- Virginia Tech vs. West Virginia: Noon, FS1
- Virginia Tech vs. West Virginia Betting Line: WVU -3
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- Morgantown weather: Click here
- Gameday information: Click Here
No. 15 Virginia Tech will hit the road for the first time this season to take on border rival West Virginia this Saturday. It will be the Hokies’ first true road game of the season, and it will be WVU’s first home game in front of a fired-up crowd since 2019.
There’s not a lot you can take from West Virginia’s 66-0 victory over Long Island this past weekend. The Sharks only moved up to FCS from Division II in 2019. They went 0-10 in their first year as an FCS program. They did manage to win two games in 2020, but one of those wins came over Merrimack College, who also transitioned from Division II to FCS in 2019.
WVU’s other game was its season-opening 30-24 loss to Maryland in College Park. That’s a game where the Mountaineers were dominated in total plays (80-61), total yards (496-325) and yards per play (6.2 to 5.3), yet they also had an opportunity to win the football game despite a turnover margin of -4. You could argue that they were fortunate to be in the game considering the turnover margin and the yardage and yards per play differential, but you could also argue that they would have won the football game had they done a better job of protecting the ball.
West Virginia is coached by Neal Brown, who took the job in 2019 after going 35-16 (23-9 Sun Belt) in four seasons at Troy. In his last three years there, he went 31-8 overall, 20-4 in conference play and won all three bowl games. He went 5-7 in his first season at West Virginia, then 6-4 last year, and he’s off to a 1-1 start in 2021. Brown improved WVU from 2019 to 2020, though a season-opening loss to Mike Locksley (10-43 all-time head coaching record) is probably a bit concerning to the WVU fan base.
The Mountaineers and Hokies are long-time rivals who last faced off at the beginning of the 2017 season in FedExField, with Virginia Tech earning a dramatic 31-24 victory. The last time these programs faced off in Morgantown was in 2005, with Tech winning a highly-anticipated affair 31-17. The Hokies have actually won three of the last four games in Morgantown, though the 28-7 loss in 2003 is remembered by the Tech fan base as much as most victories up there.
West Virginia leads the all-time series 28-23-1. The Hokies are 9-16 in Morgantown, not a bad record, and Virginia Tech has won six of the last nine games at WVU, dating back to 1989.
Jarret Doege, The Running Conundrum, and the West Virginia Offense
Generally speaking, it seems to have been mobile quarterbacks that have given Virginia Tech the most trouble in recent years. West Virginia quarterback Jarret Doege (6-2, 208, r-Sr.) is a good player, but he’s not that type of player.
In 2020, Doege had a lot of impressive numbers and accolades. Here’s a quick list:
All Big 12 Second Team (PFF)
All Big 12 Fourth Team (Phil Steele)
Ranked No. 9 nationally and No. 1 in the Big 12 in completions per game
No. 2 in the Big 12 and No. 23 nationally in passing yards per game
14-to-4 TD-to-INT ratio
He’s a transfer from Bowling Green, where he played well in 2017 and 2018 before transferring to WVU. He does plenty of things well in the passing game.
However, the running game is not a strength. In fact, it’s a major weakness. Here are his year by year rushing numbers:
2017: 30 carries, -74 yards, -2.5 ypc
2018: 51 carries, -188 yards, -3.7 ypc
2019: 11 carries, -41 yards, -3.7 ypc
2020: 40 carries, -101 yards, -2.5 ypc
2021: 7 carries, -28 yards, -4.0 ypc
Total: 139 carries, -432 yards, -3.1 yards per carry
You just don’t see those kinds of numbers these days. Even Chase Brice at Appalachian State (and before that Duke and Clemson) has positive career rushing yards (289) despite the fact that he’s as statuesque as quarterbacks get these days. -432 rushing yards for a quarterback is pretty surprising in this day and age.
There are three basic types of offensive plays in football…
1: QB runs
2: Runs by RBs and sweeping WRs
With Doege in the game, one-third of those are eliminated right off the bat, so it’s imperative that West Virginia be efficient in the other two parts against the Virginia Tech defense on Saturday. We know that Doege is very good in the passing game, but what about the traditional running game?
Against Maryland, West Virginia was the direct opposite of Virginia Tech when it comes to use of their tailbacks. Only one running back took a handoff against the Terps, with Leddie Brown (5-11, 216, Sr.) carrying it 17 times for 73 yards and two touchdowns. Only Brown and Doege carried the ball against Maryland, and these days it is an odd occurrence when a second tailback doesn’t touch the football, or even a wide receiver on a jet or rocket motion. The Mountaineers gave more players a chance against Long Island, but will they revert back to their Maryland rotation (or lack thereof) when they face the Hokies this Saturday?
Brown is the guy to watch for, and if the Hokies can shut him down, that could mean WVU won’t have a running game at all. He rushed for 1,010 yards and nine touchdowns in a 10-game schedule last season while averaging 5.1 yards per carry. He was a First Team All-Big 12 running back by both the coaches and the Associated Press. Brown also had 31 receptions for the Mountaineers last season, so he’s capable of hurting defenses in the passing game. He’s one of the most physical backs the Hokies will face all season, so the Tech defense will have to be ready to tackle.
West Virginia’s running game revolves entirely around Brown’s success. With Doege not being a runner, and instead being a detriment to the WVU running game, it means that for the Mountaineers to find balance on offense, Brown must have a good game.
Unless of course head coach Neil Brown has a trick up his sleeve. He played backup quarterback Garrett Greene (5-10, 193, r-Fr.) early in the game against Long Island, and he went 4-of-7 passing for 57 yards. However, he made his biggest impact on the ground with 14 carries for 98 yards. Greene is a young player, he lacks height for a quarterback, and he didn’t throw the ball much in high school (1200 yards, 12 TDs as a senior), but he brings a lot of mobility to the table.
I don’t think the Virginia Tech defense is a very good matchup for Doege, so will Neal Brown work Greene into the game at times to provide a rushing threat? We’ll find out on Saturday.
As you might expect, West Virginia has a lot of good, experienced wide receivers. Those players would be less likely to make an impact with Greene playing quarterback, but when Doege is behind center, the Mountaineers will be throwing it early and often. Keep an eye on the following guys (career stats):
- Sam James (5-11, 183, r-Jr.): 110 catches, 1,099 yards, 10 ypc, 6 TDs
- Winston Wright, Jr. (5-9, 180, Jr.): 75 catches, 751 yards, 10 ypc, 2 TDs
- Sean Ryan (6-3, 198, r-Jr.): 62 catches, 770 yards, 12.4 ypc, 2 TDs
- Bryce Ford-Wheaton (6-3, 220, r-Jr.): 33 catches, 513 yards, 15.5 ypc, 3 TDs
- Isaiah Esdale (5-11, 202, r-Sr.): 31 catches, 350 yards, 11.3 ypc, 1 TD
There is a lot of experience in that group. Tight end Mike O’Laughlin (6-5, 252, r-Jr.) is a veteran as well and could be involved in the passing game to a limited extent. Also look for true freshman Kaden Prather (6-4, 210) to get action.
West Virginia’s blocking has left something to be desired so far, though the Maryland being their only game against FBS competition is a pretty small sample size. However, I do want to share the PFF blocking grades of their five starting offensive linemen against Maryland…
- LT Brandon Yates (6-3, 295, r-So.): 49.2 run blocking, 29.8 pass blocking
- LG James Gmiter (6-3, 298, r-Jr.): 60.1 run blocking, 75.4 pass blocking
- C Zach Frazier (6-3, 306, So.): 62.8 run blocking, 44.8 pass blocking
- RG Doug Nester (6-7, 321, Jr.): 60.0 run blocking, 73.3 pass blocking
- RT Parker Moorer (6-4, 308, r-So.): 37.0 run blocking, 72.6 pass blocking
Neither offensive tackle could run block, while left tackle Brandon Yates also had a horrible game in pass blocking. At 6-3, 295, Yates also started at left tackle as a freshman last year, and though he was better there last season than he was against Maryland, his overall size – particularly his height – doesn’t make him seem to be the best option at left tackle. Center Zach Frazier also struggled pass blocking. WVU’s guards, including former VT guard Doug Nester, seemed to be the strength of the WVU line against Maryland, though nobody excelled in the running game.
So far through two games, WVU ranks No. 98 out of 130 teams in overall run blocking grade as a team, while they are No. 42 in pass blocking. Those numbers would probably be worse were Long Island not somewhere between Division II and FCS in talent level.
West Virginia’s strength on offense is their passing game, but as good as running back Leddie Brown is, they run the risk of being one-dimensional on offense with Jarret Doege at quarterback. How often will we see Garrett Greene in the game, and how effective can he be throwing the football? If Neal Brown wants to play both guys, he’ll have to find the proper balance.
The West Virginia Defense
WVU finished No. 4 nationally in total defense a year ago, and the interesting thing is that they didn’t even have a true defensive coordinator. Vic Koenning departed the program over the summer in 2020 and Neal Brown had to reshuffle coaching staff just before the season opened.
Jordan Lesley handled the defensive line and was basically a co-defensive coordinator. Jahmile Addae served in the same role, except he coached the secondary and handled game planning against the passing game. That worked very well for West Virginia last season, as their defense carried them throughout the season.
However, Addae left his alma mater in the offseason to coach the safeties at Georgia, and Lesley was promoted to full-time defensive coordinator, with his coaching role changed to outside linebackers. Lesley has always been a defensive line coach, with the exception of a few years coaching linebackers at Kilgore College back from 2007 through 2009. It was a bit of a risk to hand him total control of the defense, because generally linebacker and safeties coaches understand more about coverages than defensive line coaches.
To give Lesley some help with the coverage aspect of things, Brown hired ShaDon Brown from Louisville to coach defensive backs and serve as co-defensive coordinator. Before Louisville, Brown had previously been the defensive passing game coordinator at Colorado.
Through one game against a Power 5 opponent, WVU’s new defensive combination did not work as well as their old one. Maryland gained 495 yards of total offense, averaged 6.2 yards per play (No. 17 nationally against P5 opponents so far this year), and quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa torched the Mountaineer secondary by going 26-of-36 for 332 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Obviously, WVU had a much easier time with Long Island, but now it’ll face another Power 5 opponent in the Hokies.
Was the Maryland performance just a one-off, and the WVU defense is actually still very good? Or was last year’s No. 4 ranking not an accurate reflection of things, and perhaps the coaching changes in the offseason are bringing this defense back down to earth? We won’t know until we see them against some more Power 5 opponents, and that starts this Saturday.
In their first game against Maryland, it was generally the linebackers and safeties who struggled in coverage rather than the cornerbacks, just going by PFF grades. Here are the WVU cornerbacks who played and their coverage grades:
Jackie Matthews (5-10, 190, Jr.): 72.1. Matthews is a JUCO transfer who has only made one career start, but he acquitted himself well at Maryland.
Nicktroy Fortune (5-11, 194, Jr.): 68.8. Fortune is WVU’s most experienced cornerback with 14 career starts.
Daryl Porter, Jr. (5-11, 185, r-Fr.): 67.6. Porter looks like a good, young player for the Mountaineers, though he did get burned for a deep touchdown early on what appeared to be a stutter-and-go up the left sideline.
Meanwhile, the coverage grades from most of WVU’s linebackers and safeties left a lot to be desired.
LB Lance Dixon (6-2, 210, r-So.): 67.7. However, the Penn State transfer only played 21 snaps.
S Alonzo Addae (5-10, 190, r-Sr.): 63.4. The New Hampshire transfer had a fantastic season for the Mountaineers in 2020. He played every defensive snap against Maryland.
S Scottie Young (5-11, 207, r-Sr.): 58.2. Young is an Arizona transfer who plays in the slot.
LB Exree Loe (6-0, 218, r-Jr.): 54.3. Lee got 60 snaps at weakside linebacker.
BANDIT VanDarius Cowen (6-4, 242, r-Sr.): 52.7. Cowen plays an edge role for West Virginia. He’s a transfer from Alabama.
BANDIT Jared Bartlett (6-2, 225, r-So.): 42.3. Bartless backups up Cowen at BANDIT.
LB Josh Chandler-Semedo (5-11, 226, Sr.). 37.9. A very poor performance from WVU’s second-most experienced defender.
S Sean Mahone (6-0, 200, r-Sr.): 33.8. An extremely bad performance from WVU’s most experienced defender.
Both Chandler-Semedo and Mahone were very strong players for West Virginia last year, but they were very bad against Maryland. Was that just a one-time off game, or are there deeper issues with the coaching staff changes on defense for the Mountaineers? WVU’s defense was solid for most of the game against Maryland, but in its bad moments, it gave up huge chunks of yardage. That’s something that could be an ongoing issue, or it’s something that could potentially be fixed overnight. The Hokie offense needs to find the big plays that escaped it during the first two games of the season.
Winston Wright, Jr. (5-9, 180, Jr.) had two huge kickoff returns for the Mountaineers against Maryland, including one for 98 yards that set up a touchdown. He’s sort of a high-risk/high-reward return man, as he’ll bring them out from deep in the end zone. That can reward the Mountaineers with big plays, but if Tech’s kickoff team stays disciplined, it could also give the Hokies a field position advantage. Wright doubles as a punt returner, where he can be dangerous, but he had a costly muffed punt against Terps.
Virginia Tech could have an opportunity to pick up yardage on kickoff returns. Evan Staley (6-1, 202, r-Sr.) has kicked off 11 times this season, and only two have gone for touchbacks. His touchback rate ranks No. 96 nationally, and he’s had one kick sail out of bounds. Keshawn King looked fantastic returning kicks last week for the Hokies, so he should be relishing his opportunities this weekend.
West Virginia’s placekicker is the aptly-named Casey Legg (6-4, 213, r-Jr.). He is 9-of-13 for his career with a long of 53 yards. Punter Tyler Sumpter (5-10, 219, r-Sr.) is a transfer from Troy, and he’s a veteran and a solid punter. He has plenty of experience with field goal kicking in his career, going 42-of-55 (76.4%). If there are any issues with Legg, then Sumpter could fill in.
In what generally seems to be an even matchup, a critical play or two on special teams could be the difference in the game.
There are so many questions about this game that we can’t answer right now. Let me go over a few of them…
1: How much will Garrett Greene play, and how effective is he in the passing game?
2: How much will the Tech passing game improve from the last two weeks?
3: Do the Virginia Tech players truly comprehend how much this game means to West Virginia fans and to the state of West Virginia in general? Are they going to maintain their focus and composure the first time they get hit in the head with a Duracell, or when that water bottle filled with sand and rocks comes screaming by their facemask?
I’m sure there are plenty of other ways to look at this game, but those are the three areas that I’m really thinking about.
On paper, I think this game favors Virginia Tech. Jarret Doege is not a running threat, and though I do expect Garrett Greene to play to a certain extent, not many head coaches are interested in benching an All-Conference quarterback simply because the backup happens to run better. I’m not sure what to expect from the rotation, but I do like the Tech defense in this game.
This has not been a dynamic West Virginia offense since Neal Brown took over. Let’s look at its yards per play averages the last three seasons against Power 5 competition…
2019: No. 114 out of 130
2020: No. 91 out of 127
2021: No. 75 out of 130 (one game sample)
This hasn’t been a particularly explosive offense, and though the Mountaineers have shown some improvement, on the whole, you like an improved Tech defense against most of the offensive numbers that you’ve seen in this article.
West Virginia has been the opposite of many Big 12 teams recently; it’s had a struggling offense, but a defense that can get things done. Here are their national rankings in yards-per-play allowed against FBS teams since Brown took over…
2019: No. 50 out of 130
2020: No. 5 out of 127
2021: No. 92 out of 130
The Mountaineers took a huge step forward defensively last season, though their season opener against Maryland in 2021 was not auspicious. Still, this has generally been a team that has been much better defensively than offensively in recent years. Just because this is a Big 12 team doesn’t mean this will be a Big 12 style game. The over/under is ranging from 46.5 to 50.5 as of the time of this writing, and I’d actually make the argument that 50.5 seems to be a little bit high.
I think this has the makings of a fairly ugly football game. I’m picking Tech because I’m not certain WVU can throw the ball with their backup QB, and I know that their starter can’t run. Alternating QBs all game long generally isn’t smart, so my take is that we’ll see Doege more often than not. I think WVU’s wide receivers are solid, but I like Tech’s DBs in that matchup.
I don’t think we’ll remember this one for being pretty, and I could see it going either way, but I’ve got Tech in a close one.
Chris’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 24, West Virginia 20
Will Stewart’s Take: I think this is going to be a hard-fought, close game. The WVU home-field advantage will be dulled somewhat by a noon start. By the way, thank you for that, football gods. The 2003 nightmare was played during Virginia Tech’s lame-duck Big East season, in which the Hokies had accepted an ACC invitation in July 2003 but were playing one more year in the Big East before departing. West Virginia players and fans unleashed a lot of pent-up aggression in that Wednesday night game — yes, Wednesday — and flattened Virginia Tech, 28-7. The Hokies generally lost their minds in that game, which included the infamous Frank-Beamer-slaps-Ernest-Wilford’s-helmet incident, about which only non-football people got upset.
Knowing that they had a potential powder keg on their hands in the 2005 follow-up in Morgantown (Tech beat WVU in Blacksburg in 2004 and contractually had to play the ‘Eers one more time on the road), officials scheduled the game at noon and beefed up security. I worked that game as media and was on the sideline for the fourth quarter, and though there was a lot of jawing between Tech players and WVU fans, there were no incidents that I know of.
Much like 2005, this will be a noon game, and that helps. This is still the first game in a hostile road environment for some Tech players, though most Hokie starters have played in front of road crowds before (2019 and prior).
But enough about crowds and past history. Two games into the season, there are still a lot of unknowns for both teams. I think Virginia Tech will tighten up the offensive game plan and try to play to their strengths more than they did against MTSU, though what those strengths are is hard to tell. The passing game has struggled, and the running game has been okay but not impressive. Unfortunately, Braxton Burmeister running the football has been one of the best parts of the Tech offense, as he is the Hokies’ leading rusher so far. But I don’t want that to be a big feature of Tech’s offense. We’ll see what they do in the post-James Mitchell era.
Defensively, WVU will stress you in coverage. They work the middle of the field a lot with dynamic crossing routes and passes delivered in rhythm, and they have the potential to complete a lot of balls and get a lot of YAC. It’s worth nothing that though the highlights against Maryland look good, WVU only had four plays of 20+ yards on offense in that game. (Virginia Tech had three against UNC and four against MTSU.)
The Mountaineers average a dismal 3.2 yards per rush, even with a game against hapless Long Island U. under their belts, so if Virginia Tech can shut down the run and coverage and tackling are good, WVU is in a world of trouble.
Special teams and turnovers are a crap shoot, as always. WVU is next-to-last in the nation in turnover margin at -2.0 per game, but most of that came against Maryland. Virginia Tech is second in the nation at 2.5 penalties per game, but WVU isn’t far behind, tied at No. 31 with five per game.
Bottom line: Virginia Tech has struggled to be dynamic on offense. The Hokie defense has to play well, and certainly can play well in this game. I see this as a relatively low-scoring game, and though I don’t feel good about this one, no way am I picking WVU to win. I’ve got friends who would never speak to me again if I did.
Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 20, West Virginia 17
David Cunningham’s Take: I’m going to date myself here (or maybe more-so the readers) but I was six years old the last time Virginia Tech played in Morgantown. I’ll be in the press box on Saturday and I’m excited to experience this crazy rivalry for the first time in person. I was a freshman in 2017 and decided to watch the game at FedEx in my dorm with my friends, which was an awesome time.
As for Saturday, I think it’s going to be a really sloppy game, like Chris and Will both hinted at. Virginia Tech only turned the ball over twice in its first two games, both of which came against North Carolina (King fumble, Burmeister INT). The Mountaineers were good defensively last season, but didn’t put on a good showing against Maryland. The Hokies haven’t been spectacular on offense through the first two games, but they’ve been good enough to win.
“The first half of UNC, the second half of Middle Tennessee, that’s where we [as an offense] need to be going forward,” Virginia Tech center Brock Hoffman said on Tuesday.
I’m still not 100% sold on Tech’s offense. The receivers haven’t been able to get much separation so far, though the blocking and the running game have been fairly solid. I’m intrigued to see how Burmeister performs in a road environment. He started at Duke and NC State last season, but that was without fans. I think it’s safe to say Saturday will be a different animal.
I don’t think Burmeister and the offense necessarily have to be fantastic to beat West Virginia. I think they’ll have their moments throughout the contest. They just need to take advantage of them.
I’m really interested to see how West Virginia’s offense attacks the Hokies’ defense. Tech shut down UNC and Sam Howell in the season opener, and despite allowing 354 yards, came up with big stops when it needed to, including forcing three interceptions, four punts and a turnover on downs.
The Hokies limited UNC’s rushing attack for the majority of the contest and against Middle Tennessee allowed only 67 rushing yards. As Chris pointed out, Leddie Brown, West Virginia’s running back, is one of the better backs Tech will face this season. The Mountaineers’ offensive line was okay against Maryland, but the tackles were particularly poor. What happens when Amare Barno and TyJuan Garbutt line up on either end and the Hokies rotate through four different tackles?
I think this will be similar to the North Carolina game where the Hokies did enough to win on offense and needed to rely on the defense to get some important stops late. I have a good feeling that Tech will slow down WVU’s running game and get pressure, but I’m concerned about how VT’s offense will perform on the road. It’ll be a dogfight in a heated rivalry game, and I think the Hokies barely pull off the victory, courtesy of a big defensive stop.
Virginia Tech 17, West Virginia 13
What's your prediction for the 2021 Virginia Tech-WVU game?
- Hokies Win by 11+ (27%, 499 Votes)
- Hokies Win by 1-10 (54%, 1,017 Votes)
- WVU Wins by 1-10 (16%, 306 Votes)
- WVU Wins by 11+ (3%, 57 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,879
Last Game’s Virginia Tech-Middle Tennessee State Prediction Poll Results
Game Result: Virginia Tech 35, MTSU 14
What's your prediction for the 2021 VT-Middle Tennessee game?
- Hokies Win by 11+ (92%, 1,657 Votes)
- Hokies Win by 1-10 (6%, 106 Votes)
- MT Wins by 1-10 (1%, 19 Votes)
- MT Wins by 11+ (1%, 13 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,795