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The Big Preview: Virginia Tech at Virginia

NCAA Football: Virginia at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

After Virginia’s loss last week, the ACC Coastal is all sewn up. That makes this game somewhat meaningless for Virginia, at least on paper. Yes, perhaps a win helps with bowl selection.

This game does mean something for the Hokies though. At 5-6, they need a win to become bowl eligible.

When: Saturday, November 27, 3:45 PM Eastern
Where: Scott Stadium
TV: ACC Network
DraftKing Odds: Virginia -7

Virginia on Defense

For the better part of two seasons, Braxton Burmeister and Hendon Hooker played musical chairs with the Hokie QB position. This year, Hooker moved to Tennessee, where he has been outstanding for the Vols, leaving Burmeister as the man in Blacksburg. He’s been...ok. So much ok that he’s lost snaps to Texas A&M transfer Connor Blumrick, a runner with just 50 pass yards in his career.

Hooker ranks 35th in the nation in total offense. Burmeister is 79th. That is largely because he has simply not been asked to do much. That’s part of why Texas A&M transfer Connor Blumrick has been getting more playing time of late. He completed just 5/11 for 39 yards last week against Miami, but that included two TDs and he rushed for 132 yards.

All season long, the Hokies have relied largely on their running game. As a team, the Hokies rank 109th in passing offense, but 51st in rushing offense. That comes out to the 97th ranked offense in the nation. When playing at home, Virginia’s defense has been much better. They held Duke (38th ranked offense) scoreless, largely kept Georgia Tech (79th) in check. So, despite all the defensive struggles, there is reason for optimism coming into this game.

Largely, the Hokie ground attack is led by Raheem Blackshear, with 545 yards at 5.3 ypc. But Malachi Thomas isn’t far behind him with 421 yards and the two QBs have combined for over 600 yards. So it really is a multi-faceted rush attack that Virginia must prepare for. But, especially when Burmeister is in the game, Blackshear is the focus.

You’ll notice that this comes out of a zone-read look. We’re going to see a lot of that today, from both QBs. Burmeister has rushed for over 400 yards, but he isn’t as dynamic a runner as Blumrick.

This run looks like something out of Virginia’s play book with Brennan Armstrong. Blumrick is a very dangerous runner, but he’s never been a particularly successful passer.

We all know that Virginia’s defense isn’t good. But, Virginia Tech’s offense isn’t good either. Their season high in yards was 573 against Duke. They put up just 375 last week against Miami and just 224 in October against Pitt. They also had just 296 in their win over the Tar Heels in the opener. Their gameplan is to run the football, control the clock, and win a low scoring game. They are not equipped the win the shootouts that Virginia has played in all season.

Virginia on Offense

What can we even say about Brennan Armstrong and the Virginia offense right now? With Armstrong back, Virginia put up 514 yards against a very good Pittsburgh defense. It could’ve been a lot more had Virginia’s OL been able to keep Armstrong from getting hit.

Pitt totaled five sacks, which really helped to slow down the Virginia attack. That is just not something the Hokies really have in their bag right now. They rank 69th nationally in sacks and 83rd in TFLs.

This was from the UNC game early in the season. Credit to the multiple Hokie defenders who get into the backfield almost immediately, but this is on the UNC OL. Virginia’s OL has allowed a lot of sacks this season (121st in the nation), but considering they are fourth in the nation in pass attempts, that isn’t so surprising. Three sacks per game out of 46 pass attempts per game is not actually all that bad. The problems are when they allow five, six or seven sacks in a game, as they have too many times. As long as Armstrong remains upright, Virginia should have success.

We may see more of that success come on the ground, as the Hokies have struggled to stop teams from running the football, ranking 97th in rush defense. They are 28th in pass defense and 43rd in pass efficiency defense. They did allow 357 yards passing to Miami last week. Virginia’s best performances have come with a more balanced attack, especially when Armstrong is healthy and able to run. We don’t know how healthy he is, but with a month-long break coming up, there is little reason to hold back if he is near 100%.

That defense is a 4-2-5 and is fairly young. Five “starters” on the depth chart are sophomores or younger, with just one senior (Tae Daley, a transfer from Vanderbilt.) The leader of this defense is junior MLB Dax Hollifield. He leads the team in sacks and TFLs and he’s second in tackles. In three career games against the Hoos, he has 20 tackles (1 TFL), a sack and a fumble recovery. Armstrong will be aware of where Hollifield is on every play.

In that clip above, you can see the Hokies have a four man line, but bring just three pass rushers. One DL hangs back as a QB spy. The Hokies will blitz, but a blitz means single coverage on the outside and the Armstrong/Dontayvion Wicks combination has absolutely destroyed single-coverage this season. Wicks is just 42 yards from Herman Moore’s single season receiving record, which seems likely to fall this afternoon.

The Hokie defense is opportunistic, thriving on turnovers and third downs. Though they rank 63rd in total defense, they are 43rd in scoring defense. That is largely due to their 23rd ranking third-down defense. The Wahoos rank 20th nationally in third down offense, so those third downs are going to be key. Staying ahead of the sticks will be important for Armstrong and company. On third and long, the Hokies will bring pressure and will try to force Armstrong to get rid of the ball quickly.

Virginia has scored a ton of points week in and week out, against better defenses than this one. Outside of the Notre Dame game, which Armstrong missed, Virginia’s only poor offensive showing was against Wake Forest. Every other game, Virginia has scored at least 30 points. The Hokie defense is designed to stop the pass, which is Virginia’s strength. But other defenses have also been designed as such, and have failed to shut down Virginia’s second ranked passing offense. That should continue this week.

Conclusion

Right now, Virginia is simply a better team than the Hokies. Neither team is particularly good defensively, but Virginia’s offense is light-years ahead of Virginia Tech’s. That should be the difference in this game. Can the Hokies stop Armstrong and his bevy of WRs?

Virginia wants to jump out to an early lead and force the Hokies to the air. That, and avoiding turnovers, are the two most important things for the Hoos this week.

Prediction: Hoos 42, Hokies 28 (season record: 8-3)