2007 Football Game Preview: Virginia Tech at Virginia

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Saturday, November 24th, 2007, noon


Forecast (from WeatherBug.com):
Click the “Charlottesville Weather” link to the right.
Saturday forecast, as of 3:15 pm Wednesday: Partly sunny, highs in the mid-40s.

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

Game Preview: #8 Virginia Tech (9-2, 6-1 ACC) at #16 Virginia (9-2, 6-1)

by Chris Coleman, TechSideline.com

Since 1993, the annual Virginia Tech-Virginia matchup has featured two ranked
teams seven times. There is some history in this rivalry, especially recently,
but this game is bigger than all the others. Tech and the Hoos will square off
Saturday in Charlottesville for the right to represent the Coastal Division in
the ACC Championship Game.

Here’s the history of Virginia Tech and UVA playing as ranked teams.

Season VT Rank UVA Rank Result
1993 25 23
W, 20-17
1994 14 16
L, 43-23
1995 20 13
W, 36-29
1996 17 20
W, 26-9
1998 20 16
L, 36-32
1999 8 24
W, 31-7
2004 11 16
W, 24-10

This matchup represents the highest composite ranking for the two teams (8th and
16th), beating out the 2004 matchup. The 2004 matchup also had ACC championship
implications, and the Hokies beat the Hoos and went on to win the ACC outright.

This year, both teams have identical records, at 9-2 overall and 6-1 in the
ACC. Virginia set the NCAA record this season by winning five games by two
points or less. They knocked off UNC and Middle Tennessee State by two points,
and defeated UConn, Maryland and Wake Forest by one. They also had a narrow five
point win over Georgia Tech.

There are two ways you can look at it. First off, just about any other 9-2
team from a legit BCS conference would beat any of the teams listed in the
previous paragraph by more than a couple of points. Maybe the Hoos don’t deserve
to be 9-2. Or, maybe they are clutch, and it takes a strong team to win so many
close games.

I think the answer lies somewhere in between. They are lucky and good.

The Virginia Offense

For the most part, Virginia’s offense has been nothing to write home about
this season. They lack playmakers at the skill positions, and though the
offensive line has been solid recently, they aren’t dominating anybody.

UVA Offensive Stats



ACC Rank



128.82 ypg




208.36 ypg




337.18 ypg




24.36 ppg



Pass Efficiency




Sacks Allowed

2.09 spg



Third Downs




UVA’s success on offense revolves around quarterback Jameel Sewell (6-3, 226,
So.) Sewell is a talented player with a solid arm and good legs. He’s still
learning how to be a good quarterback on the college level, and he’s made his
share of mistakes, but he also has shown a tendency to make plays down the
stretch in UVA’s close wins. He has shown that he can put the team on his back
and win in crunch time.

Sewell is only 83rd in the nation in pass efficiency. He has a good
completion percentage, but the thing that holds his rating back the most is
yards per attempt. He is averaging just 6.24 yards per attempt on the season. As
a comparison, Sean Glennon averages 7.47 yards per attempt. UVA does not go down
the field a lot in the passing game. Their passing game stays short, and
stretches the field horizontally more so than vertically.

Four of Sewell’s top five targets are not wide receivers. The leading
receiver on the team is tight end Jonathan Stupar (6-3, 252, Sr.), who has 34
catches for 309 yards and one touchdown. Behind him is tailback Mikell Simpson
(6-1, 197, So.) with 32 catches for 349 yards and a touchdown. Third on the list
is tight end Tom Santi (6-5, 242, Sr.)

Virginia’s top wide receiver is Maurice Covington (6-4, 218, Jr.). Covington
only has 19 catches for 236 yards on the season, but he has missed four games
due to injury. He is easily Virginia’s best wide receiver. He has made some big
plays for the Cavs in their last two games, so the Hokies will have to account
for him at all times.

Tight end John Phillips (6-6, 255, Jr.) is also a threat with 16 catches for
193 yards and two touchdowns. Wide receivers Dontrelle Inman (6-3, 185, Fr.) and
Staton Jobe (6-0, 181, r-Fr.) will have trouble with Virginia Tech’s

The Hoos will use tailback Mikell Simpson on the ground and through the air.
As mentioned above, he is their second leading receiver on the season. He is
also their second leading rusher, despite not being used until the Maryland game
on October 20. He has been their workhorse since then, running for 319 yards and
two touchdowns, averaging 4.1 yards per carry.

UVA will use Simpson in every way imaginable in the passing game. They have
designed plays just for him, used him on screens, regular swing passes, as an
outlet, and on shovel passes. He is a big part of the UVA offense. Although he
isn’t as effective in the running game as injured back Cedric Peerman, he is a
dangerous overall threat.

UVA’s strength up front is on the left side of their offensive line. Left
tackle Eugene Monroe (6-6, 310, Jr.) was a 5-star recruit coming out of high
school. He struggled some early in his career with injuries, but he’s come on
this year and is starting to look more like the lineman that everyone thought he
would be.

Next to Monroe at left guard is Branden Albert (6-7, 310, Jr.). Both of these
guys are juniors, so they should be a very formidable combination next season.
Center Jordy Lipsey (6-3, 280, Sr.), right guard Ian-Yates Cunningham (6-3, 298,
Sr.) and right tackle Will Barker (6-7, 305, So.) are solid as well.

This UVA line as a group is not dominant, but they have gotten better as the
year has progressed. They protect the quarterback pretty well, although they are
only 91st nationally in tackles for loss allowed. That’s not a great matchup for
them, considering Tech is 19th nationally in tackles for loss as a defense.

Tech needs to step up and shut down UVA’s running game. This will do two
things. First of all, it will obviously limit UVA’s rushing yards. Secondly, it
will limit UVA’s effectiveness at the play-action pass to the tight end, which
is a big part of their offense.

Considering what Virginia Tech’s defense has done against opposing running
games recently, there’s not much reason to believe that the Hoos will have much
success on the ground against the Hokies.

Opposing Running Backs vs. VT






James Davis





C.J. Spiller





Andre Callender





Antone Smith





Javarris James










The stats speak for themselves, and those are five good-to-excellent backs. I
believe that Virginia Tech’s defense will shut down the UVA offense. The game
will come down to how well the VT offense can do against Chris Long and the UVA

The Virginia Defense

Virginia uses a 3-4 defense, which is rare in college football. However, the
Cavs have a lot of toughness up front, which they’ll have to use to make up for
a slight speed disadvantage in this game.

UVA Defensive Stats



ACC Rank



111.36 ypg




202.36 ypg




313.73 ypg




17.45 ppg



Pass Efficiency





3.09 spg



Third Downs




Chris Long (6-4, 279, Sr.) is the leader of the Virginia defense. The entire
unit feeds off the way he plays. Long is an excellent athlete who will go very
high in April’s NFL Draft. However, it’s his intensity, toughness, and his
willingness to go 100% on every play that makes him stand out.

Long is the second leading tackler on UVA’s team, which is extremely rare for
any defensive end, much less a defensive end in the 3-4 scheme. He has 69
tackles, 17 tackles for loss, and 12 sacks. He also has 21 quarterback hurries
on the season. He’s a big-time player who would start for any team in the
country, and the Hokies have to try to neutralize him, as they did Miami’s
Calais Campbell last Saturday (2 assists, 0 TFLs, 0 sacks).

The other defensive end, Jeffrey Fitzgerald (6-3, 280, So.), is no slouch
either. He was a major Virginia Tech recruiting target who elected to play in
Charlottesville. He has 9.5 tackles for loss and five sacks.

The Hoos have gotten 26.5 tackles for loss and 17 sacks from their starting
defensive ends. That’s unheard of from defensive ends in a 3-4.

UVA is undersized at the nose tackle position, but they get solid play. Allen
Billyk (6-4, 275, Sr.) and Nate Collins (6-2, 280, So.) share the reps at that
important position. They aren’t flashy, but they get the job done. Collins is an
athletic player for his size. Generally nose tackles in a 3-4 are 300+, but the
Hoos are having success with smaller nose tackles. From a size standpoint, they
basically have three defensive ends on the field.

UVA has a solid group of linebackers. Jon Copper (6-0, 230, Jr.) is their top
inside linebacker. He leads the Hoos in tackles with 92, including eight tackles
for loss. Copper is a former walk-on. He has a nose for the football, and he’s
able to make plays behind a defensive line that gets a lot of attention from the
offensive line. Copper’s running mate on the inside is Antonio Appleby (6-4,
248, Jr.). Appleby has 56 tackles and five tackles for loss.

Clint Sintim (6-3, 248, Jr.) is UVA’s best pass rushing linebacker. He has
posted 62 tackles and five sacks on the season, and his second on the team with
17 quarterback hurries. The Hokies recruited Sintim as a defensive end. He is
the perfect example of a player who would be a defensive end in Tech’s system,
but is a linebacker in UVA’s system.

The other outside linebacker is Jermaine Dias (6-1, 240, Sr.). He is the most
experienced linebacker of the group. He has 45 tackles on the season, but he’s
the least likely to make a big play of all the UVA linebackers.

The biggest advantage the Hokies have in this game is against UVA’s
secondary. The Hoos have just 10 interceptions this year as a team, and only
five of them have come from their defensive backs. Only two of those five picks
have come from the starters. One Virginia Tech defensive back, Macho Harris, has
as many interceptions as the entire UVA secondary. They aren’t big playmakers.

Chris Cook (6-2, 201, Jr.) is their top player in the secondary. Cook is a
good, instinctive football player who likes to hit. However, he doesn’t have the
best hips in the world. He’s more suited for the safety position. Quicker
receivers in the open field, such as Eddie Royal, give him trouble. We saw that
last season in the Tech-UVA game, when Royal beat Cook for a key touchdown.

Vic Hall (5-9, 181, So.) is the other starting corner. Hall is getting
significant playing time for the first time this season, and he’s still getting
his feet wet. He is a very good athlete, but he was an offensive player in high
school, and he’s still adjusting to the defensive side of the ball. Look for the
Hokies to go after him with Justin Harper and Josh Morgan.

Backup cornerbacks Ras-I Dowling (6-2, 180, Fr.) and Mike Parker (6-2, 195,
r-Fr.) have also seen plenty of action for UVA. They are young players, but they
have more upside at the position than the guys ahead of them. Dowling is tied
for the team lead in interceptions (2) and passes broken up (7). UVA will use
Dowling and Parker in nickel and dime sets.

Three safeties see significant action. The starters are Byron Glaspy (5-11,
196, Jr.) and Nate Lyles (6-0, 199, Sr.). They are good, solid players. Lyles
likes to get up around the line of scrimmage and hit people. He’s not afraid to
mix it up. Jamaal Jackson (6-3, 219, Sr.) will also see action. He is easily the
biggest member of the UVA secondary.

UVA has a good defense, but even the staunchest Hoo has to admit that they
haven’t been challenged much this year, especially when you consider the
following table.

Offenses Opposing UVA


Total Offense
National Rank











Middle Tennessee






NC State


Wake Forest






Not exactly murderer’s row. The Hoos only played one team ranked in the top 85
in total offense this year. Five of their 11 opponents have been ranked 100 or

Virginia Tech hasn’t faced dominating offensive opponents, but the total
offense national rank average of Tech’s opponents is 69.9, almost 30 spots ahead
of UVA. Eight of Tech’s opponents ranked in the top 85 total offense, whereas
UVA only faced one foe in the top 85.

So UVA’s defense is good, but there are plenty of defenses out there that
would rank as high as the Cavaliers, if they played that kind of competition.

All that said, the UVA defense is physically strong and tough up front, so
the Hokies will have to play well to move the ball against them.

UVA Special Teams

When you compare the stats of the special teams for each squad, it appears
that Virginia Tech has the overall advantage. If they can prove it on the field
on Saturday, the Hokies should be in good shape on the scoreboard.

Special Teams Comparison





Nat’l Rank


Nat’l Rank

Net Punting





Kickoff Returns





Punt Returns





Kick Return Defense





Punt Return Defense





The Hokies hold the advantage in every category except kickoff returns, and as
we’ve discussed before, kickoff returns are a skewed stat. Opponents have kicked
short to the Tech fullbacks on seven occasions this year, greatly decreasing
Tech’s return average.

Still, don’t let the stats fool you. The Hoos have good ability on special
teams. They blocked a Miami punt in their 48-0 victory in the Orange Bowl. Vic
Hall is averaging 10.4 yards per punt return. He’s dangerous with the ball in
his hands.

Virginia has a very good, clutch kicker in Chris Gould. Gould is 15-of-19 on
the season, with a long of 51. He has had one field goal blocked. Virginia
Tech’s Jud Dunlevy is 17-of-20 on the year, with a long of 52. If it comes down
to a game of field goals, it should be an even matchup.


A lot is being made about UVA having a bye week, and how much it could help
them in their preparations. Let’s go back to the 1996 season. The Hokies closed
the year by facing three top 25 teams … Miami, West Virginia and Virginia.
Tech had to face the Canes, Mountaineers and Virginia in three consecutive
weeks, and all three of those teams had a bye week before facing the Hokies.

In fact, Virginia had an extra week to prepare for Tech, and since the game
was played on a Friday, the Hokies were playing the Hoos just six days after
facing West Virginia and the #1 ranked defense in the nation.

The result of that killer stretch? 3-0, with three double-digit victories.
Except for the Miami game, none of those games were all that competitive. Tech
whipped a UVA team with a lot of big-name players 26-9 in the final game,
despite having a short week to prepare, and despite the Hoos having an extra
week to prepare.

This Virginia Tech team reminds me of that 1996 team. The offensive line is
starting to come together. They are big and strong, just like that 1996 line.
The Hokies are getting good quarterback play. And as usual, opposing teams are
struggling to score. Tech has steamrolled three straight teams with plenty of
talent in Georgia Tech, Florida State and Miami. They are peaking, exactly as
they did at this point in 1996.

There’s not much that can stop an outstanding football team that’s on a roll,
as those four teams found out back in 1996.

I give Virginia all the credit in the world for their successful season. They
are a good, clutch football team, with probably the best individual defensive
lineman in the nation. However, they don’t have the overall team speed or talent
level of the Hokies, especially defensively.

The Hoos could end up winning this football game. However, Virginia Tech’s
A-game is better than UVA’s A-game. And I haven’t seen anything to indicate that
the Hokies won’t bring their A-game to Charlottesville on Saturday.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 24, UVA 13

Will Stewart’s Take: I was surprised to see the information on the 2004
game, which featured a #16-against-#11 matchup, with the ACC title in the
balance. The Cavaliers were 8-2 (5-2 ACC), and the Hokies were 8-2 (5-1 ACC),
both firmly in the 2004 title chase with Miami.

Why was I surprised to see that? Because I’d forgotten how big the game was.
I don’t remember worrying about it much at all, and I remember being confident
that the Hokies were going to win. Tech did, of course (24-10), and went on to
win the 2004 ACC title.

That sent me back to the archives, and our preview for that game, where I
found I had written the following paragraphs:

You can throw around stats and schemes all you want, but I think that more
often than not, the outcome of this game comes down to simple momentum. I
think momentum determines the outcome of a lot of games in November, and since
this rivalry has almost always been played in November in recent times,
momentum has been a big key.

The Hokies, as you know, have a lot of positive momentum right now. Six
straight wins, no turnovers for the last two games, a defense playing at its
peak, a blossoming offense, a jacked up fan base — all have contributed to a
team on a roll.

Replace “six straight wins” with “eight wins in the last nine
games,” and that second paragraph describes this year’s Hokies. For the
record, the “jacked up fan base” is also irrelevant for this game,
since it’s a road game. Having said that, the 2007 Hokies remind me of the 2004
Hokies as they approach the finish line.

I’m eerily confident about this game. I say “eerily” because
Virginia is 9-2, knows how to win, and is playing at home. They shouldn’t be
taken lightly or counted as a win. But when you get right down to it, if the
Hokies bring their “A” game, I don’t see any way the Cavaliers can
knock them off.

UVa’s got a good defense, but Virginia Tech’s is better, and the Hokies have
more weapons on offense than the Cavaliers do, mostly at the wide receiver
position. Virginia’s offense has the edge over VT’s offense at the tight end
position, but as a TSL message board poster pointed out the other day, UVa’s
tight ends have only caught five passes in the last three matchups, following
the 2003 Heath Miller 13-catch debacle. The Hokies revamped their defense after
that season and are much better equipped to defend the tight end, and the
passing game in general.

I trust the Hokie coaches to come up with a good game plan (Bud Foster versus
Mike Groh is a mismatch), and I trust the players to carry it out. The only
concern for the Hokies is coming to play and not turning the ball over. If Tech
plays hard and doesn’t set UVa up with short fields, this matchup favors VT in
almost every phase of the game.

In honor of the 2004 game, I’m predicting …

Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 24, Virginia 10

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