This Friday marks the 15th meeting with the Virginia Tech Hokies since the Virginia Cavaliers last won a game over their in-commonwealth rivals. It’s the 100th meeting between the two schools, and the Cavaliers are desperate to start a new—and more positive—streak. The feeling around the game this season has been different all season, stemming from Coach Bronco Mendenhall and the team making a bigger deal of it.
Signs that read “Beat Tech” and “Own the State” have been hung around the Virginia locker room since it was renovated this past summer. A countdown clock ticks down the seconds, minutes, hours, and days until the Hoos and Hokies meet again.
“You can’t go five feet without seeing it,” senior linebacker Chris Peace said back at ACC media day. “It definitely helps. Once actually we start beating Virginia Tech, I think that’s a little bit more sway.”
Previously, it seemed as the Virginia-VaTech rivalry was just another game. It’s not getting that treatment this season. Said Mendenhall at ACC Kickoff:
Certainly when you have a rivalry game that you haven’t won in a significant amount of time, that’s one of the things that has to happen, regardless of where you are, and so we’re open about it more so now that I’ve ever been, just because it’s clear that has to happen for University of Virginia’s football program. And I want that to happen for our players. It’s not a secret. We are open about it. We are focusing on that, as we need to, as well as the expectation of we expect to play post-season every year, not just occasionally, and we expect to win.
The season is going far better than most have expected, seeing as the Hoos are currently 7-4 (4-3 ACC) and were in the mix to win the ACC Coastal Division until Pittsburgh locked it up. Not bad for a team that was picked to finish dead last by the media.
In a week shortened by a Friday afternoon game and with Thanksgiving smack dab in the middle, the Virginia players elected not talk with the media.
“We needed every second,” Mendenhall explained at Monday’s press conference, continuing, “...so I told them I would be glad to speak, because it’s part of my job to represent the program. I basically said everything that they’re doing that’s not involved in going class or winning this game is actually not going to help us. I did give them a choice. I think it gives our team the best chance to be focused, prepared and ready to play the way they’ll need to play in a very difficult environment against a good team.”
Although some media members voiced their displeasure at that decision—whether through questions or via social media—it shows the team is approaching this week’s game with a new strategy.
Fact of the matter is that there’s not really anything Virginia players can say at this point. What do you say when your team has—pardon my French—gotten their asses kicked for 14 years? Virginia has decided the time for talking is done (they’ll leave that to the Hokies). Sure, you may get some of the boilerplate platitudes, but for Virginia, now’s the time for action.
“It’s not just another game,” Mendenhall stated.
It certainly isn’t. Friday’s matchup marks just the second time during the 14-year streak that Virginia is favored (2014 being the other). The Hoos opened as a 4-point favorite against the Hokies, but that’s moved to 3.5 as of time of publish. To add to the anxiety and nausea-factor for UVA fans, the Hoos are favored in every computer ranking leading into the game:
Although they’ve only been favored once in the last 14 years, some of the games have been close. Since 2012, Virginia has lost by three points twice (2012 & 2015), by four points once (2014), and by 10 points twice (2013 & 2017). We won’t talk about 2015.
“Virginia hasn’t won the game in a significant amount of time,” Mendenhall said Monday. “It’s an in-state rival game. It’s hard to take over a conference until you take over your own state, and certainly then your side of the division. So to say it’s just another game, I think we all realize the implications aren’t just normal implications.”
The Hoos and Hokies kick off at 3:30pm on Friday, and the game will be televised by ABC.