Virginia Tech-Virginia Preview: Hokies’ Streaks On The Line Against the Hoos

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Virginia Tech-Virginia Preview
Bronco Mendenhall has the Hoos bowl eligible for the second straight season. (Photo by Ivan Morozov)

It’s been a long season for Virginia Tech, and a good one for UVA. The Hokies are 4-6 overall, losers of four straight games and five of their last six, while the Hoos are 7-4 overall, 4-3 in the ACC, and heading to a bowl game.

It’s already been a very good season for UVA, when you consider their recent history of football. Beating Virginia Tech and ending their 14-game losing streak against the Hokies would be icing on the cake. Ending Virginia Tech’s bowl streak in the process would be pure bliss for their fanbase, who have had to endure a lot of bad football in the last decade-plus.

Try to imagine if the shoe were on the other foot for a moment. Imagine if Virginia Tech had lost to Virginia for 14 straight seasons. Imagine where your mind would be heading into this game, knowing that this was your best shot to beat your in-state rivals in 15 years. I’d be so ready for the game that I don’t even think I could enjoy my Thanksgiving meal.

I can’t even mention how the Virginia players feel. Back at ACC Football Kickoff in July, UVA players Olamide Zaccheaus and Chris Peace said that the Hoos had two goals this year: to go to a bowl game, and to beat Virginia Tech. They have already qualified for the bowl, and now they are favorites to beat the Hokies on the road. Those guys up the road know they are really close to accomplishing all of their goals for the season. The Hokies are going to get their absolute best effort.

When Ricky Walker was told of what Zaccheaus and Peace said, he had a simple response: “L-O-L,” he said to the media. That seemed pretty accurate at the time, but not so much these days.

Let’s take a closer look at Virginia and how they were able to get to this point.

Bryce Perkins
Bryce Perkins has made the UVA offense go in 2018 (Photo by Mike Ingalls,

Bryce Perkins: The Man Who Makes the Offense Go

Last year’s Virginia starting quarterback, Kurt Benkert, was a good player. In fact, he’s on the Atlanta Falcons practice squad right now. However, he wasn’t the quarterback the Hoos needed. UVA only had one decent running back on the roster, they had just one trustworthy wide receiver, and a subpar offensive line.

Despite those limitations, Benkert still put up pretty good numbers on the whole, but against good competition, such as Virginia Tech’s defense at the end of the season, he got Sean Glennoned. For the season, he threw for 3,207 yards, with 25 touchdowns and nine interceptions. His day against the Hokies didn’t go quite so well. He was 17-of-34 for 186 yards, he was sacked four times, and he totaled -6 rushing yards.

Outside of Olamide Zaccheaus, Virginia Tech just didn’t have to worry about many UVA offensive threats. The Hokies had them outmatched everywhere in talent and experience, and Benkert couldn’t run. All they had to do was go after him and make him uncomfortable, and it was an easy shutout.

Virginia’s offense is much different this year thanks to the arrival of junior college transfer Bryce Perkins (6-3, 210, r-Jr.). Perkins originally began his career at Arizona State, but he got hurt and went the JUCO route. Bronco Mendenhall made a great decision to recruit him and change the dynamics of the Virginia offense.

Perkins has good size, and he’s a difficult player to tackle. He’s also a good decision maker in the option game. He’s run for 730 yards and nine touchdowns on the season, while averaging 4.2 yards per carry. Take out the sacks (UVA’s offensive line still isn’t great), and he has 144 carries for 925 yards, averaging 6.4 yards per carry. He is by far the most difficult running threat the Hokies have faced at the quarterback position thus far in 2018.

Jordan Ellis
Jordan Ellis (Photo by Kris Wright,

The emergence of Perkins has made UVA tailback Jordan Ellis (5-10, 225, Sr.) a better player, too. Let’s compare his 2017 stats to his 2018 numbers…

2017: 215 carries, 836 yards, 3.9 ypc, 6 TDs, 3.6 highlight yards per opportunity
2018: 177 carries, 868 yards, 4.9 ypc, 8 TDs, 3.5 highlight yards per opportunity

Ellis’ highlight yards per opportunity (an advanced stat that tries to show how many yards a running back is responsible for, as opposed to the offensive line) is actually down this year, but his yards per carry has taken a huge increase because the offensive is functioning much better. Perkins has impacted the offensive improvement more than anyone else.

Passing Downs: Virginia’s Weakness

Virginia’s offense has struggled in situations where the defense knows they are going to throw the football. Part of that is because Bryce Perkins isn’t the most natural passer in the world, and part of it is because the Hoos still lack quality depth at wide receiver.

Here are UVA’s national rankings on passing downs this year…

Passing Downs S&P+: No. 126
Passing Downs Marginal Efficiency: No. 107
Passing Downs Marginal Explosiveness: No. 114
Passing Downs Sack Rate: No. 103

On standard downs, their offense ranks No. 44 in the S&P+, so there’s a big difference. The key for Virginia Tech’s defense will be making sure they keep Virginia’s offense in passing down situations. Passing downs are the following situations: Second-and-8 or more, third-and-5 or more, or fourth-and-5 or more.

Virginia’s passing game is ineffective enough that the offense can be stopped cold when you get them into passing downs. However, the offense is difficult to handle in less predictable situations, and the running ability of Bryce Perkins has a lot to do with that. They can hit you with the traditional running game, the read option, or the passing game on standard downs. That’s tough on a young defense, or any defense for that matter.

Olamide Zaccheaus
Olamide Zaccheaus (Photo by Mike Ingalls,

The Playmaker

Virginia isn’t a team that is going to impress folks with their playmaking ability on offense. In fact, they rank No. 92 nationally in IsoPPP, which is an advanced metric that determines an offense’s big play ability. In the “Bill Walsh Stats” they also have a very low ranking in big plays, ranking No. 95 in Big Play Rate, which measures an offenses ability to generate plays of 20+ yards. The Hoos were able to do that on just 6.7% of their plays this year.

That said, UVA will be facing a Virginia Tech defense that ranks No. 94 nationally in Big Play Rate at 8.6%. It’s like the movable object vs. the resistible force.

The UVA player who scares Tech fans the most, besides Bryce Perkins, is wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus (5-8, 190, Sr.). He has 78 receptions for 923 yards and six touchdowns, and he also has 15 carries for 73 yards. He’s completed a pass for nine yards. The UVA coaching staff makes it a point to get him the ball in a variety of ways, and at different spots on the field.

If any UVA skill position player is likely to have a big game against the Hokies on Friday, it’s Zaccheaus.

The UVA Defense: A Mix of Experience and Youth

It’s very possible for young players to play well on the defensive side of the ball, even if you have multiple young starters. However, they need to be surrounded by a solid group of veteran starters who are capable of playing at a good level. That’s what Virginia’s young defensive players have had this year that Virginia Tech’s young defensive players have lacked…an experienced group around them.

Aaron Faumui
Aaron Faumui (Photo by Mike Ingalls,

Virginia runs a 3-man front on defense, and two of their three starting defensive linemen are true freshmen.

LE Aaron Faumui (6-1, 280, Fr.): A 3-star recruit from Hawaii, Faumui has started three games for the Hoos all year, and appeared in 11.

DT Jordan Redmond (6-0, 320, Fr.): Redmond was named a Midseason Freshman All-American by ESPN.

There are also other freshmen in the two-deep on the defensive line.

DE Tommy Christ (6-5, 285, r-Fr.): Christ, out of Dominion HS in Sterling, VA has started one game so far in his young career, and he had a sack last week against Georgia Tech.

I was an advocate of Virginia Tech offering Christ as either a defensive tackle or offensive lineman, because I thought he was a “pure football player.” Here was my full quote on Christ from that linked article…

“Before I catch any flak for ranking a VT commit like Rayshard Ashby higher than anyone else does, please note that I’m doing the same thing for UVA commit Tommy Christ. Christ would be a tweener for the Hokies. He’s probably too big for end, and maybe too tall for tackle. Offensive line could end up being his best position. But I think he’s a pure football player, and I wish the Hokies had offered.”

It remains to be seen how productive Christ’s career will be, but knowing what I know about Virginia Tech’s defensive tackles, I wish more than ever that the Hokies had offered.

Virginia is lacking depth up front right now, and those freshmen wouldn’t be getting as many reps were it not for those injuries. Only five defensive linemen are listed in the Virginia two-deep, with Faumui listed as a starter at left end and the primary backup at right end. Eli Hanback (6-4, 300, Jr.) has been Virginia’s best lineman, but he’s been banged up, as has defensive end Mandy Alonso (6-2, 290, So.). Hanback is listed as a starter for this week’s game, but Alonso is out for the season.

Charles Snowden
Charles Snowden (Photo by Mike Ingalls,

However, the Hoos have experience at other spots on defense. Junior linebacker Jordan Mack (6-2, 230) and senior linebacker Chris Peace (6-1, 250) have plenty of experience, and are good players. Peace in particular has 10 tackles for loss and six sacks. Sophomore linebacker Charles Snowden (6-7, 225) has 7.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. He and Peace are arguably UVA’s best run stuffers.

In the secondary, strong safety Juan Thornhill (6-0, 210, Sr.) is a great football player who has five interceptions this year, and 12 for his career. If I could pick one player from UVA’s team to play for the Hokies, besides Bryce Perkins, I would pick Thornhill. Cornerback Tim Harris (6-1, 205, Sr.) is a solid player with plenty of experience as well, being a sixth-year senior.

UVA’s defense ranks No. 35 nationally in S&P+ defense, but as the injuries have mounted, they are showing some weaknesses in stopping the run. Here are their numbers against the run in their last three games…

Pitt: 42 carries, 254 yards, 6 ypc
Liberty: 44 carries, 205 yards, 4.7 ypc
GT: 52 carries, 268 yards, 5.2 ypc

It’s understandable to have tough days against Pitt and Georgia Tech, but even Liberty found success on the ground, and the Flames rank No. 113 in the country in S&P+ rushing offense.

Virginia Tech took advantage of the Hoos up front last year, bludgeoning Virginia to death in the 10-0 win. Here were Tech’s top rushers from that game…

Steven Peoples: 22 carries, 71 yards, 3.2 ypc
Deshawn McClease: 13 carries, 71 yards, 5.5 ypc
Josh Jackson: 8 carries, 38 yards, 4.8 ypc
Jalen Holston: 3 carries, 17 yards, 5.7 ypc
Totals: 46 carries, 197 yards, 4.3 ypc

I see Virginia being susceptible to the same kind of gameplan at this point in the 2018 season, but do the Hokies have the personnel to pull it off? It’s well-known at this point that Ryan Willis struggles to make the proper reads in the read option, and without an effective read option game it’s tough for the Hokies to run the football. Quincy Patterson has only played three games this year, so he can play this Friday and still redshirt. I’d be seriously tempted to give the Hoos a heavy dose of Patterson and Peoples to try to shorten the game, keep it low scoring, and keep the young VT defense off the field.

Virginia Tech-Virginia Final Thoughts

It’s human nature for people to remember where they were, what they were doing, and intricate details of their surroundings when something big happens. I know plenty of you remember what you were doing when we landed on the moon, or when the Berlin Wall came down, or whatever.

I remember where I was the last time UVA beat Virginia Tech, and I even remember some of the intricate details of my surroundings. I remember a UVA fan a few rows in front of me brought in an entire bottle of bourbon, and by late in the game, he was completely hammered and got escorted from the stadium. It’s been tough on UVA fans, not being able to see their team beat the Hokies since 2003. For that guy, it’s even worse…he hasn’t seen the Hoos beat Tech since 1998!

I wasn’t even old enough to buy a beer that day. That’s how long it’s been. Virginia Tech has dominated the rivalry, and there have been plenty of blowouts in the Hokies’ favor. There have also been a few really close games that could have gone either way, such as 2012, 2014 and 2015. Those three games showed us that it wasn’t impossible to lose to UVA. They could have won any of the three, if they were a little bit better coached, in my opinion.

Well, they are better coached now. For all his eccentricities, Bronco Mendenhall knows how to coach football, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. He also made the terrific decision to go out and get a JUCO quarterback who could run the read option. Perkins has covered up weaknesses with running back depth and wide receiver depth, and probably offensive line talent as well. It’s very similar to what Jerod Evans did for the Virginia Tech offense back in 2016, except Evans had Isaiah Ford, Cam Phillips and Bucky Hodges around him.

Here’s an interesting little fact about Virginia: The Hoos haven’t won the week following their Georgia Tech game since 2007, the year before Paul Johnson arrived in Atlanta. Sometimes, that Yellow Jacket offense can beat you twice. In case you’re wondering, UVA played Georgia Tech last week and lost 30-27. If history since 2008 holds true, they will lose again on Friday. On the other hand, probably a bigger factor in that statistic is the fact that Virginia was simply a bad football team in most of those seasons. They aren’t a bad football team this year. Almost every single metric that we can use as a comparison indicates that they are better than the Hokies. Therefore, I don’t think their history of losing post-Georgia Tech has any bearing on this week’s game. Justin Fuente is also 3-0 against Bronco Mendenhall in his career, as well as 4-1 against him as an assistant, but I just don’t know if those numbers matter this time around.

I think Virginia Tech has a chance to beat Virginia yet again. The Hoos have had a very good season, but they still have enough holes that if the Hokies play to the best of their ability, the Commonwealth Cup will stay in Blacksburg. But when is the last time Tech played to the best of its ability for four quarters of football? The answer is September 29 in a 31-14 victory at Duke. That seems like ages ago. It’s been so long since we’ve seen this team play well that I can’t in good conscience pick them to win a football game against a Power 5 team with a pulse. Not even their in-state rivals, whom they haven’t lost to since 2003.

Chris’s Prediction: Virginia 24, Virginia Tech 20

Even with the way Virginia Tech’s season has gone, I’m a little surprised at what looks like a blanket assumption by Hokie fans that Virginia is going to win. I don’t see it.

Can Virginia win? Sure, they’ve got a great shot. Spring a few big plays on the Hokies, hold Tech to under 30 points (like everyone else does), and have Bryce Perkins “Kelly Bryant” the Hokies in this fashion – check out the two plays that start at the 40-second mark in particular:

(That video doesn’t even include the play where he escaped Emmanuel Belmar and Andrew Motupuaka on a big play down near his own goal line — huge omission by the editor.)

That’s how the Cavaliers can win, and if it happens in that fashion, no one will be surprised.

You are what your record says you are, and Virginia’s 7-4 record says they’re better than the Hokies’ 4-6. But here’s something to think about. I put this on our subscriber board earlier today:

“Food for thought: VT maturity vs. ACC opponent maturity.

VT is currently starting five seniors (Chung, Pfaff, Nijman, Peoples and Ricky Walker), and the Hokies only have six scholarship seniors left on the entire roster. Mihota is the other senior, and he may or may not start vs. UVA — the official depth chart says Hewitt will start, but VT’s published depth charts lately are best used serving the same function as a role of Charmin.

Among conference opponents VT has played so far ….

The losses (Pitt, GT, BC, Miami): Pitt started 12 seniors. GT started 13 seniors. BC started 14 seniors. Miami only started 7 seniors.

The wins (FSU, Duke, UNC): FSU only started 7 seniors. Duke started 7 seniors. UNC started 4 seniors.

Yes, “maturity” is more nuanced than this, but just looking at the number of senior starters, VT has lost the games they should lose, and has won the games where the other teams were also low on senior starters. Miami’s the only outlier, and they also have one of the best units in the ACC — their defense is ranked 3rd in the country and also features a trio of three-year junior starters at linebacker.

Virginia starts 8 seniors.”

In the case of Boston College in particular, the Hokies have run into a perfect storm where they’re young, but some of their opponents are senior-laden. Virginia is not. Will it matter? We’ll see.

Virginia Tech has got to stop Bryce Perkins from running all over them, on both designed runs and scrambles. If the Hokies can force Virginia into passing downs, Tech’s chances to get off the field on defense improve. As Chris detailed above, the Hokies might be able to run on the Hoos. They almost have to, if they want to extend the streak to 15 years. But pinning your hopes on the Hokies running the ball well is dicey.

This is going to be a huge challenge, and I’m not sure where Virginia Tech’s leadership and playmaking is going to come from, but as I said in Monday Thoughts, I’m going down swinging.

Which in my case means I’m picking the Hokies to win, because that’s about all I can do when it comes to this game. The rest is up to the players and coaches.

Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 21, Virginia 17

I will say this: if VT wins this one, I think UVA Nation’s collective heads might explode.

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43 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Call it pride, call it being fed up, but today something clicks. We dig deep. Not sure how it happens or who steps up and makes a play, and it most certainly won’t be pretty, but the streak continues: Hokies 27-23.

  2. We need a fast start from the offense. If we can get a 2 score lead we can force UVa to throw the ball more. We haven’t had a 2 score lead at anytime since Duke. A 2 score lead would have significantly change the ND, GT, and BC games but everytime we had a chance the offense (or STs) made a mistake.

  3. Interesting quote/perspective from the Crapalier Scissors website,

    Tech has won the last 14 games, dating back to 2003. For many, this simply hasn’t been a competitive rivalry and Virginia fans have been conditioned to expect the worse in the yearly matchup.

    This year’s matchup between Virginia and Virginia Tech is different though, for a plethora of reasons. For trend-analyzers, both Bronco Mendenhall and Justin Fuente inherited their respective programs in 2016. Since then, UVA has posted a better record every year…while Tech has posted a worse record every year. The Hokies are on a four-game slide, with their last win being a last-minute comeback against the now 2-8 UNC Tar Heels.

  4. The odds of a better team beating a worse team 14 times in a row are still very small. And this year we aren’t even the better team. Against our five common Coastal opponents UVA was 3 – 2. We were 2 – 3. That doesn’t sound that bad until you look at the combined scores. UVA 115-101, VT 117-172. They were competitive in both of their losses. We weren’t even close in ours. I just don’t think we have the talent this year. I don’t think we can stop an offense with a decent running game for 4 quarters. And they have shown to be stronger defensively holding our common opponents to 20 pts/game while we gave up 34. To win I think we will have to be just plain lucky. They will have to make consequential mistakes (maybe even fumble on the 1 yard line on the way into the end zone for a TD) and we will have make none. The odds for a 15th consecutive win are miniscule. But, against UVA we have beaten huge odds winning 14 in a row. So, by some miracle, maybe we can do it again. I’ll be anxiously watching, hoping for more than one half of good football.

    1. My apologies to HolidayInn Hokie who made a similar analysis on the common opponents scores. I had not read all the comments. No intent to plagiarize.

  5. The problem is these kids have no clue about how important the rivalry is to us. Hell, Willis is from the freakin Midwest. All the young bucks have nobody to instill the rivalry and hatred in their brains all week bc our seniors “aren’t vocal”.

    We lose due to no effort or emotion per usual, outside of 32 and 4.

  6. 50 degree weather and uva wins, but it will be cold and probably windy so VT will prevail due to the weather conditions. Will’s score prediction sounds about right to me.

  7. Will-I give you credit for being a loyal Tech fan, but…nothing, and I mean NOTHING, that has happened over the last 4 weeks points to the Hokies having a chance in this game. You just aren’t being realistic.

    1. I agree, Will please do not be a “homer.” How can you actually believe that we will beat UVa. Could a win happen, maybe, but our team with ZERO emotion will get beat by 10+. All year, in Hoo-ville, it has been “Beat Tech” and our coach has said we are improving and future is bright. He is delusional!

      Perkins will kill us and the Cavs will “pound their rock”! Sad!!!

  8. If Patterson plays please let him unleash that cannon arm. He’s a qb let him throw and scrabble if it’s not open. Give him a few simple reads maybe flood a zone or a short and long route combo and surprise everyone then you can use him as a battering ram after he completes a pass or two. Go Hokies! Keep that streak alive.

  9. Win or lose the end result will be positive ! Win and the streak goes to 15 in a row, (positive).
    Lose and we get rid of several coaches, including the O.C., (positive).

  10. I see Records broke in this Game. UVA will set records like all other ACC teams that came to Lane this season. Corny has just this last game this season for him And Fuente to Shoot the rest of their toes off in offensive play calling. And Bud, has the sun set here ?? Lot of things this season had No Reason to happen. I will be there to watch… PS… God Bless the Officials..

  11. Bold prediction, Will.

    I’m going to be quasi-analytical about this. I view UVA’s overall quality as somewhere between Pitt, Miami, and GT. Against those teams VT gave up 52, 38, and 49, for an average of 46. So let’s go with that. I’ll shave a point off to make it a more realistic scoring sequence. UVA gets 45 (eesh!)

    Against those same 3 teams, VT has scored 22, 14, and 28, for an average of 21. But I have this weird sense that the VT offense is going to turn up the wick a little bit on Friday and get an “extra” touchdown somewhere along the line. Maybe UVA is giddy and gives up a cheap TD. Maybe they’re just nice at the end. So that’s 28. I’m also going to go ahead and predict that VT finally…..FINALLY…..gets a defensive or special teams score. Not sure how or why. Just a gut instinct. A nod to legacy BeamerBall. So that makes 35 for VT, but I’ll shave one off to account for a missed extra point or two FGs instead of a touchdown. 34 it is.

    Maybe it’s even still a teeny, weeny in doubt midway through the 3rd quarter. Maybe.

    Prediction: UVA 45, VT 34.

  12. What has not been mentioned is that Perkins has a very tender injured ankle from last week.He went out of the game but returned. We need Walker to pummel him 2-3 times and he may fold like a tent..and have a SPY on him which is a virtual certainty….Bud will hit him early and often…..without him they are worse than us…

    I unlike others, am not worried about our defense. What bothers me most is what offensive imagination that we have. We will have to score 30 plus to win. If playing Quincy Paterson in strict running plays is the plan, we might as well not show up….that is ridiculous imho.He simply isn’t ready and one can only pray he is our “ great QB hope” for the future….what has hurt us more than any single thing over the last 10;years is the lack of a truly good QB….can you say Tyrod Taylor…

    I do think we can win but if we have lots of stupid penalties and third and long situations, we lose by 3 scores…

  13. Adjustments need to happen and streaks need to end.Live it, learn it. We are ranked highly on BB so lets root for them! We are a basketball school now!

  14. UVA plays smart but they are beatable. If Tech gives a BC effort in regards to hustle, chasing the ball, tackling and manning the receivers, while generating some pressure on Perkins, we will win. Mark it!!!!!

  15. we are due to play 4 quarters of football which is something we have not done in the last 6 games.
    if we have the D play to its potential with healthy players Hokies will win.
    we are at home which will help us . Although we have not played well at home this year. !!
    Times are changing and our FB team needs to put it together . Willis has 300 yd day passing with our receivers back.
    I liked Will’s perspective too ; Go Hokies ; 31 Tech…………………21 HOOS> !!
    PS I know we have been hold the Governors cup for 14 years and it is heavy, but we can hold it one more year.

  16. How many VT players will transfer at half time? I put the over under at 6. Fuente has lost this team and we are done. Possibly for a few years.

  17. Willis plays well, don’t sub him out (silly move). Offense will be fine. Defense is the question, but they will step it up and we’ll squeak by with a 21-17 win. I have nothing to base this on.

  18. Will, I thought you said some time back, If Tech doesn’t score 30 or more points, they wouldn’t win another game.

  19. Eliminating stupid penalties would help. Youngsters with attitude and confidence issues against a trash talking group of 14 year losers….not confident.

  20. If this is the year we lose, then I would rather it be with a young team than a team that is loaded with NFL players.

  21. the only way for VT to win is to make this a shootout. first one to 50 wins. Since the offense is unlikely to do this….that means….I can’t even say it.

  22. Not to be a jerk, but we need to go back to the old wide tackle six days when we would abuse opposing QB’s and knock Perkins out of the game. Oh yea, UVA sucks and I have 3 Wahoo fans coming to my house tomorrow for Thanksgiving. Hopefully, I’ll be serving crow next year.

  23. SPY Perkins every down. EVERY down. Put a Nickel/Whip in there EVERY play. Don’t let him beat you w his legs.

  24. I just hope VT plays smart, hard football and does not feel the need to get desperate with trickery. It will only dig the hole deeper. Run the ball to death and try to keep our O on the field and our D as fresh as possible.

    1. uva basher ! if you watched the ODU game you would see how ODU beat us……… few lucky plays and a very poor plays by us……… 3 poor officiated plays ………. and poor coaching. . they were lucky but deserved the win. so to use the ODU game as a comparison is not a good reason.

      1. I don’t think ODU got lucky. The only thing that may have helped ODU some was the humidity that day but that’s an excuse. ODU soundly outplayed us. Their WR’s, QB & RB dominated our defense.
        In a rivalry game anything can happen but my guess is the best we could do is a 4 point win. Unfortunately, UVA could beat us by 17.

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