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Virginia Tech must defeat Virginia on Saturday afternoon to finish 6-6 and keep the bowl streak alive. If that sounds like a familiar story, it should. This is the third time in the last four seasons that the Hokies have found themselves in this position.
In 2012, a late interception and last second field goal by Cody Journell kept the bowl streak intact. In 2014, it was kept alive by late heroics from Michael Brewer and Bucky Hodges as the Hokies pulled out a 24-20 victory. Will the Hokies find a way to do it again in 2015?
There’s another storyline in this game, of course, and that’s “Fired vs. Retired.” This will most likely be Mike London’s last game on the UVA sideline, as he’s expected to be fired at the end of the season. We already know that Frank Beamer is retiring, and this is his last battle for the Commonwealth Cup.
Both coaches will be looking to go out with a win, for different reasons. London would probably like to go out on one of the few high notes of his career. Frank Beamer has defeated UVA 11 times in a row. It wouldn’t be a good look for the Commonwealth Cup streak and the bowl streak to come to an end in what could be his final game.
Here’s a closer look at the Hoos, who enter game with a 4-7 record, and a 3-5 mark in ACC play.
Close Losses Cost Hoos a Chance at Going Bowling
Virginia is not a good football team. They are 4-7 for a reason. However, they’ve also been close to winning several games.
Notre Dame: 34-27 L
Pitt: 26-19 L
Miami: 27-21 L
Louisville: 38-31 L
Notre Dame could be heading to the playoffs, and it took a late touchdown for them to win in Charlottesville. Pitt is 8-3, Miami is 7-4, and Louisville is 6-5. The Hoos lost some very close games to bowl teams.
Close doesn’t count in football, however. UVA isn’t a particularly talented team, despite what you hear some folks say. The fact that they landed three 5-star guys a couple of years back has diluted people’s minds. The fact of the matter is that much of their roster is made up of guys who were not sought after by very many other Power 5 programs. Three 5-star recruits aren’t going to overcome the overall lack of talent and depth in the program, especially if a couple of those 5-star guys turned out to be overrated.
Tech has had their issues in recruiting recently, but I believe they are a more talented team overall than UVA. They are definitely better coached.
Still, this is a UVA team that can’t be taken lightly, especially since the Hokies are just 5-6 themselves. Their offense has come on recently, and in the back of their minds they know this will be Mike London’s final game, so you know they’ll be fighting for the guy who recruited them to Charlottesville.
The UVA Offense vs. the VT Defense
Using the S&P+ advanced metrics, here’s how the UVA offense matches up with Bud Foster’s defense. First, the UVA offense…
Success Rate: #77
Explosive Plays: #64
The UVA offense has been much better this season with no quarterback controversy. However, the Hoos are still struggling to run the football. Here are Tech’s defensive numbers…
Success Rate: #15
Explosive Plays: #120
Tech’s defense has improved as of late. The Hokies have been poor when it comes to allowing the big play, but opponents are having trouble driving the length of the field. If they can avoid the big play against a middling UVA offense, then they should be just fine on Saturday.
Make UVA One-Dimensional
The UVA offense runs through starting tailback Taquan “Smoke” Mizzell (5-10, 195, Jr.). He leads the team in rushing and receiving, and he’s had an impressive season overall.
Rushing: 152 carries, 645 yards, 4.2 ypc, 4 TDs
Receiving: 68 catches, 671 yards, 9.9 ypc, 4 TDs
UVA’s running game as a whole has struggled this year, as the Hoos are averaging just 134.1 yards per game. Here’s how starting running backs have fared against the Hokies each week (not including Georgia Tech, because the Jackets don’t have a traditional running back)…
Zeke Elliott, OSU: 11 carries, 122 yards
Triston Luke, Furman: 10 carries, 79 yards
DJ Knox, Purdue: 8 carries, 16 yards
Chris Hairston, ECU: 15 carries, 3 yards
Quadree Ollison, Pitt: 19 carries, 122 yards
Matthew Dayes, NC State: 14 carries, 66 yards
Joe Yearby, Miami: 19 carries, 60 yards
Shaq Powell, Duke: 7 carries, 15 yards
Myles Willis, BC: 10 carries, 11 yards
Isaiah Hood, UNC: 17 carries, 115 yards
Overal: 130 carries, 609 yards, 4.68 ypc
Tech has been inconsistent when it comes to stopping tailbacks this year. They have dominated some, and been gashed by others. The Hokies have generally shut down UVA’s top back during their 11-game, and in fact they’ve held the Hoos to some paltry rushing numbers over the years.
2014: 35 carries, 38 yards, 1.1 ypc
2013: 27 carries, 109 yards, 4.0 ypc
2012: 20 carries, 30 yards, 1.5 ypc
2011: 26 carries, 30 yards, 1.2 ypc
2010: 34 carries, 70 yards, 2.1 ypc
2009: 37 carries, 175 yards, 4.7 ypc
2008: 31 carries, 172 yards, 5.5 ypc
2007: 36 carries, 97 yards, 2.7 ypc
2006: 23 carries, 46 yards, 2.0 ypc
2005: 30 carries, 114 yards, 3.0 ypc
2004: 46 carries, 188 yards, 4.1 ypc
Total: 345 carries, 1069 yards, 3.1 ypc
The Hoos have averaged 1.5 yards per carry or less in three of their last four meetings with the Hokies. Tech almost always dominates this game in the trenches. If they can do the same in this meeting, that will force UVA to win the game through the air, and I don’t think they are capable of doing that against VT.
Matt Johns: Improved, But a Turnover Machine
Virginia Tech fans thought Michael Brewer threw a lot of interceptions last year. He threw 15 in 441 attempts. So far in 2015, UVA quarterback Matt Johns (6-5, 210, Jr.) has thrown 15 picks in 365 attempts. For his career, he has 20 interceptions in 527 attempts for a ratio of 0.038. That’s not good.
Johns is completing 62.7% of his passes, and he’s thrown 19 touchdowns. UVA’s lack of success running the football hasn’t helped Johns any this year, and neither has their lack of quality depth at wide receiver. Canaan Severin (6-2, 205, Sr.) is very productive with 51 catches for 713 yards and seven touchdowns, but after that the wide receiver position leaves a lot to be desired.
TJ Thorpe (6-0, 200, Sr.): 20 catches, 295 yards, 1 TD
Olamide Zaccheaus (5-8, 190, Fr.): 19 catches, 197 yards, 1 TD
No other UVA wide receiver has more than 13 receptions on the season. The Hokies have a ton of youth in their secondary, especially with Brandon Facyson potentially out this weekend, but the Hoos can’t counter with a talented and deep group of wide receivers.
Talent Level of the Offense
UVA has struggled to keep opposing defenders out of the backfield this season. The Hoos are a modest #54 in sacks allowed, and a poor #81 in tackles for loss allowed.
Using NFL Draft Scout as a tool, we can see that the UVA offensive line is not particularly talented. None of their starters are projected to be drafted.
LT Jack English (6-5, 300, So.): #95 OT in the 2018 Draft
LG Ross Burbank (6-4, 310, Sr.): #37 C in the 2016 Draft
C Jackson Matteo (6-5, 290, Jr.): Unranked C in the 2017 Draft
RG Jay Whitmire (6-6, 315, Sr.): #77 OG in the 2016 Draft
RT Eric Smith (6-5, 300, Jr.): #43 OT in the 2017 Draft
Unfortunately, Virginia Tech starting defensive end Dadi Nicolas is suspended for the first half of this game. That being said, Nicolas has been ineffective all season thanks to hand injuries. It’s Vinny Mihota’s time to shine.
I believe Tech’s defensive tackles – Luther Maddy and Corey Marshall – are going to be very difficult for the Hoos to block. I also think Ken Ekanem is a tough matchup on the edge for Jack English.
As far as the rest of the offense goes, here’s how NFL Draft Scout ranks the starters…
QB Matt Johns: #18 QB in the 2017 Draft
RB Smoke Mizzell: #37 RB in the 2017 Draft
WR Canaan Severin: #44 WR in the 2016 Draft
WR TJ Thorpe: #63 WR in the 2016 Draft
WR Keeon Johnson: Unranked WR in the 2017 Draft
TE Charlie Hopkins: #49 TE in the 2016 Draft
At this point in time, Matt Johns is the highest regarded offensive player on the team, at least as far as NFL scouting goes. Not that NFL Draft Scout is the end all, be all of scouting metrics, but it’s pretty obvious that the UVA offense doesn’t feature guys who have futures in professional football. On the whole, I like the way the Hokie defense matches up.
The VT Offense vs. the UVA Defense
Here’s how Tech’s offense matches up with the UVA defense. We’ll start with the Hokies…
Success Rate: #75
Explosive Plays: #120
Tech’s offense has improved this year. However, they still lack playmakers that make explosive plays, and that’s the #1 thing that’s missing on the offensive side of the ball. Here’s how the UVA defense looks…
Success Rate: #99
Explosive Plays: #89
UVA’s defense has not been impressive this season. The Hokies hold a slight advantage here, despite their inability to hit a lot of big plays this year.
Let’s use NFL Draft Scout again to analyze the talent level on the defensive side of the ball.
DE Kwontie Moore (6-2, 280, Sr.): #48 DT in the 2016 Draft
DT David Dean (6-1, 290, Sr.): #35 DT in the 2016 Draft
DT Andrew Brown (6-4, 280, So.): #6 DT in the 2018 Draft
DE Trent Corney (6-3, 255, Sr.): Unranked in the 2016 Draft
LB Mike Moore (6-4, 265, Sr.): #41 DE in the 2016 Draft
LB Micah Kiser (6-2, 240, So.): #15 ILB in the 2018 Draft
LB CJ Stalker (6-2, 225, Fr.): #9 OLB in the 2019 Draft
CB Maurice Canaday (6-2, 195, Sr.): #5 CB in the 2016 Draft
CB Tim Harris (6-2, 200, Jr.): #18 CB in the 2017 Draft
SS Kelvin Rainey (6-1, 195, Jr.): #Unranked in the 2017 Draft
FS Quin Blanding (6-2, 205, So.): #1 SS in the 2018 Draft
From an NFL talent perspective, there appears to be more ability on Virginia’s defense than the Hoos have on offense. However, on the field their defense has been their weakness this season. Besides the advanced stats we showed you in the previous section, check out the amount of points this group has allowed this season…
34 to UCLA
34 to Notre Dame
29 to William & Mary
56 to Boise State
26 to Pitt
38 to Syracuse
26 to UNC
21 to Georgia Tech
27 to Miami
38 to Louisville
34 to Duke
*Note: Those totals include any defensive or special teams touchdowns opponents might have scored, but you get the point: the UVA defense hasn’t been good at keeping teams out of the endzone.
That’s not good at all. When 26 points is the second lowest point total you’ve allowed all season, then you have problems on the defensive side of the ball. I like a number of UVA’s defenders, such as defensive tackle David Dean, but on the whole this unit has not performed up to its talent level.
Players to watch…
DT David Dean: 8 TFL, 3.5 sacks
DE Mike Moore: 11.5 TFL, 6 sacks
LB Micah Kiser: 11.5 TFL, 6.5 sacks
FS Quin Blanding: 105 tackles (though when your free safety has 100+ tackles, it’s probably not a good thing.)
Special Teams Comparison
Though they haven’t been flashy, the Hokies are having a very good year on special teams. Here’s how they rank in each category, according to the FEI special teams ratings.
Field Goal Efficiency: #14
Punt Return Efficiency (includes blocked punts): #28
Kickoff Return Efficiency: #64
Punt Efficiency: #10
Kickoff Efficiency: #80
Opponent Field Goal Efficiency: #39
Those numbers are much better than UVA’s special teams rankings…
Field Goal Efficiency: #38
Punt Return Efficiency (includes blocked punts): #124
Kickoff Return Efficiency: #110
Punt Efficiency: #42
Kickoff Efficiency: #104
Opponent Field Goal Efficiency: #77
The Hokies rank better than the Hoos in every single category on special teams. Tech obviously holds an advantage on special teams, and they need to take advantage of it on Saturday.
The advanced stats comparison shows that the Hokies have a big advantage over UVA on special teams. Tech’s offense holds a slight advantage against the UVA defense, while Bud’s defense is also at an advantage against the Hoo offense. On paper, this is a football game that Virginia Tech should win.
Because of those advantages, plus the fact that Tech has won this game 11 years in a row – and 15 out of the last 16 years – there’s no way I can pick against the Hokies in this one. I’m expecting a close game, with two middling teams flailing away at each other in despair, but in the end the Hokies will find a way to win. Or, perhaps UVA will find a way to lose. Either way, I see a victory for the good guys.
Chris’ Prediction: Virginia Tech 27, UVA 20
Will Stewart’s Take: Due to family responsibilities, I’m writing this Tuesday night, without the benefit of being able to read Chris’ preview.
That’s okay: I don’t need no stinkin’ preview.
(A link for you, in case you don’t get the reference.)
Here’s a tweet that sums up what Frank Beamer means to the Tech-UVa rivalry:
Frank Beamer will be remembered for many things, among them as the man who reduced the VT-UVA rivalry to ashes. pic.twitter.com/KxSEZCFu1w
— Will Stewart (@WillStewartTSL) November 23, 2015
If you’re scoring at home, that’s 15 out of the last 16 and 11 in a row.
The Hoos have gotten close to ending the streak several times in the last seven games. In 2008, the Hokies won 17-14 on a Dustin Keys field goal with 6:37 left.
In 2012, Michael Rocco gifted the Hokies an interception with about three minutes to go (courtesy of Antone Exum), and Cody Journell chipped in a short field goal as time expired for another 17-14 win.
And of course, last year a punchless Hokie offense came up with a dramatic late score to bring the Hokies back from behind and win 24-20.
One of these days, the Cavaliers will break through. But not this year. One way or another, Frank Beamer will find a way to beat Virginia, as he has done 15 out of the last 16 times the two teams have met. Frank has ushered George Welsh and Al Groh out the door; Mike London is next. It’s a Thanksgiving tradition.
After Frank leaves, it will be up to the next Virginia Tech coach to carry on this streak. That’s later. But for now …
Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 24, Virginia 17