2006 Football Game Preview: Virginia Tech vs. Virginia

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Saturday, November 25th, 2006, noon

TV: Lincoln Financial Sports (click
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Click here for TechSideline.com’s VT/UVa roster card


Game Preview: #17 VT (9-2, 5-2 ACC) vs. Virginia (5-6, 4-3)


by Chris Coleman, TechSideline.com

All that stands between Virginia Tech and their third consecutive 10-win
season is in-state rival Virginia. All that stands between Virginia and a bowl
bid is Virginia Tech. Both teams have a lot to play for this Saturday, not to
mention pride. The Hokies will get the Cavaliers’ best shot, but with UVA’s
history of poor play on the road, will their best be enough?

Since Al Groh took over at Virginia, the Cavaliers haven’t played very well
on the road. That has never been more true than this year. They knocked off Duke
37-0 back in September, but they have lost their other four road games on the
season, and none of them have been particularly close.

Virginia’s
Road Woes
Opponent Score

Pittsburgh

38-13

Georgia Tech

24-7

East Carolina

31-21

Florida State

33-0

Average

31.5-10.25

UVA’s four losses on the road have come by an average of three touchdowns.
That’s a stat that can’t be ignored, even in rivalry games when we can “throw
the records out the window.” Keep those numbers filed away in your brain. It
could be the most important factor of the game.

Other than that, UVA has improved steadily over the season. After starting
1-4, with a home loss to Western Michigan and a scare from Wyoming, the Hoos
have improved, winning three of their last four games. Of course, the wins have
been in Charlottesville, and the one loss was a 33-0 rout on the road in
Tallahassee.

The Virginia Offense

The UVA offense has struggled for most of the season. They haven’t put up
many yards or many points. Their struggles aren’t surprising, considering they
are starting a r-freshman at quarterback, a converted fullback at tailback, and
have a new offensive coordinator with no experience calling plays.

Virginia
Offensive Rankings
Category Yards/Points NCAA
Rank

Rushing Offense
104.82 98

Passing Offense
165.55 94

Total Offense
270.36 109

Scoring Offense
16.45 107

Those stats aren’t a good sign when you’re about to face one of the top
defenses in the country on the road.

After trying Christian Olsen and Kevin McCabe early in the season, the
Cavaliers finally settled on Jameel Sewell, who has done a nice job. Sewell is a
threat to run, but he would prefer to stand in the pocket and beat you with his
arm. He has completed 58.8% of his passes this year for 1,276 yards. He has
thrown five touchdowns with five interceptions.

Sewell’s favorite target is sophomore Kevin Ogletree. Ogletree (6-2, 189)
has been more of a possession receiver this season, although he has been
involved in more big plays as the season has developed. He has 50 catches for
551 yards and four touchdowns on the year. He always seems to find a way to get
open, and Sewell obviously trusts him.

The Cavaliers will also use their tight ends in the passing game. Starter Tom
Santi is second on the team in receptions with 29. He has 253 yards receiving
and one touchdown. The other tight end, Jonathan Stupar, has a lot of
experience. He has 13 catches for 107 yards.

Other targets for Sewell are running back Jason Snelling and wideout Fontel
Mines. Snelling is used frequently in the passing game. He has 26 catches for
271 yards. Mines has pulled in 25 receptions for 237 yards and two touchdowns.

The running game hasn’t been very good for UVA this year. Snelling is a
tough runner who has 751 yards on 170 carries, an average of 4.4 yards per
carry. But he doesn’t quite have the speed to get through the small holes that
the offensive line provides. Depth is also an issue at tailback for the
Cavaliers.

The second leading rushing is quarterback Sewell, who has 180 yards on the
year. Cedric Peerman has 46 carries for 153 yards, an average of 3.3 yards per
carry. Former five-star recruit Michael Johnson has seven carries for six yards.

UVA has a young and inexperienced offensive line, and that has been a major
part of their offensive trouble. They start two sophomores at left tackle and
left guard, juniors and center and right guard, and a freshman at right tackle.

The left side of the line is big, with tackle Zak Stair checking in at 6-6,
298, and guard Brandon Albert listed at 6-7, 315. Look for the Hokies to try and
get penetration over the center and right guard. Center Jordy Lipsey is just
6-3, 280, while right guard Ian-Yates Cunningham is 6-3, 290. They will have a
hard time moving Tech’s defensive tackles.

The right guard is Will Barker, 6-7, 306. Barker obviously has a good future
if he is starting as a freshman, but the Tech coaching staff has to feel good
about experienced defensive ends like Noland Burchette and Chris Ellis lining up
across from Barker.

We’ve mentioned UVA’s road woes this season. Let’s take a look at what
their offense has managed in their four losses on the road.

Offensive
Output in Road Losses
Opponent Rush Yds Pass Yds Total
Yds
Points

Pittsburgh
52 159 211 13

Georgia Tech
51 115 166 7

East Carolina
153 145 298 21

Florida State
58 125 183 0

Average
78.5 136 214.5 10.25

UVA has only managed to rush for over 60 yards in one of their road losses, and
that came against Conference USA opponent East Carolina. They have also never
passed for more than 160 in these games, and are averaging only 10.25 points per
game. That won’t get it done against the Hokies in Lane Stadium. The Tech
defense is first in the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 10.2 points per
game.

The UVA Defense

While the Cavalier offense has struggled mightily, the defense has played
much better than expected. They have kept UVA in games, and they are the reason
the Cavs are close to being bowl eligible.

Virginia
Defensive Rankings
Category Yards/Points NCAA
Rank

Rushing Defense
116 35

Passing Defense
172.36 24

Total Defense
288.36 20

Scoring Defense
17.91 27

This UVA defense will be one of the better defenses the Hokies have faced all
season. Despite some important losses in their front seven, the UVA 3-4 defense
has held up well this year, despite having no seniors in the two deep in the
front seven.

The headliner of the defensive line is defensive end Chris Long (6-4, 284).
Long is the son of NFL Hall of Famer Howie Long. He is a very physical player
who gives great effort. He has nine tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks on the
season. The junior Long is very good, but from a statistical standpoint, he hasn’t
been as productive as his r-freshman teammate at defensive end, Jeffrey
Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald has had an outstanding season for UVA, and looks like he will go
on to a great career if he can stay healthy. The 6-3, 279 Fitzgerald has 11
tackles for loss on the season, as well as 5.5 sacks. He also has an
interception and two fumble recoveries. He has established himself as one of UVA’s
top defensive playmakers.

The Cavs haven’t gotten as much production out of their nose tackle
position. They use the trio of Allen Billyk, Nate Collins and Keenan Carter.
Those players have combined for just four tackles for loss on the year. But to
be fair, nose tackles in a 3-4 scheme rarely rack up huge stats. Still, they
could be considered the weakest link on UVA’s defensive line.

UVA starts three sophomores and a junior at linebacker. The leading tackler
on the team is inside linebacker Jon Copper, a former walk-on from Northside
High School in Roanoke. Copper has 75 tackles, eight tackles for loss and four
sacks. The other inside linebacker, Antonio Appleby, has 62 tackles and three
tackles for loss.

Jermaine Dias and Clint Sintim are playmakers from their outside linebacker
positions, especially Sintim. The sophomore has eight tackles for loss and three
sacks. Dias has 41 tackles and four tackles for loss.

The Virginia Tech offensive line will be challenged by the UVA front seven.
The Cavs will use their linebackers to bring blitzes, and the Hokies have to be
able to pick them up. It will also be a big game for Kenny Lewis and George
Bell, who don’t have much experience. They need to recognize where the blitz
is coming from and pick it up.

The UVA secondary didn’t have a very good season in 2005, but they are much
improved this year. The secondary features players like seniors Marcus Hamilton
and Tony Franklin, who have a lot of experience.

Hamilton is UVA’s best defensive back from a statistical standpoint. He has
five interceptions on the year and 15 for his career, making him a strong
candidate for First Team All-ACC honors this year. He has also broken up four
passes on the season.

Nate Lyles is the hardest hitter in the UVA secondary. He has 46 tackles with
four tackles for loss from his safety position, where he splits time with Tony
Franklin. Chris Cook seems to have taken over the cornerback position opposite
of Marcus Hamilton. He is third on the team in tackles with 56, including 2.5
for loss.

But as good as UVA’s defense has been this year on the whole, they haven’t
played very well in the Cavs’ four road losses.

Virginia
Defensive Stats in Road Losses
Opponent Rush Yds Pass Yds Total
Yds
Points

Pittsburgh
107 283 390 38

Georgia Tech
105 230 335 24

East Carolina
208 224 432 31

Florida State
117 226 343 33

Average
134.25 240.75 375 31.5

The UVA defense, particularly the secondary, has struggled on the road this
season. If Sean Glennon gets time, he will probably have some open targets in
the defensive backfield.

Special Teams

Virginia’s special teams have been solid this year. Be ready to see Chris
Gould on the field a lot on Saturday. He handles field goals, kickoffs and punts
for the Cavaliers.

The Hokies have an advantage when it comes to field goals. Gould is 7-of-7
from inside 40 yards this year, but just 4-of-12 from beyond 40 yards.
Meanwhile, Tech’s Brandon Pace is 16-of-16 for the season and has nailed 21
consecutive field goals dating back to last season. If this turns into a field
goal war, the Hokies will probably win.

Gould also has 54 punts on the year, averaging 38.5 yards per punt. Virginia
will also use Ryan Weigand, who has 18 punts for an average of 41.5 yards. UVA
has had one punt blocked this year, but they have also blocked three punts. That’s
something to watch for when Nic Schmitt is on the field.

Virginia has one very dangerous kickoff returner in running back Cedric
Peerman. Peerman averages 27.7 yards per return, with a long of 62 on the
season.

Conclusion

With Branden Ore out, Virginia does have a better chance in this game, but
they are going to have to dramatically improve their road performance and their
performance against Virginia Tech in general.

We all remember last year’s 52-14 victory. With the exception of UVA’s
victory in 2003, this has been a one-sided series recently.

Recent
Tech Wins over UVA
Year Score
1999 31-7
2000 42-21
2001 31-17
2002 21-9
2004 24-10
2005 52-14
Average Score 33.5-13

In their last six victories over Virginia, the Hokies have won by about three
touchdowns each time. In fact, none of those six wins were particularly close,
though the 2002 game was interesting until late.

With those types of results, it’s easy to see that there is a talent
advantage, not to mention a coaching advantage, in Blacksburg, VA. That hasn’t
changed since last season, and it will be the difference in the game Saturday.

UVA’s defense will keep the game close, but the Hokies will win comfortably
in the end.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 20, UVA 6

Will Stewart’s Take: At first glance, this looks like a good matchup, a
defensive struggle. Virginia’s got the talent on defense to give the Hokie
offense a hard time, particularly with Branden Ore either out or gimpy for the
game. There’s also the question of Brandon Frye’s ankle, which could be a
problem against UVA’s talented defensive ends. On the other side of the ball, we
all know that the Virginia Tech defense is really hitting its stride right now
and is a tough challenge for a UVA offense that has floundered on the road.

The road. That becomes what this is all about, and for Virginia, the road has
been unkind. If you throw out the Duke game, Virginia has played four other
solid-to-good teams on the road: Pittsburgh, GT, ECU, and Florida State. And
they have gotten pasted, as Chris outlined above, and more specifically, their
offense has struggled. That doesn’t set up well for the Hoos’ chances to score
against Tech in Lane.

In looking over Virginia’s stats and pondering this game, I realized
something: I don’t think I’ve ever predicted the Hokies to shut an opponent
out. Even if I’m projecting the Hokies to blow someone out, I usually give the
other team three points or seven points, because I figure not everything can go
right for the full 60 minutes.

This time, I’m going to pick the shutout. In order for this to happen, the
defense, special teams, and offense all have to play mistake-free football. You
can make small mistakes, but not big ones.

Offensively for VT, I think Virginia’s defense will do well, but like Wake’s
defense, they won’t be able to play a perfect game, and they’ll surrender points
here and there. As an offense struggles, like I’m predicting Virginia’s will,
the pressure on the defense builds, and mistakes are magnified.

Not a particularly scientific analysis, but a large portion of my game
predictions have always been gut feel, anyway. Even with Ore out, I think the
Hokies are building up speed as they approach the finish line to the 2006
season.

Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 23, Virginia 0

2006 TSL Football Game Predictions
(Through Wake Forest; Closest Prediction Highlighted)

Game

Chris’
Prediction
(3 wins)
Will’s
Prediction
(4 wins)
Phil’s
Projection
(5 wins)

Result

N’Eastern 65-0 63-7 49-3 38-0
UNC 23-10 27-10 24-9 35-10
Duke 34-0 30-3 37-0 36-0
Cincinnati 34-6 31-3 38-3 29-13
GT 13-16 10-17 24-9 27-38
BC 30-17 27-20 20-17 3-22
S. Miss 24-6 23-10 27-6 36-6
Clemson 16-24 10-30 22-21 24-7
Miami 17-13 16-14 20-17 17-10
Kent State 38-0 31-3 44-7 23-0
Wake Forest 13-9 17-10 19-13 27-6

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