Virginia Tech Gears Up For Thursday Night Clash With West Virginia

Brent Pry knows the Virginia Tech-West Virginia rivalry. (Ivan Morozov)

Born in Altoona, Pa. in 1970 and the son of a coach, Brent Pry spent much of his upbringing in West Virginia. His father, Jim, coached at West Virginia Tech, Lewis County High School and West Liberty State after spending two years as a graduate assistant at Marshall, his alma mater. That planted the family roots in the Mountain State.

Jim became VMI’s offensive coordinator in 1984, moving the Pry family to Virginia. Brent graduated from Lexington High School in 1988, and he attended Frank Beamer’s football camps in hopes of playing at Virginia Tech. Fast forward to 1995 when he became a defensive graduate assistant under Bud Foster, where he spent his next three years. VT-WVU met three times over that span.

Tech’s head honcho understands the Hokie-Mountaineer rivalry all too well.

“I still have friends in West Virginia,” Pry told the media on Monday. “I grew up most of my life there. And my dad had three or four coaching stops in the state before coming to Lexington. … I don’t get caught up in the emotions of it, but I know it means a lot to a lot of people in this area, and I still respect that.”

The Hokies and Mountaineers squared off each of the three years Pry spent in Blacksburg in the 90s. The 1996 contest featured a top-25 matchup with No. 17 VT and No. 23 WVU, a game Tech won 31-14.

“That was a fistfight,” Pry said of the 1996 game for the Black Diamond Trophy. “I think we had gone up there the year before and played ‘em pretty well, maybe blanked ‘em, came back to our place with a lot on the line. It was a fistfight, just like we thought it would be. It was good play on both sides.”

On Thursday, Sept. 22, Virginia Tech and West Virginia meet for the 54th time, the first with Pry as head coach. Moreover, with no future date on the schedule, the prime time game (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN in Lane Stadium) is the last between the rivals for the foreseeable future.

Combine that with how last year’s meeting finished and there’s a lot at stake.

“Just being that close really hurt not getting it done up there [last year],” Tech captain and linebacker Dax Hollifield said.

It’ll certainly be a battle. Under first-year offensive coordinator Graham Harrell, a former Texas Tech quarterback, the Mountaineers possess a high-powered offense. They rank 11th in scoring offense, 13th in total offense, 25th in passing offense and 28th in rushing offense. After winning a national championship with Georgia, JT Daniels transferred into the program in the offseason, and it’s a well-balanced group.

“They’ve got a solid, veteran offensive line, four or five starters back,” Pry said. “They’ve got two talented backs, three talented receivers, got a solid tight end. And now they’ve got a quarterback that can run the show, run the offense and make the throws. … There’s really not a weakness in their offensive unit.”

Hollifield said Daniels’ arm strength is the main difference between this West Virginia offense and last year’s. However, there’s a lot of tempo, and that’s coupled with finding athletes in space.

Virginia Tech flocked to the ball against Boston College. (Ivan Morozov)

It’s going to be a challenge for the Hokies’ defense, though they’ve impressed through three games. They rank No. 3 in rushing defense, No. 3 in third down conversion defense and No. 5 in total defense. One of the biggest things is how good Tech’s been at tackling in the open field.

The staff teaches “tracking-attacking” and does a “hunt grade” each week that tests how the defense is swarming to the football. Players are deducted points for anything that isn’t “a true react and drive,” and it’s a motivation tool for the players. Hollifield said it gives the group a good standard to meet every week, which translates to the game.

“I’d say the reason we’re playing so well right now is because of how we practice and how we go to work every day,” Hollifield said. “We try to make practice simulate games Tuesday and Wednesday. That’s really where it shows up, I’d say, just how hard we work.”

A strength on strength battle is expected on Sept. 22, 28 years to the day of Virginia Tech and West Virginia’s inaugural Thursday night meeting. And after the Mountaineers punched the Hokies in the mouth last year, a bad taste lingers.

“I want that trophy back,” Hollifield said.

Depth Chart Notes

Virginia Tech released its updated depth chart on Monday. Here are a few observations:

  • After his four catches for 61 yards on Saturday against Wofford, Jadan Blue is now listed as a starter at wide receiver. 
  • Malachi Thomas, who has not played this season, is not listed in the depth chart at running back. Pry said he’s “probably a long shot, but we made it a game-day decision.” Keshawn King is expected to play.
  • True freshman Keyshawn Burgos is listed as a No. 3 defensive end, replacing redshirt freshman Jorden McDonald.
  • There is no longer an “OR” listed at Sam linebacker; Keonta Jenkins is the No. 1 option there ahead of J.R. Walker and Keli Lawson (who is also listed at Will). “When we first approached him with [the position change], he kind of gave me that sideways look, like, ‘Whatchu talkin’ ‘bout, Willis? Like, hold on, now. I’m a DB,'” Pry joked on Monday. “But he’s really growing into the position. … Keonta’s getting better and better each week. He had a nagging injury that I think he’s finally over.”
  • Running back Chance Black and wide receiver Cole Beck are listed as the team’s top two kickoff returners. “We want to give Beck an opportunity,” Pry said. “He’s been playing some gunner on our punt team and doing a good job there. But a chance to get the ball in his hands. He’s obviously a fast guy. When you talk about a guy that can make a difference and make a big, explosive play, he’s certainly one of those guys. We’ve just got to keep creating opportunities, and that’s one way we can do it.”

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