2008 Football Game Preview: Virginia Tech vs. Virginia

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Saturday, November 29th, 2008, noon

TV: ESPN

Forecast (from WeatherBug.com):

Click the “Blacksburg Weather” link to the right.
Game time forecast, as of 3:00 pm Wednesday: Mostly cloudy. Lows around 30.
Highs in the lower 40s.


Click here for TechSideline.com’s VT/UVa roster card


Game Preview: Virginia Tech (7-4, 4-3 ACC) vs. Virginia (5-6, 3-4)


by Chris Coleman, TechSideline.com

For the second straight year, the Battle for the Commonwealth Cup means
something. If Virginia Tech wins, they’ll head to the ACC Championship Game for
the third time in the past four seasons. Virginia needs to win to qualify for a
bowl. Both teams have a lot to play for in what should be a physical, hard
hitting, defensive football game on Saturday.

Virginia’s season has been streaky. The Hoos dropped three of their first
four games, with losses to USC (52-7), UConn (45-10) and Duke (31-3). Everyone
wrote them off as the worst team in the ACC, possibly one of the worst in the
country. However, UVA made a remarkable turnaround, winning their next four
games against Maryland, East Carolina, UNC and Georgia Tech. After that streak,
they lost three straight to Miami, Wake Forest and Clemson.

That’s where we stand this week. Like most ACC games this year, this one is a
fairly even matchup. Neither side is likely to blow the other out because the
offenses are so unproductive.

The UVA Offense

Like most offenses in the ACC this year, UVA’s has struggled. Here is a look
at their season statistics and where they rank nationally and in the ACC.


The Virginia Offense

Category

Stat

ACC Rank

National Rank

Rushing

89.73 ypg

12

114

Passing

214.64 ypg

2

57

Total

304.36 ypg

9

102

Scoring

16.27 ppg

12

115

Pass Efficiency

106.42

11

101

Sacks Allowed

1.27 per game

1

23

Average

7.83

85.33

UVA’s offense isn’t particularly good, with the exception of sacks allowed and
passing yardage. However, even though they rank highly in the ACC in pass
offense, they are just an average throwing team nationally.

Open
House This Saturday at
Kent Square Condominiums!
From 9:00 am to 11:00 am

The Hoos have relied heavily, perhaps too heavily at times, on the arm of
quarterback Marc Verica (6-3, 206, r-So.). Verica had never played a snap before
this season. He has talent, but it seems he’s either hit or miss as a
quarterback. He has completed 64.1% of his passes for 1,960 yards. However, he’s
thrown just eight touchdowns and a whopping 15 interceptions. His turnovers have
held the offense back at times, but with injuries in the backfield, throwing the
ball was often UVA’s only option this season.

Virginia is heavily dependent on tailback Cedric Peerman (5-11, 208, r-Sr.).
Peerman has run for 707 yards and seven touchdowns this year, averaging five
yards per carry in the process. He has played in 10 games this year. As you can
see from the following table, he has played a big part in UVA’s five wins.


Cedric Peerman’s 2008 Season

Wins

Losses

Opponent

Yards

Opponent

Yards

Richmond

60

USC

32

Maryland

110

UConn

4

ECU

173

Miami

78

UNC

44

Wake Forest

43

Georgia Tech

118

Clemson

45

Average

101

Average

40.4

If Peerman gets it going, Virginia is a tough team to beat. However, if you shut
him down and force Verica to beat you, he’s not likely to get it done. He’s more
likely to throw an interception when the game is on his shoulders.

That bodes well for a Virginia Tech defense that is playing excellent
football right now. Check out what the Hokies have done defensively over the
last four games.


Tech Defense, Last 4 Games

Opponent

Rushing Yards

Total Yards

Florida State

89

248

Maryland

-12

228

Miami

123

247

Duke

116

136

Average

79

214.75

The Hokies are shutting down anything their opponents throw at them right now.
Their top priority against the Hoos will be shutting down Peerman, because the
Hoos haven’t been able to win if he hasn’t been productive.



Open House This Saturday!
From 9:00 am to 11:00 am

Virginia does have good targets in the passing game to help out Verica. Wide
receiver Kevin Ogletree (6-2, 189, r-Jr.) is one of the top wideouts in the ACC.
He leads UVA in receptions (56), receiving yards (713), yards per catch (12.7)
and touchdown receptions (5). He’s not outstanding in any area, but he’s very
good across the board.

The Hoos also use Maurice Covington (6-4, 225, Sr) and Cary Koch (6-0, 198,
Sr.) at wideout. Covington is a big target who has 32 catches for 376 yards on
the year. Koch has added 30 catches for 293 yards.

As always, Virginia features the tight end quite a bit in the passing game.
John Phillips (6-6, 250, Sr.) is the second leading receiver on the team, with
47 catches for 384 yards and two touchdowns. The Hoos will also dump it down to
Cedric Peerman, who has 42 receptions. However, Peerman is only averaging 4.4
yards per catch.

Virginia has a good pass blocking offensive line, but they do not excel in
drive blocking. Like most UVA offensive lines, they are very tall with long
arms, even on the interior. It’s almost like they are starting five offensive
tackles.


UVA Starting Offensve Line

Pos

Player

Ht

Wt

Year

Experience

LT

Eugene Monroe

6-6

315

Sr.

3 year starter

LG

Austin Pasztor

6-6

310

Fr.

True Freshman

C

Jack Shields

6-5

289

r-So.

1st year starter

RG

B.J. Cabbell

6-6

304

r-So.

1st year starter

RT

Will Barker

6-7

315

r-Jr.

3 year starter

All of the experience is at offensive tackle, where Eugene Monroe and Will
Barker are the anchors. They are very good players. Monroe gets the hype because
of his 5-star ranking coming out of high school, but Barker may be the more
consistent player.

On the inside, Austin Pasztor has a bright future. He is a true freshman from
Canada who played the first 11 games of the season at the age of 17. He is just
turning 18 today (November 26, 2008).

UVA has weapons on offense that can hurt the Hokies. They have a quarterback
who can stand in the pocket and throw it, a running back who is a tough runner,
and multiple receiving threats at every position.

The place the Hokies will have the biggest advantage is up front. Tech’s
defensive tackles, Cordarrow Thompson and John Graves, matchup well against
UVA’s interior offensive line. Watch for Thompson in particular against Pasztor.
This will be the most disruptive front UVA has seen since they played USC in
their season opener.

The UVA Defense

Virginia’s defense has been solid this year. This unit features more team
speed than they had last year, particularly in the defensive secondary. The
Hokies won’t have the matchup advantages on the outside that they’ve held in the
last several meetings with the Hoos.


The Virginia Defense

Category

Stat

ACC Rank

National Rank

Rushing

143.55 ypg

8

62

Passing

184.36 ypg

7

31

Total

327.91 ypg

8

40

Scoring

22.09 ppg

9

43

Pass Efficiency

123.06

9

53

Tackles for Loss

6 per game

7

50

Sacks

2.55 per game

3

24

Average

7.29

43.29

Teams have had success moving the football against UVA on the ground and through
the air. However, the Hoos sack the quarterback more than average, creating long
yardage situations.

Virginia runs a 3-4 defense, and their outside linebackers are basically fast
defensive ends. Arguably the best linebacker in the conference is outside backer
Clint Sintim (6-3, 254, r-Sr.). Sintim is second in the conference with 11 sacks
on the season. He is a terror coming from the outside, and he plays with an edge
that you typically haven’t seen from UVA defensive players recently (with the
notable exception of Chris Long).

Overall, the Hoos have a very good group of linebackers. Jon Copper (6-0,
230, r-Sr.) is one of the most underrated linebackers in the ACC. The former
walk-on leads UVA in tackles with 92, and he’s added five tackles for loss and
2.5 sacks. He’s joined on the inside by Antonio Appleby (6-4, 250, Sr.), who has
66 tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss on the year.

The final starter at linebacker is outside backer Denzel Burrell (6-4, 230,
r-So.). He had 41 tackles on the season. Overall, this is a talented and
experienced group of linebackers.

UVA has talent up front, but it is inexperienced. Matt Conrath (6-7, 269,
r-Fr.) looks like the next star defensive end for the Hoos. He is an athletic
player who has seven tackles for loss and three sacks. The other defensive end
is the experienced Alex Field (6-7, 270, Sr.). Field isn’t flashy, but he gets
the job done. He has 7.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks this year.

At nose tackle, Nick Jenkins (6-3, 285, r-Fr.) is listed as the starter this
week. He has split time with Nate Collins (6-2, 280, Jr.). Unlike most teams
that run a 3-4, UVA doesn’t go with a big, bulky nose tackle. Instead, they
prefer quickness at the position.

The UVA secondary has improved, though like most ACC secondaries, we really
don’t know how good they are because there aren’t many decent passing games in
the conference.

The most experienced players are cornerback Vic Hall (5-9, 190, r-Jr.) and
safety Byron Glaspy (5-11, 206, Sr.). Hall has two interceptions and has forced
four fumbles on the season. Glaspy is a steady influence at safety, though he
can’t be described as a big playmaker.

Ras-I Dowling (6-2, 200, So.) is the other starting cornerback. He is UVA’s
best overall player in the secondary, despite being just a true sophomore. He
has three interceptions and nine passes broken up this year. Chase Minnifield
(6-0, 192, r-Fr.) also sees time at cornerback, and he has two interceptions on
the season. He adds to the athleticism in Virginia’s secondary.

The final starter is safety Corey Mosley (5-10, 197, r-Fr.). As usual, UVA
has a pretty young defense overall, with the notable exception of the
linebackers.

I do think the Hokies will have some success running the football against
UVA’s 3-4 defense. However, I dread the thought of Clint Sintim coming off the
edge against Tech’s offense, which ranks 115th nationally in sacks allowed.

Special Teams

When two teams seem evenly matched on offense and defense, the game could
come down to special teams.


UVA Special Teams

Category

Stat

National Rank

Net Punting

35.68 ypp

50

Punt Returns

6.38 ypr

97

Punt Return Defense

5.36 ypr

16

Kick Returns

20.51 ypr

77

Kick Return Defense

21.31 ypr

66

Average

61.2

UVA’s special teams are average across the board. That said, Al Groh has always
been known for his trick plays on special teams. The Hoos ran a fake field goal
for a touchdown earlier in the season against ECU. In a game that is expected to
be tight, Frank Beamer should be expecting UVA to pull out their whole bag of
tricks in this one. They have nothing to lose.

Virginia has struggled with their field goal kicking this year, and that is
an area where the Hokies should have an advantage. Yannick Reyering is just
6-of-11 on the season. He is just 3-of-8 beyond 30 yards. However, Robert
Randolf is 3-of-4 and appears to be the better option at this point.

Dustin Keys has had a great season for the Hokies, going 19-of-23. If this
one comes down to field goals, you have to like Tech’s chances, especially at
home.

Also, Virginia Tech has made a habit of blocking kicks against UVA since the
beginning of Al Groh’s tenure. Some of the big blocks you might remember are
Davon Morgan’s punt block last year, or Justin Hamilton’s in 2002. The Hokies
almost always school the Hoos in special teams.

Conclusion

In any other year, I would be supremely confident in Tech defeating a UVA
team that has lost three in a row and only managed to put up three points and
190 yards of offense against Clemson last week. But this isn’t exactly a normal
season.

Virginia Tech’s defense could come out and play a spectacular football good
and the Hokies could still lose. Why? Because the Tech offense has only scored a
total of 21 points over the last two games. The defense could shut down the Hoos
all afternoon, but if the offense is bad enough, the Hokies could drop the game.

That said, in the last three UVA trips to Lane Stadium, the Hoos have
averaged just 6.33 per game. They scored nine in 2002, 10 in 2004, and got
shutout in 2006. They aren’t exactly moving the football against the Hokies in
Blacksburg. I’m not expecting them to have much success on Saturday either.

To me, this game will come down to turnovers and running the football. If the
Hokies can win the turnover battle and outrush UVA, I really don’t see how the
Hoos could win the football game. However, if Tech gives them extra possessions
and Virginia can get Cedric Peerman going, anything can happen.

Chris’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 16, UVA 7

Will Stewart’s Take: I think this is Virginia’s best chance to beat VT
since 2003. The Hoos haven’t won in Blacksburg since 1998, against a Hokie team
that featured a similarly stellar defense and a similarly challenged offense. VT
got up 29-3 in that game at half time, and wound up losing 36-32 on a late TD
pass to Ahmad Hawkins.

I bring up the 1998 and 2003 games to get you in the right frame of mind.
Something similar could happen this year. The encouraging difference is that the
1998 and 2003 Virginia teams featured future NFL quarterbacks Aaron Brooks and
Matt Schaub, respectively. Brooks had Thomas Jones to hand off to, and Schaub
had Heath Miller to toss it to.

Virginia Tech’s season could turn on a dime here. The difference between
winning and losing is stark. Win, and the Hokies go to the ACC Championship
Game. Lose, and they finish the season 7-5, their worst record since 1998, with
only the second loss to Virginia in the last ten years serving as the
exclamation point. It’s rare that a single game can draw the line between such
vastly different futures.

I can’t add a lot of insight to this one for you, beyond what Chris has told
you here, and I also can’t pick Virginia to beat Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. I
see how it could happen — anything is possible with Virginia Tech’s offense
ranked 109th — but I can’t pick it. Bud Foster’s defense is picking up steam as
the season moves on, and I think Tech will find a way to scratch out enough
points to win.

Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 20, Virginia 13

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