Happy Black Friday, my Wahoo friends! I hope you got your fill of Turkey, because it’s “rivalry” week! We usually do a pretty straight forward Q&A with opposing blogs before a game, but today we’re doing something a little different as I have more of a personal connection with a writer over at our Virginia Tech counterpart, Gobbler Country (@gobblercountry). So, instead of a straight up Q&A session, Jay (@jjohnsonVATech) and I had a chat about the upcoming game.
CD: Say hi, Jay!
JJ: Hello everyone! Happy Thanksgiving to all the Hoos and Hokies out there! I am excited to participate in a discussion with Caroline about this week’s upcoming game in Blacksburg!
CD: So, Jay and I are collaborating via technology (Google docs) to chat about life, football, and all the good things. We go waaaaay back, as we met in a place where most sports writers don’t meet their buddies, I’m assuming.
JJ: That is certainly true. We met way back in uhhh… 2008? I think.
CD: That sounds about right.
JJ: Both of us were bright eyed, bushy tailed ensigns in the US Navy, getting ready to start flight school - a program called Aviation Preflight Indoctrination.
CD: It sounds waaaay more intense than it is.
JJ: I found some photos from back then too, which we should absolutely include.
CD: I reserve the right to veto those at any time. (Jay, third from the left, Caroline, fourth from the left)
JJ: Fair enough… haha! I am trying to remember when we first realized that we were hated rivals, I think it was at a party or bar or something… but the exact moment escapes.
CD: It was while studying, Mom. Yeah, I remember being like “oh, word, this guy’s cool...WHAT. VIRGINIA TECH. SEEEE YA.” Just kidding, but we always had good discussions about sports and didn’t let our seething hate for each other affect that, which is good.
JJ: I remember thinking, “What a kind young woman, full of poise and grace… a Wahoo? That seems right, they’ve always been so classy.” ;-). That being said, the second thing that struck me, after a few sports outings together, was how much you knew about all sports. You were then, and remain, the most sports savvy person I know. It’s friggin’ intimidating! I just try to keep up in football… other sports I will simply defer to your knowledge!
CD: You are entirely too kind, Jay. It was easy to spot me as a Wahoo because I was drinking a Zima which was a dead giveaway.
JJ: I am pretty sure I was bragging about VT’s victory in Bass Fishing or something...
CD: Hahaha...well regardless, we stayed in touch over the long, arduous years as we finished training, got our assignments, got our wings, and traveled the country/world in defense of freedom, you know, the usual stuff.
JJ: Yes indeed, it is pretty impressive that we stayed in contact - and still stay in contact, so much. I’ve lost touch with so many from back then.
CD: Well Jay, I’m very curious how you ended up writing for Gobbler Country...that must be a great story about some wonderful friend who recommended SB Nation…
JJ: Funny, you should ask, Caroline. In fact, I received a call (while grocery shopping) from none other than you, detailing the opportunity and who to get in contact with regarding the position! As I said… poise and grace, despite my origins.
CD: Hahaha ah yes...In all seriousness I’m glad you’re getting your voice out there...talented writer (Wahoos, go read his stuff, if you can bear the topic for long enough).
Well, Jay. I guess we should talk about what the people want to know. Football. What is your take on the Hokies this year? Did you expect this level of success?
JJ: In all honesty, I am a bit surprised. I was primarily hoping to keep the VT bowl streak alive, but the fact that we are competing for the Coastal crown was not something I thought a potential reality. That being said… we definitely have had some interesting and confusing hiccups.
CD: Bowl game? I’ll have to Google that later. What do you think Virginia has to do right and VT has to do wrong for the drought to end Saturday and the Hoos to go home happy?
JJ: The Hokies have an inexplicable susceptibility against long pass plays. If the Cavaliers find a way to exploit that, while not hemorrhaging points on defense, they have chance. Taking a look at Syracuse, it is clear that VT doesn’t really care about records when it comes to losing.
CD: That’s a fair point. Tech has played down to their competition (while also playing up) this season.
JJ: Yes, it seems to be a frustrating holdover from the previous administration, which VT has suffered criticism of, and one that I hope will fall away once the new staff is more established. What about your thoughts? This season is certainly a disappointment, but did you expect more from Bronco’s initial effort?
CD: I think I expected more than two wins, but I had told myself as long as there was improvement over the course of the season, I’d be happy. Someone asked me the other night if I thought that a Mike London coached team would have more than two wins, and I thought it was an interesting question. Clearly, there would have been no scheme changes (like on the defense) that may have cost Virginia the Richmond game. However, I still don’t think a London team makes a bowl game, so I’m not too chafed. I think the biggest thing is being patient with the new regime. The success of the program depends on the ability to instill a winning mentality and get players that fit the offense and defense. That’s something that could take a couple more seasons. That’s not to say it hasn’t been frustrating....
JJ: Not that I want UVA to win, but I do miss the days of the two teams being comparable in performance - I forget the season, but it was a matchup where whichever won, they went to the ACC Championship game (we won), and that was fantastic.
CD: Yeah and I think we lost at home 37-0. Thanks, Jay, for bringing that up. Hahah...no I agree though. I’m sick and tired of it being so one sided, and it’s no fun for anyone. Last year looked like it could happen, but alas and alack, I can still say that the last time UVA beat VT, Heath Miller was the tight end...he’s now retired from football after a Hall of Fame worthy career with the Steelers (COME AT ME IF YOU DISAGREE. SO UNDERRATED FOR HIS BLOCKING ABILITIES).
JJ: It was 38-0 ;-D - 2011- just looked it up!
CD: I just threw up in my mouth a little bit. Ok, so who are some names to know for the Hokies?
JJ: The VT quarterback, Jerod Evans, is having a fantastic year. Isaiah Ford and Bucky Hodges are our two stand out WRs that you will likely see on Sundays. Woody Baron, on defense, is a force, as is Ken Ekanem.
CD: Woody Baron sounds a little made up. Who, if anyone, concerns you on Virginia’s squad? I totally understand if you say the punter, Nick Conte. He’s really good.
JJ: I know there has been a bit of a QB shuffle in the last half of the season, but if Benkert decides to go off and lose his mind… man that dude concerns me.
CD: Lucky for you, Matt Johns is starting. Virginia has a young - and injury depleted - secondary. How can we take receivers like Bucky and Ford out of the game?
JJ: Benkert isn’t hurt is he?
CD: There’s maybe some lingering injury that’s not super serious, but mostly he was becoming a big fan of the late, game-affecting pick-six so Bronco decided to try the senior.
JJ: I am not sure if the secondary can handle Ford or Hodges, if VT has time. Hodges is 6’7” and that’s just near impossible to cover for any length of time. Ford is quick and has great route running ability. The teams that have successfully grounded the Hokies, in the air, have done it by forcing Evans to throw early and when he is uncomfortable. The defensive line for UVA must generate those scenarios, or Evans will have time to pick them apart.
CD: Obviously there’s a lot on the line for VT with a shot at the ACC Championship Game, but this is Virginia’s bowl game. Does the possible emotion and shoulder chippage that Virginia could come into the game with concern you?
JJ: Yes, very much. UVA, as a whole, concerns me. If you’ve read my ACC rankings articles I’ve said that pretty much since mid-season. UVA is a team, like many in the ACC, that is better than their record. I was talking with some other Hokies about this, on a live chat, and there are a lot of factors that give me pause. First and foremost… it has to happen sometime… sooner or later, UVA will win. 1000 monkeys at a 1000 typewriters. This year is a kind of rebirth for both teams - new staff, new ideas, new rivalry. The last 12 years aren’t much of an indicator, in my opinion. If Bronco can come win this game… Doesn't matter that the Hoos are 3-9, this will be a successful season. Would you agree?
CD: If Virginia wins, you better believe I’m poppin’ champagne. And yes, 100% would call it a successful season, solely to shake that stigma of losing to Tech. Coach Mendenhall said before that at the very first booster event he went to, folks were saying, “Welcome to Virginia. Beat Tech.” He knows that the fans (and more so the players) are dying for that win.
JJ: It’s almost monolithic at this point. VT has won for so long it seems like a loss would be very devastating. It’s uncomfortable. I mean, I want to keep ruining Hoos’ holidays, but man… It is gonna be a dark day in Hokie land whenever Hoos do answer the mail.
CD: Hahah yeah, I mean they’d have to come up with all new jokes instead of the “the last time UVA won, this song was popular and the clock radio hadn’t been invented” stuff that’s made the rounds for the last decade...
JJ: I do really enjoy those jokes and memes though. But, we would just shift to something like, ‘We’ve won 15 of the last 17,” or something of the sort.
CD: True. Ok, truth time. What do you think happens on Saturday? Predictions?
JJ: Well, it’s gonna be fairly cold, and VT was having a rough time in South Bend last week… I think that will affect the offense for a bit. I do think emotion plays into it, on both sides. Notre Dame is a shadow of their former selves, but that win was big for VT. If the Hokies have a bad first half then it’s gonna be a nail biter, down to the end. But, if we get ahead by multiple scores I think UVA could fall into the old routine, like you said, “losing mentality,” and just roll over. I’ll say in the middle, 35-17, Hokies. You?
CD: Man, I hope you are so wrong. I do think Virginia will keep it close, but lose in the end something like 34-31 and have two missed field goals. I think next season in Charlottesville is the year the curse ends. Although, 2016 seems to be a curse-ending sports year, what with the Cavs and the Cubs and whatnot.
Jay, thanks for taking the time to chat, it’s always fun.
JJ: Thanks for having me! We should do this again, for sure. I have no doubt we will both be furiously texting back and forth on Saturday. GO [redacted]!
Virginia vs. Virginia Tech will kick off at noon on Saturday on ESPN2. Check it out, and follow along with Streaking the Lawn for all your coverage. GO HOOS!