Ah, Virginia Tech, our old friend. The state’s greatest rivalry game returns Friday as our Cavaliers travel to Blacksburg to take on the Virginia Tech Hokies. The Virginia Cavaliers look stronger this season than any other in recent memory as they prepare to play Tech, but nothing is guaranteed when it comes to the Commonwealth Clash. That’s why Coach Caron is here to help Bronco Mendenhall focus his team before heading into Hokie territory for this crucial contest.
Here’s what the team should spend a little extra time on this week after last week’s crushing overtime loss to Georgia Tech:
Keeping Perkins Healthy
Bryce Perkins is tough, we know that. He’s also the key to Virginia’s offense, which most of us also know. That made Perkins’s lower leg injury in the first quarter even scarier against Georgia Tech—but an unhealthy Perkins this week would be the absolute worst. I know Perkins came back to finish the contest (going from being helped off the field to completing 21-of-26 passes plus leading UVA in rushing, nbd), but being careful will be key this week becaaause we’re going to need those yards against Tech, even if they’re struggling in their own ways. While the team’s star quarterback needs to prepare as much as possible for his debut in Blacksburg, he also needs to be 100% sure he’s healthy. Balancing preparation with proper rehabilitation this week is my No. 1 major key.
Special teams needs some TLC
Special teams had a few costly mistakes on Saturday that gave Georgia Tech the win–and 18 points, directly or indirectly. Communication errors on the Cavaliers part gave the Yellow Jackets a safety, a 77-yard return for a touchdown on the free kick, plus a two-point conversion there, and another error which gave Georgia Tech a free set of downs in Virginia territory, which led to Georgia Tech’s fourth-quarter touchdown (and, in a shocking turn of events, another two-point conversion). PK Brian Delaney also missed a field goal from the right hash in the fourth, where he’s struggled all season. When all was said and done, it wasn’t the unit’s best performance. Even though Virginia enters this week’s clash as the favorites, the ‘Hoos are still going to need all the help they can get. Tech has struggled, but they always show up for rivalry games, meaning Virginia needs to as well–with all units.
The Hokies special teams struggled last weekend too, finishing with a missed field goal and a botched response to a Miami punt return that gave the Hurricanes a touchdown and a 31-14 lead with 5:47 left in the third quarter. Whichever team can fix things up there will have an added advantage, so hopefully Ricky Brumfield spends some extra time with his special teams guys this week to secure another leg up on Virginia Tech.
Ramp up the defense
Virginia’s beleaguered defense looked solid last weekend against a menacing Georgia Tech triple-option offense. I’m not saying to focus here because Virginia’s defense performed poorly last week... but more so because the Cavaliers crew plays just the right type of defense to give Virginia Tech extra trouble. Tech’s offense has struggled all season, which opens things up for Virginia’s secondary, and the Hokies defense is bad, which opens things up for the offense. I know Bryce Perkins can manage Tech’s defense, but I also think Virginia’s defense can be used to make quick work of Tech’s offense.
The Hokies turned the football over twice in their own territory last week in their loss to Miami (Tech’s fourth-straight loss and fourth-straight at Lane Stadium) and came up empty on nine straight drives for a 38-14 loss. Virginia Tech quarterback Ryan Willis went 18-of-36 for 216 yards but only produced one touchdown to his two interceptions. The ground game couldn’t gain much momentum either. Consider that those numbers were against a terrible Miami team, and it’s easy to see that if the Cavaliers really want to wax the Hokies this weekend, extra defensive pressure on a struggling offense could be what seals the deal.
Plus: Tech’s traditionally strong defense has dominated Virginia over the last decade, but the tables have definitely turned. It’s time for Bronco Mendenhall’s boys to put those Hokies in their place.
Playing in Lane Stadium is always tough, but especially after two straight losses and in a much-anticipated rivalry matchup at that. Expectations are higher than they’ve been in a while for the ‘Hoos heading into Friday’s game, which means keeping the team composed and focused on avoiding sloppy mistakes should be even more important this Thanksgiving week.
The stakes are arguably even higher for the Hokies, who’s 25 straight bowl game streak is in serious jeopardy. With everything on the line, expect an extra aggressive Tech team to show up. This means everyone on Virginia needs to play smart: the O-Line needs to protect Perkins, who needs to execute and make use of his versatility against a struggling Hokie secondary to take some pressure off of Virginia’s defense as they work to limit Tech’s offense. It’s the circle of life, everyone. Well, the circle of football life this week at least.