2009 Football Game Preview: #14 Virginia Tech vs. Virginia

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  • Date: Saturday, November 28th, 2009
  • Time: 3:30 PM
  • TV: ABC

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Finally, rivalry week is here. Virginia Tech and Virginia have had much
different seasons. The Hokies are 8-3 overall, while Virginia is 3-8. Tech is
5-2 in the ACC, and UVA is 2-5. VT is going bowling, and the Hoos are not. Tech
will have the same coach next season, and Virginia will not. None of that
matters on Saturday, because you can expect UVA to leave it all on the field.

This will be the sixth meeting between these schools since ACC expansion,
with Tech winning the previous five.

Tech
vs. UVA in ACC Play
Year VT UVA
2004 24 10
2005 52 14
2006 17 0
2007 33 21
2008 17 14
Average 28.6 11.8

Virginia started this season 0-3, including a disastrous season opening home
loss to William & Mary. At that point it was pretty clear that Al Groh would
be done after the season, though he hasn’t been officially released as of yet.

UVA rallied in October with three straight wins against North Carolina,
Indiana and Maryland, but they have since lost five consecutive games. Four of
their five losses in that span have come by double digits. This is not a good
football team that the Hokies are going to be facing.

Despite not being good, UVA is dangerous. Al Groh will be on his last day at
the office, and the Hoos don’t have any bowl positioning to worry about. What do
they have to lose? I expect them to be aggressive in all phases of the game,
with blitzing, reverses, halfback passes, onside kicks, hook and ladders, you
name it. Tech will have to be disciplined.

The UVA Offense

Virginia Tech will be facing arguably the worst BCS-conference offense in the
nation this Saturday, and certainly one of the worst overall offenses in the
country. If you thought Virginia Tech’s offense was bad in 2006, 2007 and 2008,
then wait until you see these numbers.

2009
UVA Offense
Category Stat Rank

Rushing
92.18 ypg 112

Passing
175.09 ypg 102

Total
267.27 ypg 118

Scoring
19.91 ppg 106

Pass Eff.
102.39 115

Sacks Allowed
3.55 per game 116

It can’t get much uglier. Virginia doesn’t rank any better than 102nd nationally
in any of the categories above, out of 120 Division 1-A teams. Perhaps the only
reason they rank as high as 102nd in the passing game is because they are
constantly playing from behind.

UVA has failed to reach 200 yards of total offense on four occasions, and
gained just 201 yards in another game. This offense has been bad all year, with
the exception of the Indiana game when they inexplicably put up 536 yards of
total offense.

Jameel Sewell (6-3, 225, r-Sr.) is UVA’s starting quarterback. He has been
starting since his r-freshman season, with the exception of the 2008 season that
he missed due to academic difficulties. For the season, Sewell is 145-of-270
(53.7%) for 1,728 yards, with seven touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Sewell’s play has been inconsistent this year. He doesn’t have a great group
of wide receivers, he has been somewhat rusty after missing all of the 2008
season, he has no help from the running game and he is playing behind an
offensive line that is 116th nationally in sacks allowed. Sewell is a solid
player, but he hasn’t stood much of a chance under center for the Hoos this
year.

Virginia hasn’t been healthy at the running back position this year, but they
have two solid runners. Mikell Simpson (6-1, 200, r-Sr.) is a quality player who
has run for 445 yards this year, averaging 5.1 yards per carry. He has shared
duties with Rashawn Jackson (6-1, 245, r-Sr.), who has run for 370 yards and
averaged 4.6 yards per carry, with five rushing touchdowns.

Simpson and Jackson form a solid duo, and they can both play at the same time
with Jackson lining up as a fullback. However, the offensive line is too
inconsistent to establish an effective ground game.

Both players are also used extensively in the passing game, since the Hoos
have trouble hitting plays downfield. Simpson is second on the team in
receiving, with 26 catches for 227 yards. Jackson is third in receptions,
hauling in 24 passes for 193 yards.

Virginia’s top receiver, Kris Burd (5-11, 190, r-So.), leads the team with 28
catches for 383 yards, averaging 13.7 yards per catch. Former
cornerback/quarterback Vic Hall has finally settled at wide receiver, and he has
added 23 catches for 267 yards and a touchdown. Hall hasn’t been 100% for the
entire season, but he is obviously a dangerous player.

Tech fans saw last season what Hall could do in the open field with the ball
in his hands. He also took a reverse and threw a touchdown pass last week
against Clemson, so the Hoos will use him in a variety of ways.

Virginia doesn’t have a wide receiver who can stretch a defense vertically
this season. They are limited to the short passing game. In fact, the Hoos don’t
have many ways to stretch a defense vertically or horizontally. That plays into
the hands of Bud Foster’s defense.

UVA normally has an excellent tight end, such as Heath Miller (Steelers), Tom
Santi (Colts) or John Phillips (Cowboys), and they like to use him in the
passing game. This year’s tight end is Joe Torchia (6-6, 250, r-Jr.), who has 14
catches for 142 yards and two touchdowns. UVA will look to him in the red zone,
but he’s not as much of an overall threat in the passing game as the Hoos’
former tight ends.

Football games are won and lost in the trenches, and the Hoos haven’t been
able to get it done up front this year.

UVA
Offensive Line
Pos. Name Ht. Wt. Yr.
LT
Landon Bradley
6-7 275 r-So.
LG
Austin Pasztor
6-7 315 So.
C
Jack Shields
6-5 285 r-Jr.
RG
B.J. Cabbell
6-6 305 r-Jr.
RT
Will Barker
6-7 320 r-Sr.

The Hoos like to recruit tall offensive linemen, even for the interior offensive
line. This line has allowed 39 sacks this year, which ranks 116th nationally and
last in the ACC. Last year they allowed just 16 sacks, so the downward trend on
the offensive line is noticeable. The easiest way to put yourself in long
yardage situations and kill drives is to have a bad offensive line. UVA is
hurting up front this year.


Right tackle Will Barker is a good player, and he will be drafted in April.
Left guard Austin Pasztor is a naturally gifted player who started in 2008 as a
17-year old true freshman. Other than those two players, the Hoos are having
struggles up front. The offensive line is only as good as its weakest link, and
right now UVA just doesn’t have the horses up front.

Look for the UVA offense to pull out all the stops against the Hokies. Last
year they used Vic Hall as a read option quarterback. We could potentially see
him under center some this year as well. Also look for reverses, flea flickers,
halfback passes or anything else the coaching staff can come up with this week.
They aren’t going to be able to move the ball on Tech in a traditional fashion.
Since this is the last game of the season, and probably Al Groh’s last game as
head coach, they have nothing to lose.

The UVA Defense

Virginia has a solid defense that is limited by an offense that can’t stay on
the field. The Hoos, with Al Groh acting as defensive coordinator this year,
have put a decent stop unit on the field.

UVA
Defense
Category Stat Rank

Rushing
162.55 ypg 82

Passing
184.55 ypg 19

Total
347.09 ypg 47

Scoring
24.91 ppg 61

Pass Eff.
110.32 22

TFL
4.45 per game 108

Sacks
1.82 per game 66

Those are decent numbers, particularly the numbers against the pass. However,
the Hoos have struggled at times against the run, and they don’t have much in
terms of playmaking ability in the front seven.

Defensive end Nate Collins (6-2, 290, Sr.) is the top playmaker in the front
seven, and he is one of the most underrated defensive linemen in the ACC.
Collins spent most of his career at nose guard, but he has excelled at end this
year. He leads the team in tackles for loss (9.5) and sacks (5). Those are
impressive numbers for a defensive end in a 3-4 scheme.

The other defensive end is Matt Conrath (6-7, 270, r-So.), and he has four
tackles for loss and a sack this season. He is a big, strong defensive end who
is tough to move off the line of scrimmage. Conrath has had some injury issues
recently, which has limited his production and forced him to miss two games.
However, he will be good to go against Virginia Tech on Saturday.

Nick Jenkins (6-3, 285, r-So.) is the starter at nose guard. He is a solid
player, but doesn’t get a lot of penetration up front. Ideally a 3-4 defense
would have a bigger nose guard, but Jenkins is the best player at the position
for the Hoos.

Virginia had to replace three starting linebackers this year, including Clint
Sintim, who is a rookie with the New York Giants. The pleasant surprise of the
linebacking corps has been inside backer Steve Greer (6-2, 225, r-Fr.). Greer is
a scrappy player who leads the team with 87 tackles this season. He also has six
tackles for loss and three passes defended.

Greer wasn’t a highly-recruited player, but he’s tough and he plays well
between the tackles. Darren Childs (6-1, 230, r-Sr.) is the other inside
linebacker. Childs has limited talent. He played in just 11 games in his first
three years combined, but he has been forced to take over starting duties this
year. He is second on the team with 75 tackles, but overall he’s just an average
ACC linebacker.

The outside linebackers have good size, and sometimes are asked to line up as
defensive end-type players. Denzel Burrell (6-4, 245, r-Sr.) is the lone
returning starter at linebacker. Despite playing on the edge, Burrell isn’t a
big playmaker. As a junior starter last season, he had zero tackles for loss.
This year he has just three tackles for loss and two sacks.

Cam Johnson (6-4, 255, So.) is the other starting outside linebacker. He has
five tackles for loss and two sacks on the season, and he looks to have a pretty
decent future for the Hoos. However, a 3-4 defense needs more playmaking threat
from the outside linebackers. Burrell isn’t naturally gifted enough to provide
that threat, and Johnson is still only a true sophomore.

The secondary has been the strength of UVA’s defense this season. Cornerbacks
Chris Cook (6-2, 210, r-Sr.) and Ras-I Dowling (6-2, 200, Jr.) each have three
interceptions on the season. Cook is better suited for the safety position, but
he has shown that he can handle cornerback if needed. Dowling is a talented
player who might also be a better fit at safety, but he’s athletic enough to
play corner effectively.

Brandon Woods (6-2, 215, r-Sr.) and Rodney McLeod (5-10, 185, So.) man the
safety positions. Woods is an experienced fifth year senior, but he’s never been
much of a playmaker. He has no career interceptions in four years of playing
defense.

McLeod is a talented young safety who brings some speed to the UVA secondary
that has been missing recently. He isn’t afraid to play tough in run support,
and he covers more ground than the safeties the Hoos have trotted on the field
over the past 3-4 years.

Virginia has a solid, experienced defense, but I don’t see them giving
Virginia Tech much trouble. The Hokies are averaging 435.9 yards per game
against teams other than UNC, Alabama and Nebraska. In other words, Tech has
been able to move the football effectively against teams that are not loaded
with talent on defense. UVA is solid defensively, but certainly not dominant. VT
should be able to move the football, and their offense should be balanced.

Special Teams

Robert Randolph (5-10, 160, So.) has had a very good season as UVA’s
placekicker. He is 15-of-17 on his field goal attempts this year, with a long of
49 yards. He has not missed a kick from inside 35 yards on the season. He is a
very accurate kicker, and if the Hoos get in the red zone, they can almost
always count on scoring at least three points as long as they don’t turn the
ball over.

Jimmy Howell (6-6, 238, So.) is averaging 40.5 yards per punt this year, but
UVA as a team is netting just 34.83 yards per punt, which ranks 77th in the
nation. The Virginia offense has been bad this year, and then the punting team
doesn’t do a great job of putting the defense in good field position. That plays
right into the hands of BeamerBall … a bad offense and a kicking game that
doesn’t help with field position.

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Punt returns and kickoff returns also aren’t aiding Virginia in the field
position game. The Hoos rank 94th nationally in punt returns and 116th in
kickoff returns. Meanwhile, they have allowed a kickoff return and a punt return
for touchdowns this season.

Overall, most of Virginia’s kicking teams are subpar this year. They don’t
cover particularly well, they don’t return well at all, and their punt team is
below average. Robert Randolph is very good with his field goal kicking, but
other than that UVA’s special teams are lacking.

Conclusion

This game is pretty simple to figure out. Virginia Tech has a better offense
than UVA, and they have a similar advantage on defense and special teams, not to
mention coaching. The Hokies are going to win this football game, unless they
screw it up. There is no way this Virginia football team can beat a Tech team
that brings its A-game.

My only worry in this game is the unknown. I worry about Virginia recovering
an unexpected onside kick, or hitting a hook and ladder early in the game to
give them momentum. I worry about fake punts and fake field goals, or just fluky
plays in general. I fully expect to see the Hoos try some trickeration in this
one. Their players are staying home for the Holidays anyway, and the coaching
staff is probably going to get fired, so what does it matter?

Virginia Tech needs to get off to a good start. If they let the Hoos hang
around and gain confidence, then things could get dicey. But if Tech plays tough
defense in the first quarter, and the offense can get a couple of scores, I see
things heading south for UVA in a hurry. UVA isn’t an offense equipped to come
from behind, and if they get behind Tech, things will only snowball.

I think UVA’s offense is perfect for Bud Foster’s defense to feast upon for
Thanksgiving. The Hoos don’t really have an identity on the offensive side of
the ball, and they have no receiver who can stretch the defense vertically.
Foster can load up the box and unleash a wide array of blitzes against a UVA
offensive line that can’t protect the quarterback. Jameel Sewell will probably
have a very long day at quarterback.

This game always concerns me, simply because it’s a rivalry game. However, I
see such a complete lack of talent on the UVA team this year that it will take a
massive choke job by Virginia Tech for the Hoos to win this game. I believe Tech
will get up early, and then coast to the easy win. I think there’s even an
outside shot of the Hokies pitching the shutout.

Chris’ Prediction: Virginia Tech 34, UVA 6

Will Stewart’s Take: I’m not going to wax philosophical on the end of the
Al Groh era at Virginia, at least not yet, because this is neither the time nor
the place. Three years ago, after the Hokies defeated the Hoos in Lane Stadium
17-0, I wrote a column called Beamer,
Hokies Clearly in Control of State Rivalry
that detailed the
threat that the Cavaliers presented to Tech upon Groh’s arrival in 2001, and how
Virginia Tech had dealt decisively with that threat.

I’m sure there are all kinds of good ideas in that article that I can (and
will) recycle for a Groh requiem of sorts in next week’s Monday Thoughts, but
for now, previews are previews, and I’ll try to preview.

This is going to be a truly strange game. Did we know on November 25th of
2000 that George Welsh was coaching his last game against the Hokies? I don’t
recall. I do recall that we were terror-stricken that Frank Beamer was going to
leave Blacksburg after the game and take the head coaching job at North
Carolina. With that backdrop, what Hokie in his right mind cared whether or not
George Welsh was going to retire at the end of the season?

This time around, it’s different. For one, we know that Al Groh will no
longer be Virginia’s coach after Saturday’s game. He might be dismissed within
just a few hours of the game, but at the latest, he’ll be gone within a few
days, barring something unforeseen. Al Groh is Dead Man Coaching. He was hired
on December 30th, 2000, my 36th birthday. He’ll be fired by the time I turn 45.

And the Hokies will usher him out in his own stadium. Virginia Tech will more
than likely win the game — every sane human will pick the Hokies to win, and I
consider myself sane — but win or lose, Groh won’t be around to coach Virginia
in 2010.

Just think about that: you won’t have Al Groh to kick around anymore, Hokies.
The balance in the state is about to shift once again, in recruiting, on the
field, and in media coverage. In the case of Al Groh, the devil you Hokies know
is definitely better than the devil you don’t know, because the one you don’t
know — the next one — might be able to recruit better, coach better, build a
program better, talk to the media better … all of it. The in-state battle has
been easy for the Hokies for many years now, but it’s more than likely going to
get harder again, starting next week.

Let the coaches and players worry about matchups, schemes, and play calling
for Saturday’s game. I want you Hokie fans to get misty-eyed thinking that when
you watch this game, you’re not really watching the present; you’re watching The
Way it Used to Be.

Here’s to the last nine seasons, of Groh-ing older with one of Virginia’s
more entertaining coaches ever, the esteemed Chessmaster, Al Groh.

I couldn’t help it. I got all waxy and philosophical on you. Sniff … we’re
gonna miss you, Al.

Tito, get me some tissue. Jermaine, stop teasing.

Will’s Prediction (pulled out of a hat – wait for Phil Martin’s, because he’s
much more accurate): Virginia Tech 36, Virginia 7

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