2005 Game Preview: #6 Virginia Tech at Virginia

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Saturday, November 19th, 2005,
noon


TV:
ESPN


Forecast (from WeatherUnderground.com):


Click the “Charlottesville Weather” link to the right.
Game time forecast, as of 2:30 pm Wednesday: Partly cloudy, 50 degrees, chance of
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Preview: #6 VT (8-1, 5-1 ACC) at Virginia (6-3, 3-3)


by Chris Coleman

The Commonwealth Cup will be on the line once again this Saturday when
Virginia Tech travels to Charlottesville to take on archrival UVA in an
important ACC battle. The Hokies are desperately trying to get an at-large bid
to a BCS game, and UVA sees this as their last decent chance for a win in the
regular season. Bowl pairings are at stake, as well as bragging rights for
another year. This one is going to be huge.

Virginia enters the game healthier than they have been all season. Linebacker
Ahmad Brooks is back in the starting lineup, as is tailback Wali Lundy and left
tackle D�Brickashaw Ferguson. Just when it looked like Al Groh�s team was
hanging on by the skin of their teeth earlier in the season, they knocked off
Florida State. Despite a road loss to UNC the following week, they have rallied
to win their last two games.

The Cavaliers have been an outstanding team at home since 2003, winning 21 of
their past 23 games at Scott Stadium. Their two losses were close games to
Florida State (2003) and Miami (2004). UVA has enjoyed a lot of success against
all other teams at home, including a victory over Virginia Tech in 2003.

Virginia is undefeated at home thus far in 2005, and the game on Saturday
will be the Senior Day for outstanding seniors such as Marques Hagans and Wali
Lundy. They will be fired up and ready to go. Even without that extra emotional
factor, this would be an extremely difficult game for the Hokies. Just take a
look at what UVA has done this year at home.

UVA
At Home

Opponent

Result

Rush
Yards

Pass
Yards

Rush
Defense

Pass
Defense
Western Michigan W 31-19 188 252 86 271
Duke W 38-7 110 214 107 108
Florida State W 26-21 20 306 95 377
Temple W 51-3 262 187 10 160
Georgia Tech W 27-17 161 207 136 205

Average

W 34.6-13.4
148.2 233.2 86.8 224.2

Now compare that with their road performance, which can be described as
somewhere between poor and terrible.

UVA
On the Road

Opponent

Result

Rush
Yards

Pass
Yards

Rush
Defense

Pass
Defense
Syracuse W 27-24 271 145 80 172
Maryland L 45-33 136 270 250 320
Boston College L 28-17 145 195 196 301
North Carolina L 7-5 90 109 172 98

Average

L 26-20.5
160.5 179.75 174.5 222.75

On the road UVA has managed just one win, and that came in a narrow three
point victory over possibly the worst Syracuse team ever. Maryland and Boston
College physically whipped the Hoos, and to top it off, Virginia lost at Chapel
Hill the week after knocking off Florida State.

At home Virginia is a different team. In 2005 they have won all five home
games by an average of three touchdowns. Marques Hagans is much better at home
as well, throwing for over 50 yards more per game. On the defensive side of the
ball, the Hoos are much better at stopping the run at home. They give up twice
as many rushing yards on the road as they surrender at home.

On the other hand, their competition at home has featured games against
Western Michigan, Duke and Temple. Western Michigan has improved, but they are
still a team that any solid ACC program should dominate. Temple and Duke are
simply two of the worst teams in college football. Playing those teams has
helped UVA�s home statistics. But still, they did knock off Florida State and
Georgia Tech at home, two teams they would have been unlikely to beat on the
road. Home field advantage means a lot to the Hoos.

The UVA Offense

The UVA offense is led by fifth year senior quarterback Marques Hagans.
Hagans is underrated by many Virginia Tech fans and underappreciated by many UVA
fans. He has less than ideal height for a quarterback, but he is a very good
thrower and runner. He is very comparable to Antwaan Randle El of the Pittsburgh
Steelers, who plays wide receiver in the NFL but was a very good quarterback in
college for the Indiana Hoosiers.

Hagans� best attribute is his ability to throw the football when rolling
out, particularly when rolling out to his right. He is very accurate and
repeatedly burned Florida State when doing this back in October. It will be
important for the Virginia Tech defense to play their gap responsibilities and
use their speed to keep Hagans in the pocket. The Tech coaches should have a
very useful teaching aid for their defense. The Miami defense was able to keep
Marcus Vick in the pocket, and it might be wise to implement some of their
strategy when facing Marques Hagans.

UVA tailback Wali Lundy missed a game earlier in the season due to an injury
and is only now getting back to full strength. He has been at his best the past
two games of the season. Lundy�s best attribute is his ability to break
tackles. He has always shown a knack for slipping away from defenders. He is
Virginia�s leading rushing on the year with 387 yards and six touchdowns.

Michael Johnson is UVA�s fastest tailback. He broke a 70 yard touchdown run
against Syracuse in the Carrier Dome. However his playing time has decreased
recently to the point that he has not had a carry or caught a pass since the
Florida State game. He has been suffering from an ankle sprain. Running in his
place has been converted fullback Jason Snelling, who has been a load to say the
least. Snelling only has 39 carries on the season, but he is averaging 6.7 yards
per carry. Look for Virginia to run right at the Tech defense with Snelling.
They will not likely beat the Hokies� defense to the outside.

UVA�s biggest offensive question mark coming into the season was wide
receiver. Deyon Williams has helped to answer some of those questions, catching
40 passes for 517 yards and four touchdowns. Williams is a big target (6-3, 185)
who always seems to get open for Marques Hagans. Virginia�s second leading
receiver is another big target, Fontel Mines (6-4, 217). Mines has 20 receptions
for 265 yards and a touchdown on the season.

UVA�s second biggest threat receiving is the tight end combination of
Jonathan Stupar and Tom Santi. They have combined for 30 receptions for 430
yards and three touchdowns this season. Stupar is a conventional tight end who
will go over the middle, while Santi is more of an H-back type player, lining up
at fullback, lining up at tight end, and going in motion.

The UVA offensive line has been banged up for part of the season but appears
to be as healthy as ever heading into the Virginia Tech game. Three seniors
start on the offensive line, and the group is led by left tackle D�Brickashaw
Ferguson. Ferguson is a great pass blocker with long arms and good leverage. He
will be a first round NFL Draft Pick in April. The other seniors are right
tackle Brad Butler and center Brian Barthelmes. Freshman Branden Albert and
sophomore Marshal Ausberry man the guard spots up front for UVA.

The Hokies should be able to win the battle up front in this game. The UVA
offensive line has struggled this season. Injuries have played a factor, but
overall the line has not played up to expectations. The Tech defensive line is
healthy right now, and Jonathan Lewis, who will be making his 39th consecutive
start, will present a lot of problems for Virginia�s interior offensive
linemen.

Look for Virginia to throw the kitchen sink at the Tech defense. Al Groh has
shown a tendency in the past to try trick plays against better teams, and
sometimes they have worked. In 2001 a below average Virginia team beat a solid
Georgia Tech team on a hook and ladder play on the last play of the game. UVA
will open up the playbook in this game, and the Tech defense must be ready.

The UVA Defense

The Virginia defense has been ridiculed all season long for their poor play,
sometimes deservedly. In road games against Maryland and Boston College,
offenses that the Virginia Tech defense handled easily, the UVA defense gave up
570 and 497 yards. BC and Maryland were successful on the ground and through the
air against the Cavalier defenders.

The UVA pass defense has been roughly the same at home and on the road.
Western Michigan and Florida State torched the UVA secondary in Scott Stadium,
but both teams ended up losing. FSU quarterback Drew Weatherford seemingly
completed all of his passes to either a Seminole wide receiver or a Virginia
defensive back. As noted above, Virginia�s rushing defense has been much
better at home.

The Virginia defense has young players all over the field. At outside
linebacker, the Cavaliers start r-freshman Clint Sintim and r-sophomore Jermaine
Dias. Dias has battled the injury bug all season long, only playing in five
games. Up front Virginia starts sophomore nose tackle Keenan Carter and
sophomore defensive end Chris Long. Carter has done a better job that many
expected. He had weight problems in high school and at Fork Union, but he has
worked hard and kept himself in shape this season, which has improved his play
on the field. He suffered a leg injury against Georgia Tech but returned later
in the game. However the injury got worse over the weekend, and his foot was in
a protective boot at the beginning of the week. He will not be 100% this
weekend.

The status of nose tackle Kwakou Robinson and defensive end Vince Redd
remains up in the air heading into the Tech game. Both were suspended and missed
the Georgia Tech game due to a violation of team rules. Robinson also faces
charges on four traffic violations, and Al Groh has not commented on the status
of these two players. If Robinson does not play, look for defensive end Brennan
Schmidt to slide inside and get some snaps at defensive tackle. Schmidt is
Virginia�s best defensive lineman. He has 9.5 tackles for loss and four sacks
on the season.

The UVA front seven does not generate much of a pass rush. The Hoos have just
18 sacks on the season, an average of two per game. Virginia Tech is the fifth
best team in the ACC in sacks allowed, giving up 21 on the year. The one player
that Marcus Vick must be aware of is inside linebacker Kai Parham. Parham leads
the ACC in sacks with 8.5. The remainder of the UVA defense has generated just
9.5 sacks on the year, with four of those coming from Schmidt.

Highly touted linebacker Ahmad Brooks is back from injury for UVA. He has
played in just five games this season, making 16 tackles, one tackle for loss
and a sack. Brooks missed a lot of time and has been very rusty, but he should
be getting back into the swing of things by now. Tech needs to run right at the
middle of the UVA defense to test Brooks and Keenan Carter.

The UVA secondary has been piecemeal for the entire season. There have been
different starters at just about every position, and that will include the
Virginia Tech game this weekend. Marcus Hamilton is a consistent player at
cornerback for the Hoos. He is second on the team in tackles with 50 and leads
the team in interceptions with five.

The other starting cornerback will probably be sophomore Chris Gorham,
although true freshman Mike Brown should see a lot of playing time as well. Look
for the Hokies to go right after Brown (5-9, 173) with their bigger receivers.
Brown is a good player, especially for a freshman, but the talented and physical
Tech receivers should be able to beat him in single coverage.

Tony Franklin is expected to return to the starting lineup at safety after
missing the Georgia Tech game due to a suspension. The other starting safety,
Nate Lyles, will miss the Virginia Tech game due to an injury. Sophomore Jamaal
Jackson will start in place if Lyles. Redshirt-freshman walk-on Byron Glaspy
could start at free safety, even if Franklin does return.

Marcus Vick and the Virginia Tech receivers have a chance to have a big game,
and for VT to win the game they must take advantage of it. UVA is ranked 68th
nationally and tenth in the ACC in passing defense. In total defense the Hoos
are 40th nationally, but just eighth in the ACC. The Hokies need to be balanced
in this game, running the ball between the tackles against the 3-4 defense and
throwing the ball against a relatively weak Virginia secondary.

Special Teams

Virginia is very good in the kicking game. Conner Hughes is the best kicker
in the ACC, booting 18 of 21 field goal attempts this year. He is 9-11 from
30-39 yards, 4-4 from 40-49 yards, and 1-2 from distances greater than 50 yards.
Hughes is likely a future NFL kicker, and when UVA gets into field goal range
his presence basically guarantees three points, barring a turnover.

Chris Gould is Virginia�s punter, and he is averaging 39.7 yards per punt.
That average ranks ninth in the ACC. He has pinned opposing offenses inside
their 20 yard line 11 times and has had one punt blocked on the season.

The Hokies need to contain Cedric Peerman and Michael Johnson on kickoff
returns. Neither has returned a kick for a touchdown this season, but Peerman is
averaging 27.9 yards per return, while Johnson is just behind with an average of
26.9. As a team Virginia ranks 11th nationally in kick returns, averaging 25.07
yards per return.

Here is a special teams stat to remember. Virginia Tech has blocked a kick
against UVA in every season that Al Groh has been head coach. In 2003 the Hokies
didn�t officially record a block because Vincent Fuller lined up offsides when
Eric Green blocked the punt. But Fuller was lined up on the other side of the
line of scrimmage, and had no effect on the outcome of the play. In 2002 Tech
blocked a UVA punt and Darryl Tapp returned it for a touchdown. Tech also
blocked a punt in 2001 and a field goal in 2004. That�s four years in a row
that the Hokies have blocked a kick against the Hoos, and if they make it five
they stand a good chance to win the game.

Predictions

UVA is great at home, while Virginia Tech is great on the road. The Hokies
are more talented, but will they be emotionally ready after Miami knocked them
out of the national championship race? I believe they will be ready and will
play a good game, but history (2001-03) says otherwise. Even if they are ready
to play, that doesn�t necessarily mean they are going to win the game. They’re
going to have to play their A game to leave with a victory.

Never count out a senior quarterback. Marques Hagans is a fifth year senior
that is playing his final home game. He is one of the greatest competitors you�ll
see at the quarterback position and he won�t let his team lose without a tough
fight. The Hokies need to hit him hard early in the game to establish their
dominance.

Here�s a prediction, or rather a hope. Branden Ore will rush for 100 yards
against the Virginia defense. Mike Imoh is out with an injury, opening the door
for the talented Ore, who is averaging six yards per carry this year. It�s
pretty obvious he is the best running back on the team and the Hokies will stand
a much better chance of winning the game if they unleash Ore.

I think Tech shows up, plays well and wins a dogfight.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 27, UVA 19

Will Stewart’s Take: Those that read this site regularly know that I tend
to be a big-picture guy and a psychology-of-the-game observer, as opposed to an
X’s and O’s guy or one who watches matchups closely. And the psychology of this
game is tricky and worrisome, if you’re a Hokie fan.

I covered most of my thoughts and feelings in today’s column, One
Chance to Get it Right
. (it’s a TSL Pass column, but
non-subscribers can view it using our FreePass to get temporary access to our
pay content � click
here
for more info). This game is all about energy, and there’s
very little energy surrounding the Tech program right now, at least from this
side of the fence. I will, however, freely admit that after the over-hyped Miami
game of two weeks ago, anything’s going to seem pale by comparison.

So what’s going to happen Saturday? Heck, who knows? I don’t know. I don’t
know if VT’s going to regroup, come out strong, and win by three touchdowns. I
don’t know if Virginia’s going to come out and blow the Hokies off the field. I
don�t know if something in between is going to happen.

I’ve rarely been this clueless about a game, so we’ll just have to line ’em
up, kick it off, and see what happens. Having said that, I did say that I’m
going to pick VT to win every game this season, so here we go � it’ll be
tight:

Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 20, Virginia 16

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