Virginia Tech vs. Virginia
- Saturday, Dec. 12, 8:00 PM, ACC Network
- Virginia Tech vs. Virginia Betting Line: Virginia Tech -2.5
- Virginia Tech-Virginia roster cards: Click here
- Game notes from Hokiesports: Click here
- Blacksburg weather: Click here
Virginia comes to Blacksburg for the season finale against Virginia Tech. For the first time since 2004, the Commonwealth Cup will be arriving in the possession of UVA. That’s a strange feeling, and a feeling that Virginia Tech’s players should want to put right as quickly as possible.
Both teams come into this game going in opposite directions. The Hokies started the season 3-1, but have since fallen to 4-6 after losing four in a row. Meanwhile, UVA started off 1-4, but they’ve since run off four victories in a row.
Virginia Tech hasn’t lost five football games in a row since 1992, when they ended the season on a 5-game skid. *A loss to the Hoos on Saturday would mean a 5-game losing streak for the first time since that season…a year in which some of you reading this article weren’t even born.
(*The Hokies actually went eight straight games without winning that year, with losing streaks of two games and five games broken up by a 13-13 tie to NC State.)
Brennan Armstrong: The Most Dangerous QB On The Schedule?
UVA signal caller Brennan Armstrong (6-2, 215, So.) is the first player in school history to put up back-to-back 400-yard passing games. He did so against overmatched Abilene Christian, which is one thing, but then he came back last week and did it against an ACC opponent in Boston College, which is completely different.
It’s not just his passing that makes Armstrong dangerous. He also leads the Hoos in rushing yards, and he happens to be the only player in FBS this season who has gone over 200+ passing yards and 45+ rushing yards six times in the same game. For the season he has completed 59.5% of his passes for 1,858 yards, with 16 touchdowns and nine interceptions while also rushing for 529 yards (4.8 ypc) and five more touchdowns. Armstrong is also left-handed, which will be a different look for the Virginia Tech defense.
The traditional stats are there, and so are the advanced metrics. He’s No. 3 in the ACC in overall QB grades with a score of 91.4, which trails only Sam Howell (92.5) and Trevor Lawrence (91.9). He’s also the No. 1 graded running quarterback in the conference with a score of 80.0, ahead of guys like Malik Cunningham, Hendon Hooker and and D’Eriq King.
For as much credit as Bryce Perkins got last season, Armstrong makes them a better offense on balance. Here’s how he ranks in some other advanced metrics against other ACC quarterbacks…
Deep Ball%: No. 4 in the ACC
Under Pressure%: No. 7 in the ACC
Kept Clean%: No. 10 in the ACC
You can make an argument that Armstrong is a better quarterback under pressure. His competition percentage in a clean pocket ranks just No. 10 out of ACC quarterbacks (minimum 150 drop backs), while seven of his nine interceptions have come from a clean pocket. With that in mind, how much will the Hokies try to blitz on Saturday night?
Skill Positions: Players To Watch
For as much as Bronco Mendenhall has improved UVA in the trenches, his quarterbacks have never been surrounded by dynamic talent. UVA’s receivers are solid, but unspectacular. The best is Billy Kemp IV (5-9, 170) who leads the team with 58 catches for 571 yards (9.8 ypr) and one TD. Kemp is a good possession receiver, but he’s not much of a big play threat. He can line up on the outside (316 snaps), in the slot (120 snaps), and he’s even lined up in the backfield for 30 snaps this season.
Terrell Jana (6-0, 200, Sr.) has been around for a long time, and he has 33 catches for 399 yards and one touchdown on the season. Tight end Tony Poljan (6-7, 265, Sr.) has had a big year with 33 receptions for 345 yards and five touchdowns.
UVA’s best big play threat is freshman Lavel Davis Jr. (6-7, 210, Fr.). He has 17 catches for 440 yards, which is a whopping 25.9 yards per catch. Like Poljan, he also has five touchdowns. Davis wasn’t a highly-touted recruit out of South Carolina, picking the Hoos over just one other Power 5 program (Georgia Tech), but he’s a good example of one of the top traits that Bronco Mendenhall seems to value in his football players: size (with the exception of Billy Kemp, I suppose).
At tailback, look for Wayne Taulapapa (5-9, 210, Jr.) and Shane Simpson (5-11, 200, Sr.) to carry the load. They are solid backs, but unspectacular, and they have trouble generating big plays. Here are their season numbers…
Taulapapa: 86 carries, 387 yards, 4.5 ypc, 5 TDs
Simpson: 52 carries, 256 yards, 4.9 ypc, 2 TDs
Simpson’s longest run on the season is 29 yards, while Taulapapa’s longest scamper is a mere 19. The Hoos rank No. 70 nationally in running plays of 20+ yards, and those running backs are less likely to hurt the Hokies than the other backs Tech has faced this season.
The Offensive Line: Solid Across The Board
UVA doesn’t have a standout offensive lineman this year, as the Hokies have with guys like Christian Darrisaw and Luke Tenuta. However, the Hoos are solid across the board, ranking No. 1 in the ACC in pass blocking grade and No. 4 in run blocking grade.
The player who may stand out to you the most is massive right tackle Ryan Swoboda (6-10, 325, Jr.). He will be matched up against Justus Reed. The Hoos only have one senior on the entire two-deep of their offensive line, so this group should be good again next season.
Defense: Big And Tough Up Front
Despite the recent loss of linebacker Charles Snowden in a pointless game against Abilene Christian, UVA is a big, strong, tough football team up front. They have a lot of size on the defensive line, and they have plenty of length at the linebacker spots.
Here’s a screenshot of UVA’s depth chart up front…
That unit is a big part of UVA’s 3rd-ranked ACC rushing defense, per Pro Football Focus. However, the Hoos still lag quite a bit behind Clemson and Pitt in overall grades, and here’s what Virginia Tech running back Khalil Herbert was able to do against those two defenses…
Pitt: 9 carries, 72 yards
Clemson: 21 carries, 96 yards
Herbert could have had a 100-yard day against Pitt had the game not been a rout, and he was very close to topping the century mark against the Tigers. I think he’ll find some running room against UVA, and how well the Hokies are able to move the ball as a team will depend on balance. To be balanced, they have to get some things going through the air. Which makes us to the next section…
Coverage: Virginia’s Achilles’ Heel
Virginia’s defense is solid, and even quite good in some places, though they do have one notable weakness according to PFF ratings. Here are their defensive rankings in the ACC across all the key metrics…
Overall: No. 6
Rushing: No. 3
Tackling: No. 7
Pass Rush: No. 3
Coverage: No. 14
The Hoos rank next to last in the ACC with a coverage grade of 49.8. They are the only team below a 50, and one of only three teams below a 60 (UNC and Georgia Tech being the others). If you’re a Tech fan, you probably think the Hokies’ coverage has been lousy this year, and it certainly has been at times. However, Tech has a coverage grade of 66.2 (eighth in the ACC), which is miles ahead of UVA.
That said, UVA could get a boost from senior safety Joey Blount (6-1, 205, Sr.). He was a candidate for All-ACC honors this year, but he has only played in four games due to injury. Blount returned last week against Boston College for his first extensive action since the Clemson game way back on October 3. Blount had a solid day against the Eagles, considering there had to have been some rust involved, so he should be starting to round into form.
Still, Blount is just one man on a defense that has struggled to be efficient defending the pass this season. Virginia Tech has been able to generate multiple big plays in the passing game this year with their misdirection approach, but that approach has only worked in situations where the game is close and the Hokies have the threat of a run. They struggle when they fall behind and the other team knows they are going to throw. Tech needs to be able to hit some big plays in the passing game early, and they need to remain within striking distance for four quarters for the passing game to be effective.
Virginia Tech-UVA Final Thoughts
Back in 2003, I sat in Scott Stadium and watched Virginia beat Virginia Tech. I was only 20 years old, but I remember a UVA fan several rows in front of me who snuck in an entire bottle of bourbon. By the end of the game, that entire bottle was empty. That guy was as hammered as it gets. He wasn’t arrested, but he got escorted out of the section by police.
What I’ve always wondered about that guy was whether or not he actually remembered the game? If he doesn’t remember it, then boy oh boy, the next 15 years must have been brutal. If he didn’t remember the experience and the feeling from 2003, then he went into the 2019 game not having experienced beating the Hokies since 1998.
Beating Tech last year was a new experience for that guy, and for many other UVA fans, not to mention the players and the coaches. Likewise, losing to UVA was a different experience for Hokie fans, players and coaches. There are Tech fans and UVA fans who weren’t old enough to remember the last time the Hoos beat the Hokies. It had been that long.
How do they all handle this new situation? How do the UVA coaches and players handle being the hunted rather than being the hunters? I do know how Justin Fuente is handling it. On Sunday, he got the Virginia Tech team together and showed them a play-by-play account of the 2019 VT-UVA game and highlighted the plays where he thought the Hoos played harder than the Hokies. That was a really close game, showing them that video cut up is basically like telling them “we lost the game because UVA wanted to win it more than you did.”
If you’re the proper kind of competitor, then that’s a gut punch, so hopefully the Hokies come out fired up, and they win the battle of “who wants it most” this time around. Of course, football is about more than emotion. It’s about talent, speed, strength, execution, and discipline. Tech just has to go out and play better than the Hoos.
Of course, the other storyline this week is Justin Fuente’s tenure. Is he going to get fired, or is he going to get another year? I don’t know, but I don’t think the UVA game will influence it either way. It’s going to come down to things like buyouts, who Whit Babcock feels he could get to replace him, BOV approval, and stuff like that.
I’ll worry about that on Sunday morning. For now, I just hope the Hokies win. If the Cup comes back to Blacksburg, that will help the situation. No, it won’t help Fuente. No, it won’t help recruiting. No, it won’t send Tech to a great bowl destination. But it would improve the mood of the fanbase, even if only for a day or two, and I want to see Tech fans feeling good about themselves. I’d also like for Fuente to go out a winner, if it does turn out to be his last game. For whatever errors he’s made, he’s a hard-working guy, there is no hint of scandal in his programs, he doesn’t cheat, and he’s given us some good moments in his tenure.
I think UVA is better, and they should win the game. Two years ago, I thought UVA was better (and still do), and Tech won. Last year I thought the Hokies should have won the game (and still do) but they lost. If that trend continues, then Virginia Tech will take the Commonwealth Cup back on Saturday night.
Prediction: UVA 31, Virginia Tech 24
Will Stewart’s Take: Want to hear a weird stat? In the last five games, starting with the Louisville game, the Hokies are only 1-4. That’s not the weird part. The weird part is that over that stretch, Virginia Tech has completed 71.4 percent of their passes (80-112) for 1,082 yards, 10 touchdowns, and just two interceptions. That’s a passer rating of 178.5, which would rank No. 10 in the nation if it was an individual passer stat for the whole season.
It sounds like I’m making a point there, but I’m really not. I just randomly decided to run the stat.
Back on point: during Virginia Tech’s 1-4 stretch in the last five games, the Hokies have practiced the art of (1) losing close games because of coaching failures and player errors; and (2) collapsing in games that were close to a point … then weren’t.
I could bore you with the details, but that’s not the focus of this article. The focus is to get in, make a prediction, and get out.
It’s not like the Hokies are a HEMI V-8, but they have at times fired on anywhere from two cylinders to six or seven cylinders. They just can’t seem to hold it together for 60 minutes, either from a coaching perspective or a player perspective. The pieces are there – I guess that’s the point of the passing stat from above – but the puzzle won’t go together.
To beat UVA, it needs to.
The Cavs aren’t world beaters. They’re just a solid, big, physical team with a QB that no one knows about who is playing good football. When I put together the roster card, I was surprised to find that Brennan Armstrong is their leading rusher. I think Wayne Taulapapa is a good football player, and to find out that he only has 387 yards, and that Armstrong has outrushed him by 142 yards (including sacks!) … well, all righty then.
Like I often do in these previews, I’m babbling a bit. To sum it up, the Hoos won’t keep anyone up at night, but they’re tough, and if Virginia Tech doesn’t put together a complete game, without melting down or going into the tank or making critical coaching or player errors, the Hokies will lose.
I just can’t bring myself to pick Virginia to win. Can’t do it. This is a pretty even matchup. I’m pinning my hopes on Virginia Tech getting close to eight cylinders involved the majority of the time. Dicey proposition, I know.
Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 31, Virginia 24
Look at that: same score as Chris, but the other way around.
Now here’s an opportunity to tell us what you think, plus a look at last week’s prediction poll. (Gosh, y’all really went out on a limb there.)
What's your prediction for the 2020 Virginia Tech-UVA game?
- Hokies Win by 11+ (13%, 204 Votes)
- Hokies Win by 1-10 (43%, 686 Votes)
- Cavs Win by 1-10 (29%, 455 Votes)
- Cavs Win by 11+ (16%, 248 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,593
Last Game’s Virginia Tech-Clemson Prediction Poll Results
Game Result: Clemson 45, Virginia Tech 10
What's your prediction for the 2020 Virginia Tech-Clemson game?
- Hokies Win by 11+ (3%, 36 Votes)
- Hokies Win by 1-10 (5%, 56 Votes)
- Clemson Wins by 1-10 (3%, 33 Votes)
- Clemson Wins by 11+ (89%, 1,034 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,159