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September 6, 2013Sign-up for HokieHaven.com Wireless Text Alerts sent right to your cell phone!
After facing college football's best team to start 2013, things should be a little easier for the Virginia Tech Hokies in their home opener this Saturday. Western Carolina hasn't won a game since Aug. 30 of last year, and allowed 45 points to Middle Tennessee last week.
Suffice to say, we're sure to see a spike in offensive production from the Hokies. There's sure to be plenty of opportunities to go around, especially for a receiving group that had more drops than catches last week.
Let's take a look at this week's stock watch heading into Saturday's matchup with the Hokies currently listed as 41-point favorites.
OL Jonathan McLaughlin, freshman, Virginia Tech
In what was the first start for a freshman left tackle in the Frank Beamer era, McLaughlin sure didn't look like a first-year player. He even gained some praise from senior guard Andrew Miller and offensive line coach Jeff Grimes, who loves his "competitive fire."
While there were many questions regarding the freshman's performance under the bright lights of the Georgia Dome, McLaughlin answered by providing a solid line of defense for senior quarterback Logan Thomas' backside. Thomas was sacked just one time in the game and it was a rarity if McLaughlin's man got to the signal-caller.
Expectations are now sky high for a player that could develop into one of the nation's best at his position in future years. For now, McLaughlin's progress over the course of this season should be exciting to watch.
LB Jack Tyler, redshirt senior, Virginia Tech
The tackling machine picked up right where he left off in 2012; he lead Virginia Tech with eight tackles and also added his fifth career sack against the Tide. It was Tyler that knifed through the offensive line to stop T.J. Yeldon on an early third-and-1 play, which set the tone for a Hokie defense that allowed just 206 yards of offense.
The defensive line produced a terrific performance to give Tyler open space to make tackles. If they continue to dominate the line of scrimmage, Tyler might just have a chance to eclipse the 119 tackles he registered last season. The redshirt senior looks more agile this year and if it's possible, he appears to be reading offensive plays at an even faster pace than 2012.
As the leader of the defense and roadblock in the middle, Tyler helped prove that it will be a daunting task for any team to run the ball against the Hokies. Enjoy the playmaker's abilities while you can.
WR Kamorris Benson, junior, Western Carolina
Benson started just four games in 2012 and had 19 catches for 439 yards and 1 TD, but expectations have risen after his Week 1 performance. The junior recorded 4 catches for 113 yards and added a score in the Catamounts 45-24 loss to Middle Tennessee.
If you're looking for the guy that Virginia Tech needs to stop through the air, look no further than Benson and his big-play ability. (He had a 56-yard catch on top of his 39-yard touchdown.)
However, after seeing the likes of Kyle Fuller limit Alabama star receiver Amari Cooper to just 38 yards receiving, Benson's production upside is likely to be capped. Still, if Western Carolina hopes to compete with the Hokies, Benson will need to have a big day.
DE James Gayle, redshirt senior, Virginia Tech
It was certainly no secret regarding the type of expectations Gayle put on himself heading into the 2013 season. While he likely (I didn't watch him on every play) played a big part in clogging up running lanes for Alabama running backs, Gayle only got on the stat sheet for one quarterback hurry.
It was the first time since Dec. 3, 2011 against Clemson that the redshirt senior failed to record at least one tackle. Gayle is looked upon to be a dominating force throughout the season, and quite simply, he must produce in terms of tackles and sacks if he hopes to be playing on Sunday's next year.
There's sure to be some opportunities for the 6'4" 255-pound truck this Saturday. It's certainly a good game to get back on track.
WR Demetri Knowles, redshirt sophomore, Virginia Tech
This tag really could be placed on any of the Hokie receivers. When the group drops six balls (according to assistant Aaron Moorehead) and catches five, that's not exactly the recipe for success. Unfortunately for Knowles, he was a prime suspect throughout the game as he accounted for four of those drops.
The sophomore's breathtaking speed is something to behold, but that will only take Knowles so far if he doesn't develop reliable hands. Moorehead didn't even want his receiver to interview with the press this week in an attempt to help his young wideout move on.
With a healthy Charley Meyer looming behind him on the depth chart, it would probably be in Knowles' best interest to have a solid performance on Saturday.
QB Eddie Sullivan, redshirt junior, Western Carolina
Western Carolina is one of the rare teams in the country that deploy two quarterbacks in almost every game. Sullivan started six games last year and passed for a team-high 979 yards, but recorded only a 54% completion rate. His counterpart, Troy Mitchell, is listed as the co-number one quarterback and ran for 443 yards on top of 862 passing yards in 2012.
The Catamounts still haven't decided who their go-to guy is under center in 2013, as evidenced last week by Sullivan's 21 pass attempts (6 rushes) and Mitchell's 15 (11 rushes). This isn't exactly a good thing to have against one of the better defenses in the country. Sullivan threw for just 96 yards last week with an interception, and Mitchell threw for 161 yards while adding 38 on the ground.
It's likely that both quarterbacks will be playing this Saturday. But Western Carolina could opt to keep their running quarterback, Mitchell, in the game more often than not in hopes of limiting turnovers and maximizing opportunities to get yards.
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