Virginia Tech has played in front of a national audience this season, but this time it's against a top-10 ranked team, on a Thursday night at home. Ahead of tomorrow's clash in Lane Stadium, here's whose stock is on the rise and whose is on the way up.
WHIP Alonzo Tweedy, senior, Virginia Tech
The special-teams guru (15 tackles) hasn't played one snap on defense in 2012, but he enters Thursday's game as the listed starter at whip. Ronny Vandyke hasn't adapted as quickly as hoped after supplanting Jeron Gouveia-Winslow, and Coach Beamer wants to utilize Tweedy's exceptional speed.
He's expected to be blitzing more often than not, as that was the successful formula used in Tweedy's last start against Denard Robinson's Michigan Wolverines. If the Hokies are to keep the Seminole offense at bay, Tweedy will have to play a vital role. The coaches may elect to reward the hard-working senior with multiple starts if he performs well.
CB Antone Exum, junior, Virginia Tech
While it didn't come at the best of times, there's no doubt that Exum looked like a true corner against the Hurricanes last Thursday. As recent as Clemson, the former free safety has been scrutinized for his adjustment to the position. However, Exum recorded a career-high of four passes defended as well as four breakups. To put that in perspective, no other Hokie has more than five passes defended nor more than three breakups on the season.
Because it was one game, another solid performance would be ideal. While this season appears to be lost, Hokie fans should surely be excited about Exum and Kyle Fuller shutting down wide receivers next year.
RB, Devonta Freeman, sophomore, Florida State
The 5-foot-9, 209-pound bowling ball is becoming a star for the Seminoles. Though he didn't carry the ball during a three-game stretch, Freeman has rushed for at least 70 yards in each of the past three contests. This includes two straight two-touchdown efforts, and it's not like Freeman is getting a lion's share of the carries. He recorded 104 yards on a season-high 12 rushes last week, and is averaging 8.1 yards-per-carry during the three-game hot streak.
Suffice to say, the Hokies can't allow Freeman to gain those types of chunks if they hope to win.
DE J.R. Collins, junior, Virginia Tech
After recording at least five tackles in each of the first three games, Collins has registered just 11 total tackles in the past six contests.
Expectations were high after Collins had 57 tackles and six sacks last season, but he has failed to record one thus far. He didn't start for the first time since Georgia Tech in the Miami battle, and is now listed as the backup defensive tackle behind Derrick Hopkins.
FS Michael Cole, redshirt freshman, Virginia Tech
Cole was thrust into the role of nickel-safety once the Hokies started facing spread offenses, posting impressive performances against UNC and Duke. But the redshirt freshman saw his playing time decrease against Miami while recording just one tackle.
Because Florida State, Boston College, and UVA all run forms of the pro-style offense, his action is likely to continue to be limited. This translates into more snaps for the whip position, but expect the nickel to still be utilized in certain situations. (i.e. third downs, predicted passing plays).
WR Kenny Shaw, junior, Florida State
Shaw is third on the team in receiving yards (378) and tied for second in touchdowns (3), but has been less than impressive as of late. He caught just two passes for 28 yards two weeks ago, and didn't record a catch in the Seminoles' win over Duke.
Unfortunately, Shaw was banged up in a car accident earlier this week as well and didn't practice Tuesday. Reports say he is likely to play, but it's hard to believe he'll be a big part of the offense if so.