As the Belk Bowl nears, it is time to breakdown each position group to determine which team has the edge heading into the December 29th showdown in Charlotte. Next up, the wide receivers and tight ends.
We’ve rolled through the quarterback breakdown, as well as the breakdown for the running backs, and now it’s time to evaluate the wide receiver match-ups in advance of the Belk Bowl to try to gauge which team has an edge.
For all intents and purposes of this discussion, we decided to group the wide receivers and tight ends together, as they are used nearly interchangeably within these two offenses in Virginia Tech and Arkansas.
Virginia Tech has emerged with one of the top receiving groups in the entire ACC. Led by their all-time leading receiver in junior Isaiah Ford, the Hokies have used their passing attack to overwhelm their opponents all season long.
The aforementioned Ford caught a team-high 73 passes for 1,038 yards and seven scores on the season. He is flanked by fellow junior Cam Phillips, who has been brilliant in his own right. Phillips caught 70 balls for 868 yards and five touchdowns this season, proving to be the de-facto number two receiver in the Hokies offense.
Although Ford and Phillips are two of the top 10 receivers in the ACC, the difference-maker and match-up nightmare in the Virginia Tech offense is 6’7″ redshirt-junior tight end Bucky Hodges. Hodges is anything but a conventional in-line tight end, as he is split out as a receiver on the majority of his snaps.
Hodges caught 43 passes for 640 yards and seven touchdowns this season, using his big frame to become an explosive target in the red zone for quarterback Jerod Evans and the Virginia Tech offense.
While the trio of Ford, Phillips, and Hodges dominated a major share of the targets, the Hokies also, at times, employed an explosive slot receiver in 5’7″ sophomore C.J. Carroll. The speedster caught only 18 passes on the season, but made them count, averaging 14.3 yards per reception.
Carroll had 258 yards receiving on those passes, including a 58-yard catch against Notre Dame in South Bend, setting up the Hokies for a touchdown early in the third quarter to lead the comeback against the Irish. While he has not seen a lion’s share of the workload, Carroll has proved to be a pivotal part of the Hokies offense as the primary slot receiver.
Arkansas has their fair share of receiving talent as well, and while they may not have the star power that the Hokies possess, they have much more depth at the receiver position that has benefited their offense well throughout the season.
The Razorbacks have a duo of receivers over 600 yards for the season, with the team leader being senior Drew Morgan, who has caught a team-high 61 passes for 664 yards and three touchdowns. The second-leading receiver from a yards perspective is senior Keon Hatcher, who caught 38 passes for 638 yards and a team-leading seven scores.
The third option in the passing attack for the Razorbacks is junior receiver Jared Cornelius, who caught 32 passes for 515 yards and four touchdowns on the season. Cornelius is listed as questionable for the Belk Bowl however, due to a knee injury that he suffered in the season finale against Missouri.
If he can’t go on Thursday, an uptick in work could be in the cards for tight end Jeremy Sprinkle, who has 380 yards receiving and four touchdowns on the year. He may be split out more often in three receiver sets if Cornelius is not in the fold, and is more than capable of harnessing more of the load in the passing game if necessary.
Arkansas has the depth at receiver to prove more than capable within the offense that they run, but as far as receiving talent is concerned, it is tough for Arkansas, or many other schools in the FBS, quite frankly, to compete with who the Hokies have at wide receiver and tight end.
Because of this, the nod in this position group goes to Virginia Tech.