Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia have played 88 previous games, but no game in this rivalry has been as
big as this one. The Hokies and Hoos will meet at noon on Saturday with the Coastal Division championship at stake and
the right to play Boston College in the ACC Championship Game. Both teams come into the game with identical 9-2 records
and 6-1 records in the conference, and both teams are playing their best football of the season right now. So, what are
the keys to this huge game?
The Virginia Tech-Virginia series has a history of big plays in all phases of the game, and this game will likely be
decided by a few critical plays. Neither team is prone to mistakes, so any turnover advantage will be huge. The Hokies
would appear to have the advantage in personnel capable of making big plays on both sides of the line, but the Cavaliers
have been excellent at preventing the big play this year on defense and not making big mistakes on offense. Both squads
are very experienced and realize the importance of big plays in determining the outcome of a game, so do not expect a
lot of unnecessary chances to be taken.
With two defensive-oriented teams, the battle for field position will obviously be important. Special teams always
seem to play a major role in this game and both teams are solid in this area. The kicking game looks to be about even
with both punters and place kickers having good seasons. Both teams are capable of blocking punts, and both units will
surely be working overtime to come up with a scheme to get to the punter. The Hokies would appear to be more explosive
in the return game with Eddie Royal, and that may be a big factor in this game. However, the advantage for the Hokies on
special teams this year would not appear to be as great as previous years.
Another intangible factor that could play a role in this game is that Virginia did not have to play last weekend.
That extra week of preparation, in addition to the added time to heal injuries, should help the Wahoos. Al Groh has an
overall record of 9-2 after a bye week and 7-0 in home games following a bye. However, Virginia Tech has been the ACC’s
best road team over the last four years with a 14-1 record. The Hokies appear to be more focused on the road, and I am
sure that Frank Beamer would much rather play each week to maintain Tech’s homestretch momentum. Regardless of the
trends or records, you can be certain that we will see each team’s best effort on Saturday.
Keys to the Game
When Virginia has the Ball:
1. Win the Battle in the Trenches
With so much at stake, this game will surely be a hard-hitting, physical game. Both teams would love to establish the
run, but the running game will be absolutely critical for Virginia. Much of the UVA offense is predicated on
establishing the run, so the Hokies must win the line of scrimmage and slow down the Wahoo running attack. Virginia’s
passing game is most effective using play-action passes, but for this strategy to work the Hoos must first establish a
ground game. Virginia is not as effective in a drop-back passing game, so the Hokies’ goal on defense is to make the
Cavaliers’ offense one-dimensional. If Bud Foster’s defense can hold UVA to under 100 yards rushing, then I like Tech’s
chances a lot in this game.
Virginia’s offensive line is big, physical, and experienced, with all five starters returning this year. Tech’s
defensive line is also big and physical with three fifth-year seniors starting. Something has to give in this key
confrontation, which was clearly won by Virginia Tech last year. The Hokies have to maintain gap control and handle
UVA’s inside zone running. In particular, Tech’s defensive tackles must control the interior defensive line.
A key match-up to watch is UVA’s best lineman, left guard Brandon Albert (#71, 6-7 310, Jr., 5.26), and VT’s
defensive tackle Carlton Powell. Albert is a big, strong lineman with solid run and pass blocking skills. The one issue
with Albert is that he tends to play too high, a typical problem with tall linemen. Powell needs to get underneath
Albert’s pads and drive through the gaps to win this physical match-up.
On the other side of the center is Ian Yates-Cunningham (#77, 6-3 298, r-Sr., 5.24) at right guard. IYC has good
mobility and is technically sound, but he can have trouble with bigger power rushers.
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