January 21, 2019

Virginia Tech: Hokies’ plan for replacing injured Motuapuaka and other notes

After a big, needed win over FCS opponent Furman the big news of the week for the Virginia Tech Hokies leading up to their first away game against Purdue was the loss of starting middle linebacker Andrew Motuapuaka.

Motuapuaka exited the game against Furman in the third quarter, in what was originally deemed a minor injury. Earlier this week it was instead revealed that he had an MCL sprain and could be sidelined for four weeks, a substantial loss for Bud Foster’s defense. While Motuapuaka struggled against Ohio State, the depth behind him is thin in the form of Sean Huelskamp, a walk-on redshirt sophomore, a true freshman Carson Lydon.

Middle linebacker is an especially important position on the defense as they are responsible for calling plays and reading and adjusting the defensive positioning to match the offense along with heavy responsibilities in the run and pass attack. Even with Motuapuaka’s shortcomings, he was clearly the best the Hokies had.

Huelskamp will be the starter for now, as his three years in the system likely means he has a better handle of the play calls and adjustments needed. How well he can actually play the position once the ball is snapped though is up for debate. A walk-on isn’t likely to have the same physical tools as a real recruit.

Lydon on the other hand was a solid three-star prospect and certainly has the physical tools, but like with fellow freshman Dwayne Lawson on the offensive side, it’s uncertain whether he can handle all the pre-snap responsibilities. The Hokies were originally planning to redshirt him, but head coach Frank Beamer indicated that those plans would change in his weekly radio appearance Monday. Expect him to mix in with Huelskamp to start and if he adapts well, to slowly take the reins full-time.

Either way this will be a hard adjustment for the Hokies who were already weakest on defense at linebacker heading into the season. They’ll have to lean even more on their talented and experienced defensive line and corners until Motuapuaka returns.


Other Notes

  • Tech’s defense has famously had the Lunch Pail which has carried a number of traditions including placing dirt from the fields of vanquished foes inside and being awarded to the defensive MVP of the week. Well now Tech’s offensive line has introduced a trophy of their own, a custom designed meat tenderizer lovingly titled “The Fool’s Hammer” which is awarded to the offensive lineman with the best week in practice. Maybe that’s what’s been behind their resurgence early this season, or it could be Wyatt Teller mauling every defensive player in sight.
  • Advanced Stats Corner: Virginia Tech checked in as the 25th best team in the nation in the F/+ Combined Rankings which is overall advanced measurement of how a team performed on offense, defense and special teams. That’s 4th best in the ACC behind Georgia Tech, Florida State and Clemson. Interestingly, by S&P+ component stats, one of the pieces used to make F/+, the Hokies offense is what’s holding up the team so far, at No. 10 in the nation, while the defense is down at No. 61. Expect that to change as the season progresses, but a good sign nonetheless for a beleaguered unit.
  • Ever since David Wilson left campus for the bright lights of the NFL it’s seemed impossible for the Hokies to settle on even two tailbacks they liked, running through large combinations of players. That’s continued this season with J.C. Coleman, Trey Edmunds, Travon McMillan and Shai McKenzie all seeing significant time. Running backs coach Shane Beamer indicated this week that that isn’t likely to change soon. And don’t forget Marshawn Williams, who is nearly ready to return from his torn ACL.
  • The Hokies will be making the trip to West Lafayette, Indiana for their first road game of the season against the Purdue Boilermakers, their second Big Ten team in three games. The Boilermakers won’t be quite as tough as Ohio State though, they’re ranked No. 82 in the F/+ Combined Rankings. However, any road game is still a significant test for a team counting on a couple of green players in important roles.
About James O'Hara

James O’Hara is a Contributor to District Sports Page covering Virginia Tech football. James is a 2014 graduate of Tech and a diehard Hokie fan. He has serious nostalgia for Blacksburg and always gets pumped up by the opening bars of “Enter Sandman”. James also writes about the Nationals for Citizens of NatsTown and general MLB for the Washington Post Fancy Stats blog. Follow him on Twitter @nextyeardc.

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