Game Preview: Commonwealth Cup Clash 2021

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Virginia Tech-uva
Virginia hosts Virginia Tech Saturday in the Commonwealth Cup clash. It’s the 103rd meeting between the teams. Virginia Tech leads the series 59-38-5. (Will Stewart)
  • Virginia Tech at Virginia: Saturday, November 27, 3:45, ACC Network
  • Virginia Tech vs. Virginia Betting Line: Virginia -7
  • Virginia Tech-Virginia roster cards: Click here
  • Game notes from Hokiesports: Click here
  • Charlottesville weather: Click here

Virginia Tech (5-6, 3-4 ACC) travels to Virginia (6-5, 4-3 ACC) Saturday with bowl eligibility on the line for the Hokies. After winning 15 straight in this series from 2004-2018, Virginia Tech lost the Commonwealth Cup to the Cavs in Charlottesville in 2019, and the Hokies took the Cup back in 2020 in Blacksburg.

The Cavaliers are reeling, having lost three straight after a promising 6-2 start. They boast one of the best quarterbacks in the country in Brennan Armstrong and one of the worst defenses in the country. Virginia Tech has lost five of its last seven and is operating under interim coach J.C. Price, after it was announced just over a week ago that head coach Justin Fuente and the Hokies have parted ways. Virginia Tech has uncertainty at quarterback and an inconsistent defense that fared poorly against the pass last week.

Will the Hokies become bowl eligible? Or will Virginia win its second out of three games in this rivalry after a generation of futility? This Saturday, at 3:45 on the ACC Network, we’ll find out.

Virginia’s Season

The Cavaliers’ season is a mixed bag so far. They started out hot but haven’t fared well against ranked teams, and a couple of their wins could have gone the other way.

Virginia’s five FBS victories have come over teams with a combined record of 22-33, with their best wins coming against 6-5 Miami and 6-5 Louisville. Against both Miami and Louisville, however, the Cavaliers had to survive last-second field goal attempts. Miami’s Andy Borregales, an outstanding kicker who is 20-of-22 on the year, doinked a 33-yard attempt off the upright, and Louisville’s James Turner (9-of-12, including 4-of-7 from 40+ yards) sailed a 49-yarder left. If one or both of those kicks succeed, Virginia is in a different place right now.

Against four teams that are currently ranked – Wake Forest (21), BYU (13), Notre Dame (5), and Pitt (20), Virginia has been outscored 179-107 (45-27 average score), with the closest loss being a ten-point loss to Pittsburgh.

As mentioned above, Virginia has a very potent offense, and a very impotent defense. Let’s drill down into it.

The Virginia Offense: Brennan’s Strong Arm

Virginia quarterback Brennan Armstrong (#5, 6-2, 215, Jr.) is one of the best quarterbacks in the country. Despite missing all of one game and part of another due to injury, he’s No. 3 in the nation in total passing yards (4,044). He’s also No. 2 in passing yards per game (404.4) and No. 17 in the nation in passing efficiency (157.7). He’s the No. 9-graded passer in FBS per PFF. So he’s pretty good.

Armstrong’s passing stats for the year are 297-455 (65.3%) for 4,044 yards, 30 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

At 6-2, 215, Armstrong is physical beyond what you might expect. He has 244 yards rushing on the season, tied for second on the team, and that total includes 207 yards lost rushing, mostly on sacks.

Virginia QB Brennan Armstrong can sling it. (UVA Sports Twitter)

Virginia Tech interim head coach J.C. Price said of Armstrong, “He’s a dual threat guy, he can run. I know everybody knows he’s been banged up here the last few weeks, but he’s 6-2, 215-220. He’s a big, strong guy that you think he’s not going to be as agile as he is. He makes guys miss for being as big as he is, and he can lower his shoulder if he chooses to and finish.”

The Cavaliers don’t have much of a rushing attack, though. Their rushing offense ranks 97th in the country (127.9 yards per game), but with Armstrong being such a prolific passer, there isn’t much room for the rushing offense to breathe. Tailback Wayne Taulapapa (#21, 5-9, 210, Sr.) has just 57 carries in nine games, with 301 yards and two touchdowns while averaging 5.3 yards per carry. Worth noting: Taulapapa rarely gets knocked backwards, with just four yards lost rushing on the season.

Virginia wide receiver Keytaon Thompson (#99, 6-4, 210, Sr.) is Virginia’s Swiss army knife. He is the only player listed on Virginia’s roster whose position is FBP (FootBall Player). Thompson, a transfer from Mississippi State and a former quarterback in high school and at MSU, does most of his damage as a receiver (71 catches, 899 yards, 12.7 ypc, 1 touchdown). He also has 38 carries for 244 yards and four TDs, and he has thrown four passes, completing one.

Virginia’s other productive pass catchers:

  • WR Dontayvion Wicks (#3, 6-1, 205, So.): 54 catches, 1,148 yards (21.3 ypc), 9 TDs
  • WR Billy Kemp (#4, 5-9, 175, Sr.): 66 catches, 623 yards (9.4 ypc), 6 TDs
  • TE Jelani Woods (#0, 6-7, 265, Gr.): 37 catches, 534 yards (14.4 ypc), 7 TDs
  • WR Ra’Shaun Henry (#2, 6-3, 190, Sr.): 32 catches, 573 yards (17.9 ypc), 3 TDs

Virginia has five players who have caught 30+ passes. Virginia Tech only has two: Tayvion Robinson (41) and Tre Turner (40).

The Cavaliers start five seniors on the offensive line, per their game notes:

  • LT Bobby Haskins (#70, 6-7, 295, Sr.)
  • LG Ryan Nelson (#54, 6-6, 315, Sr.)
  • C Olusegun Oluwatimi (#55, 6-3, 310, Sr.)
  • RG Chris Glaser (#69, 6-4, 305, Sr.)
  • RT Ryan Swoboda (#72, 6-10, 325, Sr.)

Virginia’s PFF pass-blocking grade (72.8, No. 30 in FBS) and run-blocking grade (76.0, No. 31 in FBS) are solid.

Virginia’s starting chart in their game notes lists 12 offensive players, and ten of them are seniors or graduate students. The other two are Armstrong and Wicks, two very productive players.

It all adds up to a Virginia offense with a lot of punch. The Cavaliers are No. 4 in total offense (518.1 ypg) and No. 22 in scoring offense (35.5 ppg). They’re going to be a challenge for a Virginia Tech defense that is No. 63 in the nation in total defense (376.5 ypg) and No. 43 in scoring defense (22.8 ppg).

Noah Taylor is pretty good, but the Virginia defense … isn’t. (Kris Wright, TheSabre.com)

The Virginia Defense: Ole! Matador-Style

The Cavalier defense is yin to the offense’s yang. Here are Virginia’s traditional defensive metrics:

  • Total Defense: 466.2 ypg, No. 121 (out of 130) in FBS
  • Scoring Defense: 31.1 ppg, No. 102
  • Pass Defense: 248.9 ypg, No. 96
  • Rush Defense: 217.3 ypg, No. 122

PFF ranks Virginia’s overall defense No. 114 out of 130 FBS teams.

Against ACC opponents, Virginia is giving up 35 points per game. Only Duke (46.6) has given up more points per game in league play. (Editor’s note: And UVA shut out Duke, which shows how bad their defense has been against their other ACC opponents.)

It’s difficult to find something the Virginia defense does well, but if you dig deep enough, you can find something that is of concern to Hokie fans: the Cavaliers’ red-zone defensive TD percentage is 52.17%, tied for No. 27 in the nation. Virginia Tech is No. 72 in red-zone TD percentage, scoring touchdowns on 60% of trips to the red zone.

If the Hokies drive and more importantly finish in the red zone, they have a chance to put up some good numbers on the Cavaliers and to hang with the UVA offense.

J.C. Price was coy about which quarterback – Braxton Burmeister or Connor Blumrick – the Hokies are going to go with this week, saying Monday, “We are going to decide whether it gives us the best chance to win, like we did last week. Both Braxton and Connor did a lot of good things in the game. [Offensive coordinator Brad] Cornelsen and the offensive guys will determine that later in the week.”

With Burmeister banged up and Blumrick limited in the passing game, you may see the Hokies go with a game plan similar to Miami, in which 30 of Virginia Tech’s 43 carries came from the QB position. Virginia’s rush defense is bad not just by traditional metrics, but is also graded as the 6th-worst rush defense in FBS by PFF.

To highlight a few players:

BUCK Nick Jackson (#6, 6-1, 240, Jr.): The BUCK is a linebacker position. Jackson has played more snaps than any other Virginia defender and leads the Cavaliers in tackles by a wide margin with 107. He has 5.5 TFLs and two sacks.

SABRE Joey Blount (#29, 6-2, 195, Sr.): SABRE is a fancy name for Virginia’s strong safety position, where Blount is second on the team with 77 tackles. He has three TFLs, one sack, and a team-high three interceptions.

SAM Noah Taylor (#7, 6-5, 225, Jr.): the SAM is an outside linebacker position in the UVA defense, manned by DE-sized Noah Taylor. Taylor is third on the team in tackles with 66, and the Cavaliers use him to pressure the quarterback and disrupt his side of the offense. Taylor has team highs in TFLs (8), sacks (3.5), and QB hurries (7).

Looking at disruption plays – sacks, TFLs, and turnovers — it’s yet more evidence that the Virginia defense isn’t very good. The Cavaliers are No. 114 in the country in sacks with just 15, No. 112 in TFLs (4.3 per game), and No. 75 in turnovers forced (14 – Virginia Tech, by the way, is only No. 97, with 12.)

Virginia Tech will have to limit turnovers (preferably to zero) and will probably seek to keep the Virginia offense off the field by running the football. As noted above, you could see a run-heavy approach from the Hokie offense on Saturday.

Connor Blumrick Virginia Tech
Will Connor Blumrick’s flowing locks be seen again this coming weekend as he races downfield? (Ivan Morozov)

Virginia Special Teams and Intangibles

At placekicker, Virginia lists Justin Duenkel first on the depth chart. Duenkel got hurt in late September and missed six games, but he returned last weekend against Pitt. He is 4-of-6 on field goals on the year with a long of 39. When he was out, Brendan Farrell filled in capably and was 10-of-12 on field goals with a long of 43. Combined, the two are just 1-of-4 beyond 40 yards.

The two kickers have put 58 of 74 kickoffs out of the end zone, and Virginia opponents have only returned nine kickoffs for an average of 23.3 yards. One of those was a 98-yarder for a TD, against Pittsburgh.

UVA punter Jacob Finn averages a respectable 44.3 yards per punt with only two touchbacks. Finn would rank No. 28 in the nation with that average, but he only has 39 punts on the year, not quite enough (by one) to qualify for being ranked. Tech’s Peter Moore, by contrast, has 56 punts (45.5 yard average).

Virginia hasn’t done anything yet in the kickoff return game (13 returns, 15.8 ypr, 0 TDs, long of 28) or punt return game (17 returns, 5.5 ypr, 0 TDs, long of 55 — the other 16 returns have netted 40 yards).

The Cavaliers rank No. 86 in the nation in turnover margin at -0.18 per game. (VT is No. 57 at +0.09.) The Cavs commit 6.45 penalties per game, No. 75 in the nation. (VT is No. 29 at 5.18 per game, a number that has been going up in recent weeks.)

Virginia Tech-Virginia: Conclusions and Predictions

In 2016, Justin Fuente joined the Hokies and Bronco Mendenhall took over UVA. That November, the Hokies slaughtered the Hoos 52-10, as Mendenhall jerked multiple quarterbacks in and out of the game, sometimes on a play-by-play basis. UVA looked like a complete clown show.

Virginia went 2-10 that year as the Hokies went 10-4 and won the Coastal and a bowl game.

Things have changed, to say the least. Since losing to ODU in game three of the 2018 season, Virginia Tech is 22-24. In that same time frame, Virginia is 27-19, and along the way, Mendenhall’s Hoos ended The Streak and won the Coastal in 2019. Bronco will be back next season; Justin Fuente won’t.

Virginia is favored by a touchdown in this game, but if the Cavaliers get rolling early and the Hokie offense sputters, this could get out of hand.

The Hokies need to control the football to win this game, and they need to put up more of a fight in coverage than they did against Miami. Virginia has an elite passing game, and blowing coverages left and right will lead to similar results as against Miami. Brennan Armstrong adds a running threat that Miami’s Tyler Van Dyke didn’t possess, not that it mattered against Miami.

Watch Jermaine Waller. He was injured against Pittsburgh, played just four snaps against Syracuse, and then did okay the week after that against Georgia Tech (40 snaps). Since then, Waller has struggled against Boston College, Duke, and Miami, and he pulled up lame late in the Miami game. He’s not a hundred percent, and Virginia Tech’s pass defense has struggled because of it. Dorian Strong’s coverage ability has also dropped off slightly from last year to this year.

I can see Virginia Tech’s path to victory, but it’s narrow. Virginia just has to go out there and keep doing what they do, whereas the Hokies have to generate a lot of offense, probably about 35+ points worth, to have a chance to win this. I don’t like the odds.

Will’s Prediction: Virginia 42, Virginia Tech 24

Chris Coleman’s Take: Will wrote the preview this week as I concentrated on my coaching candidate series of articles, and reading through what he wrote, it all matches what I’ve seen from Virginia with my own eyes. Their defense is truly atrocious, but Brennan Armstrong is so good that he’s managed to squeak the Hoos north of a .500 record so far this year. Even with Armstrong behind center, it has still taken some luck for UVA to get to 6-5, as evidence by those two missed last-second field goals by Miami and Louisville. In other words, UVA isn’t all that good. But neither are the Hokies.

Like Will said, I can see a path to victory in this game. Virginia put a similar football team on the field last season, and the Hokies smacked it around in Lane Stadium. But Tech was trending up later in the season, with a good defensive performance through three quarters in their previous game against Clemson. This year they appear to be trending down in the secondary, with Jermaine Waller banged up. Divine Deablo played a great game against UVA last year, too, coming up with a key interception and knocking “football player” Keytaon Thompson out of the game with a big hit. Unfortunately for the Hokies, Deablo now plays for the Oakland Raiders.

I don’t think it takes a football genius to see that we’ll get a run-heavy attack from the Hokies this week, but they’ll still need to be balanced. Burmeister provides the best chance for balance, but Blumrick should also see action in the running game.

I’d love to see J.C. Price get a win in his stint as interim head coach. I think it could certainly happen, but with most of Tech’s secondary seemingly mentally checked out against the Hurricanes last week, UVA is the wise pick this time around.

Chris’s Prediction: Virginia 38, Virginia Tech 31

David Cunningham’s Take: There’s a lot at stake in Saturday’s Battle for the Commonwealth Cup. Virginia wants to repeat the result in Charlottesville in 2019 and take the cup back, while Virginia Tech needs a sixth win to become bowl eligible, a path that obviously runs through UVa.

I agree with Will and Chris that there is a path for Virginia Tech to win this game. It centers around slowing UVa down, forcing a punt or two and limiting the Cavaliers defensively, while putting the ball on the ground and scoring close to every time you touch the ball offensively. I have a feeling that it will likely take close to that offensive consistency to win, simply because Brennan Armstrong’s unit is so difficult to keep up with. Tech needs to keep pace, and in Scott Stadium, that means scoring.

A fast start would help. The Hokies fell into a hole at Miami and once they finally figured it out, it was too late. Knowing VT’s luck on coin tosses (2-9 this season, started on offense in every game but ND and Pitt), Brad Cornelsen’s group will trot out on the field to start the game. If they go three-and-out…

If you had asked me at the beginning of the season what was the one game Virginia Tech needed to play its best offensive football, I would’ve said on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, because keeping pace with Armstrong is so difficult.

Ultimately, however, I don’t think the Hokies are going to be able to do it. There were too many lapses on defense last week against Miami, and it’s not out of the question that things like that happen again. If anyone can pick apart this Tech defense, it’s Armstrong, especially after what Tyler Van Dyke did last Saturday. By the way, Tech didn’t have a single sack at Miami. If you can’t get pressure, you’re starting in a five-foot hole, more or less.

I’ve got UVa by ten in this one. I haven’t seen enough from Tech to make me think that the Hokies, while they’re motivated, can really have a balanced game on both sides of the ball. Those games have been few and far between this year, and they all came while Justin Fuente was still the head coach (at Georgia Tech, vs. Duke). I think it’ll come down to an identical scenario from 2019, where Tech was down late, needed a score in Charlottesville, and Virginia made the plays to win the game. 

David’s Prediction: Virginia 41, Virginia Tech 31


What's your prediction for the 2021 Virginia Tech-Virginia game?

  • Cavaliers Win by 11+ (53%, 686 Votes)
  • Hokies Win by 1-10 (26%, 335 Votes)
  • Cavaliers Win by 1-10 (14%, 182 Votes)
  • Hokies Win by 11+ (7%, 87 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,290

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Last Game’s Virginia Tech-Miami Prediction Poll Results

Game Result: Miami 38, Virginia Tech 26

What's your prediction for the 2021 Virginia Tech-Miami game?

  • Hokies Win by 1-10 (41%, 479 Votes)
  • Miami Wins by 1-10 (30%, 347 Votes)
  • Miami Wins by 11+ (16%, 188 Votes)
  • Hokies Win by 11+ (13%, 146 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,160

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2021 Virginia Tech Football Predictions Tracker - TSL Staff
Game
Chris (5-7)
Will (6-6)
David (7-5)
Result
UNC
MTSU
@WVU
Richmond
Notre Dame
Pittsburgh
Syracuse
@Georgia Tech
@Boston College
Duke
@Miami
@UVA
2021 Virginia Tech Football Predictions Tracker - Fans (7-5)
Game
Fan Poll
Result
Score
UNC
Hokies Win by 1-10
Hokies 17, UNC 10
MTSU
Hokies Win by 11+
Hokies 35, MTSU 14
@WVU
Hokies Win by 1-10
WVU 27, Hokies 21
Richmond
Hokies Win by 11+
Hokies 21, Richmond 10
Notre Dame
Hokies Win by 1-10
Notre Dame 32, Hokies 29
Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh Wins by 11+
Pittsburgh 28, Hokies 7
Syracuse
Syracuse Wins by 1-10
Syracuse 41, Hokies 36
@Georgia Tech
Hokies Win by 1-10
Hokies 26, GT 17
@Boston College
Hokies Win by 1-10
Boston College 17, Hokies 3
Duke
Hokies Win by 1-10
Hokies 48, Duke 17
@Miami
Hokies Win by 1-10
Miami 38, Hokies 26
@Virginia
Virginia Wins by 11+
Hokies 29, Virginia 24
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26 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Excellent game preview, Will. And thanks for including opposing player numbers in the write-up, makes it easier. Hope Burmeister has an excellent game and leads our Hokies to victory, using Blumrick in key running situations, especially in the red zone. Go Hokies!!!

  2. Like the Pitt game, it is a bad match-up for us now. Uva’s D is terrible but VT’s O is also bad and has not shown that it can consistently score let alone keep up with Hoo O that is high scoring. Our D has been shredded quite a bit by the long pass and I am sure Brennan is licking his chops. I am very much a Hokie fan, however for some of you, just because anyone including other posters, TSL employees, and myself at times, pick the Hokies to lose, does NOT mean we are not Hokie fans. I know it is hard for some of you to believe.

  3. Buckle up & pull the belt tight as this is gonna be a bumpy landing on Sat.

    UVA can score virtually at will.
    VT can barely make it out of the huddle

    Bronco’s gonna hang half a hundred on VT defense whilst the preseason vaulted OL gets 2 QBs crushed.

    Ugly game by halftime

  4. After reading reading french60wasp on TKP seems like D vs Miami may have been on the coaches more than the players. Hope they can clean that up. We will need it.

  5. A good day to fish or head for the OBX.

    Appreciate what J C Price has tried to do and hope that he gets a nice bonus for his efforts. He has earned it.

  6. Hoping for the best. We can win, but our offensive line needs to dominate the defensive line to make offense more effective. Look, GT scored 40 points against that defense and our would like to think that offense is better or more capable than theirs. I can scenario if I defense don’t play stout where UVA can score a boatload on points.

  7. Run, run, and then run some more! Wear ’em down, control the clock, and keep Armstrong off the field. For Goodness sake, secondary, don’t let the receivers get behind you, and somebody please stay at home and herd Armstrong!

    You’re killers, boys, killers! Now go out there and kill some cavaliers!

    Tech wins on a late FG 31-28.

    Go Hokies!

  8. We are due for a game where the breaks, bounces and calls go our way. Maybe this is the week. But we need to create those positives. It will take a nearly error free performance, but with all the distractions behind us let’s hope they have the focus to pull it off. UVA is not THAT good, and we are not THAT bad.

  9. We are not as good as last year, missing KH, but we are not that bad and will score on uva defense. I don’t see where Armstrong is much better than last year either. Good numbers vs bad teams… I think the Hokies do it again in Lane North!

  10. I don’t know, with all the crap this group has put up with in their time at VT is could be they want to go out in style. If they have some early success, especially on defense, it could snow ball to a positive outcome. MB is not the greatest game coach in history, so there is that factoid. We will see which VT team shows up on Saturday – hopefully one that is focused and motivated.

    1. I believe they’ll want to win and they will be focused and they will play hard. But that’s not enough. We are just a very bad team right now. Heart and effort aren’t enough to overcome our issues.

  11. Somehow we need to figure out a way to win
    Losing to uva is sickening and he he team needs to win this one for themselves and JC Price

  12. “as Mendenhall jerked multiple quarterbacks in and out of the game, sometimes on a play-by-play basis. UVA looked like a complete clown show.”
    Yeah, this is exactly how I feel when we do the same thing with our QBs and RBs all the time. It’s a clown show!

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