UVA Game Preview: Hokies vs. Hoos For The Coastal Division

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Virginia Tech and UVA meet Friday for the 101st time. The Hokies lead the series 58-37-5. (Jon Fleming)
  • Virginia Tech vs. UVA: Noon, ABC
  • Virginia Tech vs. UVA Betting Line: VT-2.5
  • Virginia Tech-UVA roster cards: Click here
  • Game notes from Hokiesports: Click here
  • Charlottesville weather: Click here
  • Gameday information: Click Here
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No. 23 Virginia Tech heads to Charlottesville to take on UVA in a battle for the Commonwealth Cup, the Coastal Division, and potentially a spot in the Orange Bowl.

Rarely has a game between the Hokies and Hoos meant so much, but there have been two other occasions during “the streak” that Tech and UVA have battled for the Coastal Division crown on the final weekend of the regular season.  Both of those games took place in Scott Stadium, as will Friday’s matchup.

In 2007, No. 8 Virginia Tech beat No. 16 Virginia 33-21, with the Hokies scoring 10 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to turn a close game into a comfortable win.  In 2011, Tech entered the game No. 6 with UVA ranked No. 24, and the game turned into a total rout with the Hokies winning 38-0.

Virginia Tech fans would take either result this year.  UVA is 8-3 and just outside the top 25.  The Hoos were picked to win the Coastal Division in the preseason, and though their defense has slipped over the last month, Bryce Perkins and the offense are finally starting to pick things up, albeit against less than stellar defensive competition.  The Hokies are a 2.5-point favorite according to most bookies right now.

On balance, UVA is the best team that Virginia Tech has faced since they played Notre Dame in South Bend.  Let’s take a closer look at Friday’s competition.

Bryce Perkins Virginia
Virginia’s Bryce Perkins, here being pursued by Virginia Tech’s Rayshard Ashby in last year’s game (Jon Fleming)

Virginia Offensive Strengths: Quarterback and Receivers

The UVA offense is led by senior quarterback Bryce Perkins (6-3, 215), though yis numbers are down from his junior season.  His completion percentage and yards are virtually identical, but last year he threw 25 touchdown passes and nine interceptions, while this year he’s thrown just 15 touchdowns and eight picks, which has dropped his quarterback rating about 16 points.  He’s also rushed for 400 fewer yards than a year ago, and his yards per carry average has dropped from 4.4 to 3.0.

Don’t let those numbers fool you, though.  Perkins is a very capable player.  He took a beating early in the season, but he’s gotten healthier as UVA’s schedule has lightened up.  He should be as healthy right now as he’s been sine early September.

To stop the UVA offense, it’s imperative that the Hokies stop Perkins.  They must especially stop him running the football, though he can also be dangerous through the air when he gets time.  He is a good runner on designed plays, but he’s especially effective scrambling.  He’s a strong runner whom the Hokies must not attempt to arm tackle.

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Perkins does have his weaknesses, however.  He’s not a dynamic passer.  Per Pro Footbal Focus, his “big-time throw” rate of 1.6% is dead last of all ACC quarterbacks.  His accuracy rate on throws 20+ yards downfield is just 20.9%, which is also last in the ACC. His “turnover worthy plays” rate of 5% is No. 11 out of 14 starting ACC quarterbacks, which means he’ll do something bad once every 20 plays or so.  At that rate, Tech will have about three chances to turn him over during the course of the game, and it will be very important that they take advantage.

Perkins has three solid wide receivers to work with in Terrell Jana (6-0, 190, Jr.), Hasise Dubois (6-3, 215, Sr.) and Joe Reed (6-1, 215, Sr.).  Reed had a big game against the Hokies last year, with four catches for 119 yards and two touchdowns.  He is the most talented, though perhaps the most underutilized, of all the UVA receivers.  Last year he averaged 18.6 yards per catch and was the Hoos’ top big play threat.  This year he seems to be more of an outlet receiver.  He’s caught 65 passes, but has averaged just 8.6 yards per reception.  Reed will primarily line up in the slot (64.6%), so you would expect UVA to try and get him matched up against whip linebacker Chamarri Conner.

That said, Virginia Tech’s corners are a very good matchup here.  Caleb Farley ranks No. 6 of all Power 5 cornerbacks according to PFF, with Jermaine Waller No. 15.  In pure pass coverage, Farley ranks No. 1 in the country, with Waller No. 11.  Opponents have completed just 37.8% of their passes against Waller (No. 5 in the country) and 38% against Farley (No. 6 in the country.)  UVA’s receivers are solid, but in the only other game where they faced cornerbacks arguably this good (Pitt) Reed, Jana and Dubois averaged only 9.1 yards per reception.

Caleb Farley
Caleb Farley (Jon Fleming)

I think UVA’s passing game will struggle to be consistent against the Hokies, provide Tech’s safeties continue to play as well as they have the last few weeks.  I think the key to this game defensively is stopping Perkins in the running game.  If he can’t run the football, the UVA offense isn’t likely to have much success against the Tech defense.

Offensive Weakness: The Offensive Line

Though they’ve performed better recently, UVA’s weakness all year has been offensive line play, particularly offensive tackle play.  Out of 33 ACC offensive tackles who have played 300+ snaps, UVA left tackle Bobby Haskins (6-7, 285, So.) ranks No. 27, with right tackle Dillon Reinkensmeyer (6-6, 300, Jr.) ranking No. 23, according to Pro Football Focus.

Guard play has been solid enough, and center Olusegun Oluwatimi (6-3, 305, So.) has been even better.  However, those interior guys will be going up against a very good defensive tackle trio of DaShawn Crawford, Norell Pollard and Jarrod Hewitt.

Overall, the UVA offensive line ranks No. 10 in pass blocking in the ACC.  UVA has allowed quarterback pressure on 32.6% of passing plays, which is next-to-last in the ACC.  From the standpoint of traditional stats, the Hoos are No. 78 nationally in tackles for loss allowed, and No. 115 in sacks allowed.  The Hokies ranked No. 12 nationally in sacks, so this seems to be an advantage for Virginia Tech, especially with the blitzes that Bud Foster has been dialing up in recent weeks.  Tech needs to hit Perkins early, and hit him often.

Defensive Strength: Up Front

Though they haven’t played as well the last couple of games, the strength of the UVA defense is up front.  The Hoos will use multiple fronts and a lot of exotic blitzes, which can confuse even experienced offensive lines.  The Hokies start two sophomores and three freshmen, including two true freshmen, on the offensive line.  Those guys will see some things they haven’t seen before on Friday, and this is the part of the game where UVA should have the advantage.

The Hoos have been especially good at defensive end and outside linebacker this season.  Here are some of their standouts at this positions…

DE Eli Hanback (6-4, 300, Sr.)
DE Richard Burney (6-4, 275, Sr.)
DE Aaron Faumui (6-1, 285, So.)
OLB Charles Snowden (6-7, 235, Jr.)
OLB Noah Taylor (6-5, 215, So.)
MLB Jordan Mack (6-2, 230, Sr.)

Hanback has 7.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks.  Other than that, the defensive linemen don’t put up huge numbers thanks to the nature of their 3-4 scheme, but linebackers like Charles Snowden (9 TFL, 3 sacks0 and Noah Taylor (10 TFL, 5.5 sacks).

Charles Snowden
Charles Snowden tracks Ryan Willis in last year’s game. (Ivan Morozov)

UVA blitzes a ton, with their 53.2% blitz rate on passing downs No. 1 in the ACC and No. 3 in the country.  They get pressure 43.1% of the time, which is extremely impressive.  To this point Hendon Hooker and the Tech offense have not faced a defense as aggressive as this.  On the other hand, such an aggressive front can be susceptible to big plays off misdirection, which is Virginia Tech’s offensive specialty.  This should be a very intriguing matchup.

Defensive Weakness: The Secondary

Virginia has had a number of injuries in the secondary, but none more important than All-ACC cornerback Bryce Hall.  Fellow cornerback Brenton Nelson was also lost for the season after eight games.  The Hoos don’t have a lot of depth there, and in this past week’s matchup with Liberty, the Flames targeted Heskin Smith (5-11, 175, So.) a whopping 17 times.  They didn’t target anyone else more than seven times.  They completed 10 of those 17 passes for 213 yards and two touchdowns.

Overall, the UVA secondary just hasn’t played well in recent weeks.  Even Georgia Tech’s putrid passing offense lit them up, with James Graham completing 15-of-22 passes for 229 yards, with two touchdowns and an interception.  If you recall, that’s the same guy who went 7-of-14 for 43 yards and two interceptions against the Hokies.  He managed to have a career game in Charlottesville.

Virginia Tech has a clear advantage here with Damon Hazelton, Tre Turner, James Mitchell, Dalton Keene and Tayvion Robinson.

Special Teams

UVA’s special teams have been very good this year, with their units ranking as following according to the FEI special teams metrics…

Overall: No. 1
Field Goal Efficiency: No. 44
Opp. FG Efficiency: No. 5
Kick Return Efficiency: No. 3
Kickoff Efficiency: No. 2
Punt Return Efficiency: No. 17
Punt Efficiency: No. 33

The Hokies can negate UVA’s kickoff return team by continuing to kick the ball through the endzone, while another good game from Oscar Bradburn and the punt coverage team is imperative.

Special teams can be difficult to rank.  The FEI metric has UVA No. 1 and the Hokies No. 26.  However, Pro Football Focus ranks Virginia Tech’s special teams No. 3 in the ACC and Virginia’s No. 6.  I can’t tell that either team has a discernible advantage here.  The Hokies blocked a punt for a touchdown last season, and if either team is able to come away with a big play in the kicking game this week, that could go a long way towards deciding the outcome.

Commonwealth Cup
(Ivan Morozov)

Virginia Tech-Virginia Final Thoughts

Last year I was certain that Virginia was a better team than Virginia Tech, yet the Hokies won the game.  This year I’m confident that the Hokies are the more complete team, and thus better team, but as last year proved the best team doesn’t always win.

Assuming that special teams cancel each other out, I see Virginia Tech’s defense playing very well against the UVA offense.  You like Tech’s cornerbacks against just about any matchup at this point in the season, and though Perkins is a really tough guy whom I have a lot of respect for, I still think his pure quarterbacking skills leave a little bit to be desired.  I think if the Hokies stop the running game, they’ll stop the UVA offense.  In the end, I’ll favor Bud Foster in a matchup with Robert Anae any day of the week, and I’m guessing even the most biased of UVA fans would agree with that.

It’s the other side of the ball where I find things the most interesting.  The UVA defense will blitz, blitz, and blitz some more.  The Hokie offense has been pretty darn good at taking advantage of that type of defense.  I expect we’ll see Tech in some long-yardage situations, but I also expect we’ll see them make some big plays against that aggressive UVA front.

I think Tech is the better team.  My one big concern is the law of averages.  It’s got to get the Hokies at some point, right?  I hope it isn’t this year, because this is a team that deserves to be remembered for their amazing midseason turnaround, not for being the first Tech team to lose to the Hoos in nearly 20 years.

Generally speaking, I always pick the team that I think is better, and over the last month I think things have been trending in Virginia Tech’s direction.

Chris’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 31, UVA 17

Virginia Tech should win this game. The Hokies have the advantage with a more well-rounded offense, and in recent weeks, Tech has been on a roll. They’re peaking at the right time.

Or are they? If Virginia Tech turns in a bad game Friday, then they will have peaked last week, which definitely is not peaking at the right time. “Peaking at the right time” would be sometime around the ACC Championship Game or the Orange Bowl, so that’s yet to be determined.

There isn’t a lot to add to the analysis here. The statistics say that Virginia will not be able to pass downfield against the Hokies, and that will tighten up the field of play and make running the ball more difficult. The Cavaliers might have a hard time getting any offense going.

Bryce Perkins is the wild card there, though. Just because Perkins and the Cavalier receivers have bad downfield passing stats doesn’t mean they won’t get off one or two long ones for touchdowns. Sometimes it happens. Or the Hokies could play perfect defense and give up a long scramble to Perkins.

On the offensive side, the Cavaliers can bring a lot of defensive pressure on the Hokies. So far with Hendon Hooker at QB, Brad Cornelsen has out-schemed aggressive defenses and his offense has taken care of the football. Since Hooker took over against Miami, the Hokies have won turnover margin 13 to 7.

That could change at any time, though, and turnovers and big plays are probably all that can derail Virginia Tech from their Sweet 16th straight win in this rivalry. Eventually it’ll happen, but let’s just hope it doesn’t happen with so much on the line: a Coastal Division championship and probable Orange Bowl trip.

Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 34, Virginia 20

For more, check out today’s podcast video below.

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33 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Chris and Will have picked the last 3 games for the Hokies? Not so sure about wake but the last two for sure. Your writing I find interesting and you are doing a lot of research. This one is a dog fight and how many more years can vt beat uva? I think at least one more year I pray. Go hokies.

  2. We’re a steamroller that will crush them. They’ll come out all fired up but a couple of punches in the kisser will bring them crashing back to earth. I’m channeling me some Cedric Humes here. Go Hokies!!

  3. Always love the stats and in depth analysis but this a backyard brawl. Hoos should have beat us last year. They were the better team. This year we are the better team on their turf. We hold the trump card though with Coach Foster. No player wants to let him down on his farewell tour. Hokies 24 Hoos 17.

  4. My biggest fear is trick plays and major wrinkles because UVA has had so much time to prepare and game plan for us. Hopefully the coaches will have our guys ready and make adjustments like they’ve been doing!

  5. A couple of quirky places will keep Va close. It could end up being an OT game. I’m thinking UNC like. I’m holding my rabbits foot very tight

  6. I feel good about this game because of the way our defense is playing- plus we have too many weapons on offense. I also think that the Pitt defense last week is BETTER than the Hoos at this juncture and certainly MORE physical and aggressive .I have posted before on this, but if you watch a You Tube game wrap up of UVA vs GT, you may feel as optimistic as I do.They could easily have lost that game and looked pedestrian at best.

    HOKIES 31-10

  7. I would think uva will do what Tech did to ND and Wake…..attempt to shorten the game….keep it close run clock and make a play in the 4th Q. Look for a 20-7 Tech win.

  8. enjoyed both articles with two perspectives . like the scores too !
    at issue is controlling the tempo and turnovers
    will be one of best games between UVA and TECH in long time because two good teams.

  9. Chris & Will, would like to see your 14 pt. victory margins, but I don’t expect that. Bronco, his staff and the UVa administration know that if UVa is to beat us, now is the year.. Our team plays 1 senior, UVa starts 7 and our younger players are much better than UVa’s.. I expect to see trick plays from both teams.

    JUST WIN BABY, Sweet 16 sure sounds super nice. GO HOKIES!!!!

  10. My only concern is Joe Reed getting open deep. I agree our corners are really good. But I don’t have the same confidence in the safety’s. If we don’t beat ourselves with penalties and turnovers we win

  11. The hoovers circled this game a year ago and have stated no other game means more than this one. They had a bye week before the Liberty game, essentially giving them 3 weeks to prep for the Hokies. I expect a close, back and forth, hard hitting, low scoring game that will come down to who has the ball last.

  12. It’s correct that the streak can’t last forever. Like Coach Fuente said last year, “You’d better get us this year ’cause we’re gonna be better next year.” He was right, and the better team did not win last year. This year, as Chris says above, Tech is the better team, but sometimes the breaks just go another way. I’m thinking that the momentum, confidence, a QB that rallies the team, and the “send Bud out a winner” mentality is so strong that the Hokies are gonna make it sweet-sixteen. And it’s gonna be sweet. A.H.

  13. The way Bud has resurrected his defense says it all to me. I like the Hokies by double digits. You guys yell loud-I’ll be on a plane during the game. Go Hokies.

  14. No “BUNK” here ! The entire final regulation drive by VT defied the ‘law of averages’. Two VT pass completions that were close to ‘magical’. The fumble in the end zone recovered by Tre. All of these good
    events could easily flip to UVA for 2019. Anything can happen in Friday’s game ! JMO !

  15. I was walking my dogs this evening at Cold Harbor battlefield and an older guy came upon us, saw my VT hat, and said, “35-0 Tech.”

    Therefore, that is my prediction.

  16. Great article! I fully agree with the analysis. Perkins is the wildcard but VTs defense is fast enough to negate his scrambles. VT 27 UVA 10.

  17. The whole “law of averages” thing is bunk. “It’s got to get to the Hokies sometime” simply isn’t true.

    1. It is true, actually.

      Remember that fumble by Steven Peoples into the end zone last year? Very lucky play for VT to recover it. One year, UVA will recover that fumble.

      1. But a football game isn’t in the same category of “averages” is it? You don’t “average” wins and losses. If you’re the better team, you win the majority of the time, not 50/50. Go Hokies

        1. Over a large enough sample size, teams playing games where the final score is decided by 7 points or fewer generally only win about 50% of those games. VT winning all those really close games is unusual. VT winning all the other games where they strap UVA to a rocket and fire them into space isn’t unusual.

        2. Better teams do win a majority of the time but no where close to EVERY time. Teams favored by 5 pts win 60% of the time, 10 pts 70% of the time, 20 pts 90%, etc. UVA could beat us 3 years in a row we would still have beaten them 83% of the time over 18 games which would be considered dominating the series. Of course MLB all-star games have an unusual streakiness to them which is hard to explain for evenly matched teams. So, let’s hope ours continues today.

      2. No, it’s not true.

        Even if you buy “one year, UVA will recover that fumble,” do you have any evidence to suggest that this is that year? Is UVa getting lucky more likely this year than last year? the year before? the 13 years before that? more likely this year than next year?

        The notion that something like this is “due” to happen because it hasn’t happened for a while is completely fallacious.

        1. I agree that “due to happen at any given moment” is fallacious. I think it’s true that over time, however, things average out.

          1. Chris seems to use the Law of Averages term to mean that past outcomes will affect the next future outcome, both in your article and in the podcast. But that is not true statistically, and is often called the Gambler’s Fallacy, as in “this slot machine is due to pay out soon (because it has paid out very little so far)”. But that doesn’t actually happen. Odds don’t build up over time. The odds for this year are just that we are slightly favored to win (which is nicely supported by your analysis in the article). That would be the same for today’s game even if UVa owned the streak.

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