2005 Game Preview: #3 Virginia Tech at West Virginia

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Saturday, October 1st, 2005, noon


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Preview: #3 VT (4-0, 3-0 ACC) vs. West Virginia (4-0, 1-0 Big East)


by Chris Coleman

After thoroughly dismantling three consecutive teams, #3
Virginia Tech will likely find a tougher battle when they travel to Morgantown,
WV this Saturday to take on the undefeated West Virginia Mountaineers. As of
right now, this will be the final game in the series for quite some time, and
both teams will be going hard for possibly permanent possession of the Black
Diamond Trophy.

This series has been taken to a brand new level over the
last few years. Virginia Tech�s move to the ACC has left some bad blood in the
Big East, particularly with the fans in Morgantown. The Hokies� last visit
there resulted in a 28-7 thrashing in front of a national ESPN audience on a
Wednesday night. Perhaps even more memorable was the unsafe atmosphere that
prompted many Tech fans to vow to never return to Morgantown.

This year the Hokies won�t have to play in front of a
crowd that has a full day of tailgating under their belts. Instead, ESPN will
televise the game at noon, which will greatly enhance Tech�s chances of
victory. Still, the Hokies will get the Mountaineers� best shot and will have
to outplay West Virginia to get a victory.

With a full month of the college football season already
played, it�s much easier to look at stats and forecast games. Thus, the format
of this preview will change a bit from past previews.

The West Virginia Offense

In 2003, West Virginia ran the ball right up the middle on
Tech. After they did that, they ran it to the outside. And to top it off, they
threw the ball deep with success. The Hokies look to avoid all of the above this
time around, and this time the matchups favor Tech.

The 2003 Virginia Tech team was not ready to play when
they got to Morgantown. However, I think there was more to it than that. The
Mountaineers matched up with the Hokies better than any other team that season
and took full advantage of it. They had a physical offensive line that could run
block against anyone, and they had one of the best tailbacks in the nation in
Quincy Wilson. The Hokies countered with the least talented group of linebackers
in recent memory and a defensive line that couldn�t get off blocks. Two years
later, that is not the case.

The West Virginia running game isn�t the powerful attack
that it was two years ago. Sure, they rank 15th nationally and average 234.75
yards per game on the ground. But those stats don�t tell the entire story.
West Virginia�s tailbacks aren�t very productive. Pernell Williams starts at
tailback, but only averages 3.3 yards per carry and 38.2 yards per game. Jason
Gwaltney (3.4 ypc, 29.2 ypg) and Jason Colson (2.6 ypc, 20 ypg) round out the
stable of WVU tailbacks. Don�t be afraid of their tailbacks in the running
game, because the Hokie defense will likely shut them down.

The lack of production from the running game is the result
of not having a running back with the ability of Wilson or Kay Jay Harris, and
sub-par performance from the offensive guards. West Virginia seems to be
performing well at center (Dan Mozes) and offensive tackle (Garin Justince), but
the offensive guards have lagged behind. John Bradshaw, a r-freshman, has been
starting at left guard. Another r-freshman, Ryan Stancheck replaced Bradshaw in
the second half against ECU. Look for both to play against VT, and neither will
have much success blocking the Tech defensive tackles.

The majority of the running for West Virginia has come
from the quarterbacks, Pat White and Adam Bednarik, as well as fullback Owen
Schmitt. White, WVU�s backup quarterback, leads the team in rushing. He has
run for 194 yards and one touchdown, averaging 6.7 yards per carry. Bednarik is
a good running QB as well, ranking third on the team with 147 yards.

So why does the backup quarterback lead WVU in rushing?
Because someone needs to teach Adam Bednarik to slide. Bednarik is a good runner
who knows when to run, but he needs to stop challenging defenders at the end of
the run. He has suffered injuries in three different games, including a knee
injury against East Carolina this past Saturday. He is expected to start against
the Hokies. He�ll need to protect himself. Virginia Tech�s defense hits a
bit harder than Syracuse, Wofford, Maryland and East Carolina. The WVU offense
isn�t as proficient with Bednarik out of the game, so the Hokies will look to
make some big hits on him.

Pat White is fast and can beat many teams with his legs.
However, his passing ability leaves something to be desired, at least when
compared to Bednarik. White has thrown two interceptions this year and just one
touchdown pass. He is completing 58.6% of his passes, with Bednarik completing
77.8%.

With the exception of one long touchdown run, the Virginia
Tech defense did a good job stopping the running of WVU quarterback Rasheed
Marshall last season. With the majority of the front seven back, plus the return
of Xavier Adibi, who didn�t play against the Mountaineers last season, I
expect that to remain the same. The Tech defense is simply too fast and athletic
to establish an effective running game with a quarterback.

Watch out for West Virginia fullback Owen Schmitt. He has
only 13 carries on the season, but he has gained 98 yards on the ground (7.5 ypc)
and scored a touchdown.

West Virginia has a dangerous target in the passing game
in Brandon Miles, who has 17 receptions for 266 yards and a touchdown. Behind
Miles, the Mountaineers� second leading receiver, Darius Reynaud, has only
eight receptions for 81 yards. WVU will not burn the Hokies through the air.

The Tech defense will simply be too good for West Virginia
to manage many points. The Hokies rank third nationally in total defense, second
in scoring defense, eighth in rushing defense and third in pass efficiency
defense. The Tech defense is giving up only 219.75 yards per game, and they face
an offense that is mediocre from a yardage standpoint, ranking 57th in the
nation at 386 yards per game. West Virginia�s offense will be stymied by the
Hokie defense for most of the afternoon and will not score many points.

The West Virginia Defense

At first thought, the 3-3-5 stack defense employed by Rich
Rodriguez doesn�t seem like a very good idea. Five defensive backs and only
three down linemen as a base defense? However, West Virginia makes it work. The
Mountaineers rank right behind the Tech defense in total yards, ranking fourth
nationally at 221.25 yards per game. They allow only 12 points per game, which
ranks tenth nationally.

The 3-3-5 stack is a versatile defense that can present a
tremendous challenge to an offensive line. You can rush three or use an eight
man front. You can disguise blitzes and coverages, line players up all over the
place and have a lot of movement before the snap. It takes a very disciplined
offensive line to block this type of defense, and thus far on the season, none
have had any success.


In the running game, the West Virginia defense holds an
advantage over the Virginia Tech offense. The Mountaineers are allowing only
56.75 rushing yards per game, which is good for third nationally. Meanwhile,
Virginia Tech is averaging a weak 3.4 yards per carry on the ground. (If that
average stands throughout the season, it will be the lowest per-carry average by
a VT team during the Beamer bowl era.)

WVU has a big defensive line, led by senior nose tackle
Ernest Hunter. Hunter, a Virginia native, posed a lot of problems for the
Virginia Tech offensive line in 2003. The size of the defensive line makes them
hard to move off the line of scrimmage. While they are occupying offensive
linemen, the other eight defenders are swarming around like bees.

Despite the statistics, remember that Mike Imoh did rush
for over 100 yards against WVU last year in Blacksburg. Don�t expect Tech to
totally give up on the run. They will come into the game with their basic game
plan of running the football to set up the pass. For the most part however, the
Hokies will have to throw the football successfully if they want to move the
ball with consistency on offense.

Marcus Vick is capable of having a good game against the
WVU secondary. WVU is 29th nationally in pass efficiency defense, but they haven�t
faced anyone that is good at throwing the football. WVU opponents have been
Syracuse, Wofford, Maryland and ECU. Syracuse, Maryland and ECU rank 109, 48 and
44 nationally in passing, which is not especially good to say the least. Wofford
is a Division 1-AA team that ranks only 113th (51 yards per game!) in
Division 1-AA
in passing. The WVU secondary has not been tested as they will
be this week.

West Virginia also has some injuries on defense,
particularly in the secondary, that could allow the Hokies to steal some points
that they otherwise would not get. First of all, safety Jahmile Addae has been
bothered by an ankle injury. Addae is a very good safety, and he would be a big
loss for the WVU defense. He is expected to play, but he will most likely not be
100%. Starting cornerback Anthony Mims is questionable with a hamstring injury
as well. Mims is less likely to play than Addae. If these two senior defensive
backs can�t play, or are not 100%, Marcus Vick and his receivers would benefit
greatly.

The stat to watch in this game is third down conversions.
Virginia Tech likely won�t be able to generate a lot of yards rushing in this
game, so there will probably be a lot of third and long plays to convert. The
Hokies rank 78th nationally in third down conversions this season, converting
only 35.2%. Even scarier, the West Virginia defense is allowing opponents to
complete just 19% of their 3rd down conversion attempts. It looks like VT will
have trouble moving the chains consistently in this game.

Special Teams

The Hokies hold a definite advantage in the third phase of
the game. Frank Beamer has stated that this group of kickers is the best he has
ever had, and it certainly appears that way. Jared Develli has put 15 of his 25
kickoffs into the end zone for a touchback. Brandon Pace has connected on 87.5%
of his field goals. Nic Schmitt�s punting has been excellent. The Hokies also
blocked a field goal and returned it for a touchdown against Georgia Tech.

WVU has struggled on special teams. Pat McAfee has only
connected on 42.9% of his field goal attempts (3 of 7). He is only 1-4 from 40
yards or more. He has also missed an extra point. Phil Brady is averaging 39.7
yards per punt. That�s not bad, but Schmitt is better.

WVU has also committed a lot of penalties on special teams
this year. The Hokies definitely hold the advantage here.

Predictions

The Hokies are the more talented team, the better team and
the more disciplined team. The Tech offense is putting points on the board and
Marcus Vick is playing well. The defense is dominating everyone they play. WVU
isn�t as good as Tech, but there is the emotional factor, which will play a
part. The Mountaineers hate the Hokies more than anyone else, and they don�t
like the thought of the Black Diamond Trophy collecting dust in Blacksburg for
the foreseeable future. They want to win it back now, and rub it in Tech�s
face that they ended their dreams of a national championship. VT must be ready
to play, because WVU certainly will be.

However, I think a couple of things that favor the Hokies
will be result in a Virginia Tech victory. First of all, this is the most
disciplined Virginia Tech team that I�ve ever seen. They don�t commit stupid
penalties, and they play their assignments on defense. You don�t see anyone
biting on play action passes or leaving their assignment areas on a reverse.

Virginia Tech�s turnover margin is outstanding as well.
VT has only turned the ball over once this season. They rank third nationally in
turnover margin at +2.25 per game. They have not lost a fumble. This team
understands the importance of protecting the football, an attitude that they
must carry with them to Morgantown. Meanwhile, WVU ranks just 71st nationally in
turnover margin. VT has a major advantage here.

In the end, I think you�ll be able to look back at the
2003 game and say it woke the Hokies up. I think they understand what
Mountaineer Field will be like on Saturday. If Virginia Tech beats WVU on the
road, then count me among the believers that the Hokies will run the table in
the regular season.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 20, West Virginia 10

Will Stewart’s Take: Big
success for the Hokies in Morgantown isn’t unprecedented. In 1995, VT beat WVU
27-0 at Mountaineer Field in a critical matchup for the Hokies, who came into
that game 5-2 and looking to maintain momentum. In 2001, Rich Rodriguez’ first
year in Morgantown, VT whipped the Mountaineers 35-0. During that 2001 season,
WVU was a team making the transition from Don Nehlen to Rodriguez, so that 35-0
pasting could be characterized as an aberration. For the most part, success in
Morgantown is difficult.

The great VT team of 1999 had difficulty in Morgantown,
and two lesser VT teams got smacked around: the 1997 unit got whacked 30-17 in a
game that wasn’t as close as the score indicated, and of course, the 2003 Hokies
got embarrassed.

But enough tossing around past scores. You get the idea:
some good VT teams have fared well in Morgantown, some haven’t, and some weak
ones have been trounced. The question is, what’s going to happen this year?

Chris pointed out the two weaknesses of the 2005 Hokies
that could come back to bite them in this game: rushing offense (3.4 ypc) and
third-down conversions (35%). If the Hokies wind up in third and long situations
and can’t convert them, this game is going to be a long, protracted battle.
Fortunately for the Hokies, the keys to this game are three areas where they’re
strong this year: defense, special teams, and discipline.

The Hokies need to do what they’ve done all year: don’t
make dumb mistakes, hold on to the football, play stingy defense, and win the
field position battle with strong punting and kickoffs. If they do those things,
then they can be patient on offense and look for their opportunities.

It’s the intangibles that’ll get VT through this game.
When this one is said and done, I think you’ll be able to point to a handful of
mistakes that West Virginia made, and an absence of critical Hokie errors, as
being the difference in this game.

Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 17, West Virginia 6

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