week. But then again, I look at Tech, and we are a 2-8 football team – and would probably lose to UConn too. So I’ll take the Flames by 5:
Liberty 26 – Virginia Tech 21.