This week marks the 95th meeting between the two rivals, beginning in 1895. As we all know, the Hoos have lost 9 in a row and 13 of the past 15. The history of this matchup actually includes a number of periods of dominance, with the Hoos winning the first 9 matchups, plus another winning streak of 6 games. The Hokies have had winning streaks of 6 (and 10 out of 11). In the late 1920s and early 30s, the Hoos were unable to beat the Hokies for 10 straight games, but 3 of those were ties.
If the Hoos are to fall this week, it would mark their 10th consecutive loss in the series, which would be the longest streak in the history of the matchup. It would also mark the 9th consecutive loss this season.
The Hokies have a shot at winning the division, but they need help from UNC. If the Hokies win and the Tar Heels win, the Hokies would represent the Coastal Division against FSU in the ACC championship game. With Duke and UNC playing at noon, chances are the Hokies will know before kickoff whether they can win the division or not. The Hokies, however, are already bowl eligible, so they will be playing again regardless of the outcome of this game.
If the Hoos fall, they will have their worst ACC record since 1981, when they were 1-10 on the season and 0-6 in the ACC. Even If the Hoos win, they will have their worst season since...2009, when they were 3-9 over all and 2-6 in the ACC. (In 2010, they were 1-7 in the ACC, but 4-8 overall thanks to 2 games against FCS opponents). Still, a win here would salvage the season in a lot of minds and would help ease the pressure on Mike London during the offseason.
WR: #5 Joshua Stanford - 6'1" 196 lb, RS Freshman; #80 Demitri Knowles - 6'1" 180 lb, Sophomore; #18 D.J. Coles - 6'4" 234 lb, Senior; #82 Willie Byrn - 5'10" 186 lb, Junior; #83 Charley Meyer - 6'1" 215 lb, RS Freshman
LT: #71 Jonathan McLaughlin - 6'5" 313 lb, Freshman; #69 Mark Shuman - 6'7" 295 lb, Junior
LG: #79 Caleb Farris - 6'3" 308 lb, Junior; #75 Alston Smith - 6'2" 281 lb, RS Freshman
C: #76 David Wang - 6'2" 299 lb, Junior; #64 Matt Arkema - 6'3" 296 lb, Junior
RG: #74 Andrew Miller - 6'4" 296 lb, Senior; #72 Augie Conte - 6'6" 302 lb, RS Freshman
RT: #63 Laurence Gibson - 6'6" 290 lb, Junior; #55 Brent Benedict - 6'5" 292 lb, Junior
As you would expect, the Hokies defense relies heavily on Logan Thomas. He entered the season with a ton of hype and was seen as a potential first round QB. This, despite completing barely over 50% of his passes last year, and throwing 16 INTs versus 18 TDs. He also led the Hokies in rushing, with 524 yards and 9 TDs. There aren't very many 250 lb guys who can run like Thomas and play QB and that makes him an enticing prospect for the NFL. However, he's been disappointing this year, even if his numbers aren't vastly different. This is largely due to the offense's struggles overall. The Hokies rank 97th in the nation in offense, but 110th in rushing. While Thomas is a huge rushing threat, how much of the teams issues on the ground can truly be blamed on Thomas?
Thomas is still likely to be drafted, but many scouts are saying he will need to change positions (most likely to TE). Thomas was a bigtime recruit, the #103 player in the nation according to ESPN. But, he wasn't really seen as a QB by some schools. Despite what Thomas says about his visit to Charlottesville, the main reason he wasn't coming to UVA was that the Hoos were not likely to let him play QB. They saw him as a TE/H-back or even a LB.
So if Thomas isn't really the problem, then what is. Well, for one thing, the Hokies offense wasn't all that good last year, ranking 81st in the nation. Beyond that, the problems lie on the OL. Despite having 4 linemen start every game, and just 6 players total start on the OL, the Hokies have had trouble consistency opening holes for the ground game. It also doesn't help that the Hokies do not have a real game-breaking RB like they have in previous years. Trey Edmunds leads the team in rushing with 582 yards, but averages under 4 yards per carry. He's a solid back, hits the hole hard and has enough speed to go the distance. But he's not the speedster David Wilson was, nor is he the all around runner Ryan Williams was. Then again, he's just a freshman. Coleman, who finished 2nd (behind Thomas) in rushing last year, is averaged just 3.4 yards per carry after averaging 4.5 last year. Coleman is pure speed, dangerous in the open field and can make people miss. But he tends to dance too much and isn't as decisive in the backfield as you'd like. This makes him not very effective on a team that struggles to open up running lanes.
Despite the negative reviews, Thomas has thrown for over 2600 yards and nearly 12.5 yards per completion. His completion percentage of 58% is actually almost identical to David Watford's, but Watford averages just 9 yards per completion (dead last in the nation). Thomas' 7.3 yards per attempt is 63rd in the nation, while Watford's 5.1 yards per attempt is 121st and is really just downright dreadful.
The Hoos secondary will have to deal with a solid group of Tech WRs. Nobody in this group is a real gamebreaker, but everybody is dangerous. The Hokies always seem to have somebody step up from the WR corps against the Hoos, and it could be any of these guys. Cline is an interesting case. He played mostly basketball in high school and was recruited to play basketball by some smaller schools. But after 1 year of HS football, he was offerred a late scholarship to play TE. (He was also seen as a possible DE.) He's a very good athlete with tremendous size and has started 5 games as a true freshman, which is kind of amazing for a guy with only 2 years of organized football on his resume.
Byrn is the leading receiver, despite starting just 5 times. Stanford has been the most consistent receiver and averages over 16 yards per reception. He would be my pick for the guy who will come out of nowhere to have a career game for the Hokies. Coles is a solid possession guy, who leads the team with 6 TDs.
The Hoos interior DL of Brent Urban and David Dean will be key in this game. If they can shut down the Hokies running game by getting push into the backfield, the Hokies offense will struggle. The Hokies OL isn't good, and allows over 2 sacks per game. They run the ball a fair amount more than they pass it, and Thomas will have quite a few designed QB runs, especially in the red zone. Most of his designed runs are up the middle, so again this puts pressure on the interior of the Hoos D.
The Hoos secondary will be without the nations' leading interceptor (is that a word?) Anthony Harris for the first half, which will hurt. Rijo Walker will take his place, but unfortunately Walker is replacing the wrong S because Harris has been great all year whereas Brandon Phelps has struggled for the 2nd year in a row. Quin Blanding can't get here soon enough.
While I have no doubt that Jon Tenuta will dial up a lot of blitzes and intricate schemes, this may be a week to play things safe. The Hokies want to run the ball a lot, because they want to shorten the game. They don't really win games with their offense (the Miami game notwithstanding), they win with their defense. The Hoos simply cannot give up big plays this week, because the Hokies offense isn't really capable of driving the length of the field on their own. They'll need help, and we're likely to give it to them by giving up big plays.
DE: #99 James Gayle - 6'4" 255 lb, Senior; #66 Tyrel Wilson - 6'2" 230 lb, Senior
DT: #98 Derrick Hopkins - 6'0" 311 lb, Senior; #60 Woody Baron - 6'1" 264 lb, Freshman
DT: #92 Luther Maddy - 6'1" 296 lb, Junior; #95 Nigel Williams - 6'2" 283 lb, RS Freshman
DE: #42 J.R. Collins - 6'2" 248 lb, Senior; #90 Dadi Nicolas - 6'3" 224 lb, Sophomore
ILB: #58 Jack Tyler - 6'1" 230 lb, Senior; #36 Chase Williams - 6'2" 220 lb, Junior
ILB: #24 Tariq Edwards - 6'2" 234 lb, Senior; #40 Deon Clarke - 6'2" 210 lb, Sophomore
WHIP: #32 Josh Trimble - 6'0" 216 lb, Sophomore; #8 Detrick Bonner - 6'0" 194 lb, Junior
ROV: #34 Kyshoen Jarrett - 5'11" 198 lb, Junior; #26 Desmond Frye - 6'2" 188 lb, Sophomore
FS: Bonner; #23 Der'Woun Greene - 5'10" 180 lb, RS Freshman
CB: #11 Kendall Fuller - 5'11" 193 lb, Freshman; #2 Donovan Riley - 5'11" 204 lb, Sophomore
CB: #1 Antone Exum - 6'1" 220 lb, Senior; #31 Brandon Facyson - 6'2" 188 lb, Freshman
As I mentioned, the Hokies win games with their defense. That defense ranks #4 in the nation in total defense, #8 in rushing defense, #5 in passing efficiency defense and #9 in scoring defense. They've also forced 24 turnovers (including 18 interceptions). That does not bode well for a Virginia offense that has turned it over 25 times, including 16 INTs.
The Hokies are tied for 8th in the nation in sacks, and have 6 guys with at least 4 sacks. The 4 starting DLs have 20.5 of the teams' 34 sacks. Maddy leads the team with 6.5 sacks and 11 TFLs. Gayle is second with 9.5 TFLs and has 5 sacks, which is tied for 2nd (with Collins). The Hokies are a pressure defense, but they do not blitz nearly as much as a Jon Tenuta coached defense blitzes. They generate pressure with fast, aggressive DL and they have been doing it for a long time. When they do blitz, Tyler is the main guy, and he has 4 sacks on the year. He also leads the team in tackles by a wide margin, and is T-3 on the team with 9 TFLs. Edwards is 3rd in tackles and has also has 9 TFLs.
The Hokies defense is a bit of a hybrid 4-3, 4-2-5 with a WHIP and a ROVER. The Rover is really just a strong safety, but they will bring him into the box more than usual. The WHIP is a LB/S position that has been a bit in flux recently since Kyle Fuller went down with a groin injury. The starter this week will likely be Trimble, who has been largely disappointing since Fuller went down. Chuck Clark had taken over for Trimble, but has a sprained ankle. Fuller has played WHIP, S and CB in his career, but he will be a CB in the NFL.
Fuller is actually listed on the roster as a CB, which shows you how the Hokies deploy their players.Their players are often on the small side for the position, but they are all fast. This is largely true of the LBs and safeties, but the DEs also fit that description. Gayle isn't all that small, but he's tremendously fast. He's likely about a 3rd round pick in this year's NFL draft.
Jarrett is the team's 2nd leading tackler, but a lot of that comes cleaning up RBs and WRs. He's fast and he's a very strong tackler, but he's not making plays all over the field. He does have 2 picks and 4 passes defended. He'll likely spend a lot of time covering Jake McGee on pass routes.
Perhaps the best player on the defender, at least in terms of overall skill is CB Antone Exum. Exum has played just 3 games this season, and has just 4 tackles and 1 pass defended. Also, he's more likely to end up at FS in the NFL, largely due to his size. Kendall Fuller (Kyle's brother and also the brother of NFL vets Vincent and Corey Fuller) is a true freshman CB who has 5 INTs, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and is 5th on the team in tackles. He could end up being the best of the bunch. Another true freshman CB, Facyson, also has 5 INTs, but he's been relegated to nickel CB because of the expected return of Exum. Facyson will still be on the field plenty.
Obviously the Hokies defense is very good. The best the Hoos have seen this year, and the Hoos have seen some pretty good defense. The offense has been better of late, moving the ball pretty well but constantly shooting itself in the foot with turnovers, penalties and other mistakes. That will not do against this aggressive defense that thrives on turnovers. If the Hoos turn the ball over 3 or more times, this game will be ugly.
The word is that we'll likely see more of Greyson Lambert in this game than we have in the past. That is a good sign, although a tough test for Lambert. If he succeeds, there will be almost no question as to Hoo our QB will be next year. If he struggles, we'll go into next season without a true QB. Watford has proven nothing this year, and should not be given anything next season regardless of how he performs this week.
VT Special Teams
P: #27 A.J. Hughes - 6'1" 199 lb, Sophomore
PK: #22 Eric Kristensen - 5'11" 186 lb, Freshman
KR: Knowles; Coleman
PR: Jarrett; Fuller
The Hokies special teams are uncharacteristically bad. They rank near the bottom of FBS in nearly every special teams category including punt returns (105th), KO returns (59th), punting (64th), KO Return defense (87th) and punt return defense (111th). The Hokies do have 2 blocked kicks this year (one punt, one FG).
PK Cody Journell was struggling this year, although he did make a 56 yarder. You may recall he made the game winning kick last year against the Hoos. He was kicked off the team for violating team rules, which has led to a true freshman kicker taking the kicks for the Hokies.
Wouldn't it be great if the Hoos could win the game on a big special teams play? After all the years of hearing about "Beamer-Ball" this version of the Hokies has struggled on special teams. The Hoos have been far from great on special teams, but there have been a few good plays. Tim Smith had a 45 yard punt return last week, and the Hoos have looked close to breaking a long KO on a number of occasions this year. In a game with two struggling offense, a big play from special teams could easily turn the game.
This season has been a disaster for the Hoos. No matter how you slice it, there is almost nothing good to take away from the season. Would a win here make the season a success? No, far from it. But would a win here change the way fans feel heading into next year? Absolutely. Isn't it typical of UVA sports to bump up our expectations and then fall short? Doesn't it seem like the Hoos will pull off a win here, getting everybody's hopes up for a big year next year, only to have another disappointing campaign?
I don't even know if that is optimism or pessimism. If we win this week, obviously we'll be happy. But if that doesn't lead to anything next year, then what's the point?
On paper, the Hoos are big underdogs. The Hokies are favored by 13 points. They've won the last 9 matchups. They have a great defense, a better coaching staff and more talent on offense. But the Hoos have some things going for them. Brent Urban's return has bolstered the DL, which gives the Hoos defense a good chance of shutting the Hokies down. The Hoos offense has been better, especially on the ground, with Kevin Parks sporting back to back 100 yard games. If Parks continues to run well, the Hokies offense continues to struggle, this game is going to be closer than people think.
Prediction: Hoos 21, Hokies 17