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3 players, 2 matchups, and 1 prediction for Virginia football vs Virginia Tech

Previewing Saturday’s Commonwealth Clash.

Duke v Virginia Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

A disappointing season suddenly seems brighter with a chance to finish with two wins to close out the season. After the Virginia Cavaliers started 0-5 (which really wasn’t a huge surprise), finishing with four wins would be solid, especially with a win over the Virginia Tech Hokies.

A loss wouldn’t be devastating, there have been clear signs of improvement on the field this season. And a promising young QB in Anthony Colandrea. But a win over Tech might help get the fanbase motivated for next season.

The Hokies are 5-6 overall, 4-3 in the ACC (tied for 5th). They are coming off a 35-28 loss at home to NC State. The game was not that close, as the Wolfpack were up 35-14 in the fourth quarter. The Hokies had 81 total yards at halftime, and picked up almost 200 of their 349 yards in that fourth quarter. Prior to that, they were just outclassed by Brennan Armstrong and company.

Game Time: Saturday, November 25, 3:30 Eastern
Streaming: WatchESPN

Three Players To Watch

QB Kyron Drones

Drones was a top-ten dual-threat QB prospect at Baylor. He didn’t play much in two seasons there prior to his transfer. He immediately became the starter in Blacksburg and has had a solid season.

He’s completed 59% of his passes, averaging just over 7 yards per attempt. He’s also rushed 139 times for 592 yards, 4.3 yards per carry. Those rush yards include sacks, he’s actually better than 4.3 yards per carry on actual runs.

Right now, Drones is still a better runner than passer. The Hokies have run the ball far more than they’ve thrown it and that’s despite being behind in a lot of games. Drones isn’t a dynamic runner who is a threat to go the distance any time he touches the ball. But he is a big, physical guy with good straight line speed. This is such a physical run and just shows the will to get into the endzone.

Drones can throw it too, of course. This is a perfect throw downfield. If he sees man coverage on the outside, he’ll take a chance. But he mostly lives on the underneath stuff.

DE Antwaun Powell-Ryland

To nobody’s surprise, this Hokie team is defense first. They rank 72nd in total offense, but 27th in total defense. They are 12th in sacks per game and 17th in TFLs. They are all about disrupting the offense’s flow. They rank just 111th in creating turnovers, but they attack the offense and force negative plays.

Powell-Ryland is a transfer from Florida who leads the team in both sacks and TFLs. PFF also credits him with a team leading 6 hits and 24 hurries.

He just pushes the OT back into the pocket and then disengages to get to the QB. Gets just a piece, but it’s enough to force intentional grounding and be credited with the sack.

The pass rush isn’t just Powell-Ryland. Fifteen different players have recorded at least a half-sack for the Hokies.

CB Dorian Strong

We’ve been over the season Malik Washington is having. He’s now second in the nation in receptions and yards. He’s already broken the UVA record for yards and catches.

As you may know, Washington lines up almost exclusively in the slot. They move him around from one side of the field to another, in bunch formations, motion, etc. But he is the slot WR. Strong is the Hokie nickel corner, which usually means he’s lined up in the slot.

Strong leads the team with 6 pass breakups and 3 INTs. On this play, he makes a bad read, and is beaten far too easily. He is in a zone, but he’s too busy looking into the backfield and barely notices the WR go right past. Easy pitch and catch for the TD.

Brennan Armstrong had a very nice game against the Hokies. He rushed for 89 yards and 2 TDs plus threw for 203 yards and 2 more TDs. He didn’t turn the ball over and only took one sack.

Two Matchups

Virginia DL vs Hokie ground game

As mentioned, the Hokies want to run. We’ve seen teams have success running the football against Virginia. We’ve also seen a number of teams get pass happy against Virginia, avoiding the ground game.

For example, Duke’s running back duo averaged 6.9 yards per carry on the day. Meanwhile, Grayson Loftis averaged six yards per pass. So why on earth did Duke throw 45 passes against just 28 runs? It makes no sense. Not as drastic, but UNC had 48 passes (7.2 ypa) against just 19 handoffs (5.9), while Miami had 30 passes (5.4) vs 22 handoffs (5.2).

Hopefully, nobody on the Hokie coaching staff sees this, but they should run the ball. A lot. Because Virginia still isn’t good at stopping the run. PFF ranks the Wahoos second to last in FBS football in run defense (and 7th worst in total defense). But the pass coverage ranks 95th, which isn’t good but is far better than 132nd.

Last week, the Hokies ran the ball 16 times against 30 throws. Yes, they were down early. But they averaged 7.8 yards per rush, and 7.5 yards per pass. Hopefully, that continues. Starting RB Bhayshul Tuten, a transfer from NC A&T, had 2 carries for -3 yards against the Pack. Despite that, he leads the team with 610 yards and is averaging 4.4 yards per carry. Tuten did have a big kick return in the game.

This is another part of the Hokie run game. The misdirection completely fools the Wolfpack defense. That TD was scored by Xayvion Turner-Bradshaw, son of Ahmad Bradshaw. The elder Bradshaw was briefly a part of Virginia Football under Al Groh. Ended up at Marshall and then the NFL.

Virginia OL vs Hokie Front Seven

The Hokies have a very good pass rush. But they rank just 81st in run defense, and that’s despite sacks counting as rush yards. They are so hell-bent on getting into the backfield, you can get past them for big plays.

The Hokies get a guy into the backfield immediately. The running back avoids that one guy and it’s off to the races. That was the first of two long TD runs in the fourth quarter for the Seminoles. It allowed them to put away the game. Virginia could certainly use some big plays, as they aren’t likely to succeed with long drives against this defense.

One Prediction

Virginia can certainly win this game. Both of these teams have had games where they looked pretty good, and games where they looked pretty bad.

I have been a UVA fan for almost 30 years at this point, and I’ve witnessed four wins in this matchup. It just seems silly to predict one.

Prediction: Hokies 30, Virginia 21