- Virginia Tech-Virginia, 3:30 PM, ABC
- Spread: Virginia -4.5 (per VegasInsider.com)
- Virginia Tech-Virginia rostercard: Click here
- Game notes from Hokiesports: Click here
- Blacksburg, VA Weather: Click here
- Gameday information: Click here
- Tickets from StubHub:
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: 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.