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How did the Underclassmen Recruits fair against MTSU?

By Evan Norris | September 14
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The Hokie's huddle after a 35-14 win over MTSU

After a mostly upperclassmen look during the first week of the season against UNC, the Hokies had many of their depth chart take reps for their second week game against MTSU. This meant that a lot of underclassmen got to see some action. We will now talk about how the 2020 and 2021 recruits for the Hokies faired against the Blue Raiders and who from that group we might be seeing more of going forward.

Class of 2020:

CB Dorian Strong: Once again, the freshmen phenom out of Maryland showed the Hokie staff that he belongs as a starter for this defense. Strong, who is now cemented as a main piece of the Virginia Tech secondary, put on quite a performance in week two.

First off, Strong held his own and finished second in overall defensive coverage with a week two PFF Grade of a 66.3. This meant that Strong did exceptionally well for what was thrown his way from the MTSU defense. He also was rated with a grade of a 77.0 for the category of tackling. This placed him sixth for the entirety of the Hokie defense that played on Saturday. It is quite impressive to see what Strong has been able to do so early on here at Virginia Tech. However, a jump in his coverage rating will be needed to move up to true draft material. There is little doubt from both the fans and coaching staff that he will be able to take that jump.

OL Kaden Moore: You might want to get familiar with hearing the name of this freshmen offensive lineman. Kaden Moore put on a display at the right guard spot against the MTSU Blue Raiders in terms of blocking. He held his own much better than we picked out against his week one foe in North Carolina.

We will first examine the passing block grade that Moore held against MTSU. Moore managed to highlight a PFF grade of an 84.9 for pass block. This put him in the top two grouping amongst all the Virginia Tech offensive linemen that played. The only other name ahead of Moore was redshirt-sophomore Luke Tenuta (87.5). Next, Moore had a PFF grade of a 68.6 in terms of his run blocking. This meant more than a ten point jump from first week's game! This wasn't only the case for his run block grade; Moore jumped at least twelve points in every category from last week. It is starting to look like Moore is becoming more of the starter amongst him and Johnny Jordan.

DL Wilfried Pene: Bienvenue à Blacksburg or Welcome to Blacksburg as it would be said in English. Now hear me out, although we saw the young, french defensive lineman only play fourteen snaps for the Hokies, there was promise. Pene came into Blacksburg from Touraine, France originally and showed us he has the potential to be something special.

Pene did not record any snaps against UNC in week one, but managed to find himself on defense plenty against MTSU. Although he did record a PFF grade of 46.3 for overall defense (worst of all the defense on Saturday), he showed hope in other areas. If we look at Pene's tackling grade, PFF awarded him a grade of a 69.7. This was right on par with such players like Norrell Pollard, Keshon Artis, and Mattheus Carroll. I don't think this was a pretty performance from Pene by any means, but it does provide us a glimpse into what he can easily become - a solid defensive lineman.

Possible New Names: We unfortunately didn't see all of the 2020 recruits playing on Saturday. However, some of the names I think we could see contribute more are P Peter Moore, S Keonta Jenkins, and RB Marco Lee.

We got to see punter Peter Moore make another start this past weekend. However, his special teams performance didn't look too impressive, and the stats backed that up. I think the freshmen has it in him, but we need to see it. Next is safety Keonta Jenkins, who didn't play against MTSU. He earned some recognition last week for playing well against UNC. Having him back will be great have for the Hokie's first road game in Morgantown. Lastly, I was saddened to not see running back Marco Lee take any snaps in week two. The work that Lee put in during the offseason is rewarding of at least some snaps.

Class of 2021:

RB Malachi Thomas: The freshmen running back out of Hartwell, Georgia seemed to have put on a clinic for Virginia Tech's running game and special teams. It was spoken during camp that we might see either Malachi Thomas or DJ Harvey taking some returns for punts this season. We ended up seeing Thomas first and it was well worth it.

To set things off, Thomas set himself as the third best running back on Saturday's game. He held a PFF grade of a 65.2 overall offensively. And covering twelve yards on two carries, an average of six yards a run, we can see Thomas can run efficiently. We also see Thomas record a PFF grade of 76.9 on special teams. The sky only seems to be the minimum for what we might end up seeing from Thomas before his tenure ends at Virginia Tech.

DE Cole Nelson: The heavy hitting defensive lineman out of the 2021 recruiting class showed us exactly what he was brought into do. Nelson got to record twelve snaps against MTSU, and did nothing but dominate. We heard a bit from Nelson during the offseason, but majority of the talk remained at him taking a redshirt and needing more development. After Saturday's game, I am not sure this will remain the case.

First off, Nelson found his way into the top six of defensive players statistically against MTSU. He had a PFF grade of a 68.8, and ranked above some of the more prevalent players at the defensive end spot. Also, we saw Nelson perform well on pass rush. This brought him a PFF pass rush grade of a 69.3, which ranked fifth among the whole team. We will definitely begin to see Cole Nelson used more on this defensive line, and he might end up getting more reps soon.

CB Elijah Howard: Another 2021 commit that went off on the special teams unit was cornerback Elijah Howard. Howard got some buzz, as he was late coming onto campus. However, it seems that he made quick work of adjusting to the regiment at Virginia Tech and got in some good playing time during camps over the summer.

We got to see Howard record the third best special teams rating with a PFF grade of a 75.5. This was huge, considering we saw another 2021 recruit do well last week on special teams in Jalen Stroman. He also made a jump of 15.2 points from his special teams showing in week one. I do believe we can see some more this season out of the Tennessee native.

Possible New Names: After watching this weekend's game, I can say I saw a lot of other 2021 recruits that showed a lot of promise. I think some of those recruits to watch would be WR Jaylen Jones, DE Mattheus Carroll, and WR Keli Lawson.

Jaylen Jones was showing us a nice bit of what he added to his arsenal since high school. He got to be in on ten snaps and even recorded a better run block grade on the outside than WR Da'Wain Lofton. Next, defensive end Mattheus Carroll had a decent showing on the line. His fourteen added snaps from week one only allowed him to showcase more of what this versatile athlete could do. He also ranked especially well in his PFF tackling grade. And lastly, Keli Lawson got a great deal of special teams snaps. Lawson actually ended up recorded the fifth most amount of special teams snaps, so I am sure we will see the staff play him more going forward.