Three Reasons Why Virginia Tech Could Beat Virginia
It’s that time of the year again!
No, not Christmastime. It’s the Commonwealth Clash!
The Hokies are welcoming UVA to Lane Stadium with a chance to bring the Commonwealth Cup home. It has been a tale of two very different teams so far this season.
UVA has won four games in a row after a 1-4 start, while the Hokies have lost four in a row after starting 4-2. These are two teams seemingly on very different trajectories to finish the season, so that means this is a shoo-in for the Hoos, right?
As I pointed out in a previous article this week, Hate Week is a very real thing, and the Hokies have had some awesome performances against the Hoos, even when the odds seemed to be against them.
Here are three reasons why the Hokies could get their 16th win against UVA in their last 17 matchups:
History is on the Hokies’ side
The last time the Hokies and Hoos met in Lane Stadium, the former was 4-6 and had lost four in a row, much like this year’s team. That game turned out to be an instant classic, with VT squeaking away a three-point victory in the first overtime matchup in the rivalry’s history.
Despite being in the midst of what was the program’s worst season in over 25 years, the Hokies found a way to pull it out against a team that, frankly, they were less talented than.
Looking at these two teams now, my honest evaluation is that the Hokies are vastly underachieving while the Hoos are overachieving.
Many of those same VT players from the 2018 squad are now juniors and seniors. Meanwhile, UVA has lost many key contributors from that team, including Bryce Perkins, Joe Reed, Hasise Dubois, Jordan Ellis, Bryce Hall, Jordan Mack and Charles Snowden.
You can see a clear talent dropoff from each of these players’ replacements.
Couple that with the motivational impact this rivalry brings and Justin Fuente’s history of capitalizing on it, and you have a recipe for a Hokie win.
That UVA Secondary is H-O-R-R-I-B-L-E
During the three ACC games in UVA’s winning streak, they have given up an average of just under 375 passing yards per game to opposing quarterbacks. That is really, really bad.
Now, the Hokies’ passing game has not given much reason this season to be confident they can exploit this weakness, but there is one game in particular during UVA’s stretch I want to focus on: their win over Louisville.
In that game, the Hoos held Malik Cunningham to only 161 yards in the air, but he also ran for 197 yards and two touchdowns. Cunningham is a very similar player to presumed Hokie starter Hendon Hooker, so it is rational to believe Hooker can put up similar numbers.
UVA’s other two ACC wins in that stretch, UNC and Boston College, did not find success running their QB’s (Sam Howell and Dennis Grosel), but neither is known as a dual-threat QB.
When factoring in QB runs, UVA gave up 423 total yards per game against UL, UNC and BC. This means that no matter which way the Hokies try to attack, UVA’s defense is powerless to stop it.
UVA’s secondary is bad not only in coverage but once an athletic QB like Hooker or Cunningham gets past the first line, they can be expected to fail in taking the right angles to bring him down.
One of the primary reasons UL was only able to score 17 points against the Hoos was that despite Cunningham’s efforts, the Cardinals were without their two best playmakers, Javian Hawkins and TuTu Atwell.
The Hokies have comparable players in Khalil Herbert and Tre Turner, meaning in addition to a great performance from Hooker, the Hokies can find more success through those players than the Cardinals did.
Speaking of Turner…
Big Day for Big Play Tre
Turner is, without a doubt, the Hokies’ best downfield threat, and if he is able to play (he missed the Clemson game), he could be in for a special game.
Turner tends to have special games against the Hoos, as both of his performances against them have been spectacular.
Who could forget the miraculous one-handed catch over Bryce Hall (pictured above) he had as a true freshman in 2018? He finished that game with 112 total yards, plus a blocked punt that sent Lane Stadium over the edge.
In 2019, despite the team’s loss, Turner had another fantastic performance, catching seven passes for 134 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 25 more yards. In Turner’s career against the Hoos, he has 271 total yards, two touchdowns and a blocked punt.
UVA struggled to cover him in last season’s matchup, and their defense has only regressed since then.
Turner is averaging 16.3 yards per catch this season, and he is sure to have some long catches against the Hoos.
But Turner is not the only player to expect big plays from.
According to ESPN’s David Hale, Virginia Tech has the fifth-highest percentage of explosive plays in the FBS, while UVA gives up the 10th-highest percentage of explosive plays.
Coincidentally, those percentages almost exactly align, as VT has 16.39% of their plays become explosive while 16.29% of plays against UVA’s defense do the same. This means, based on these numbers, you can expect between 16 and 17 percent of VT’s plays on Saturday to go for 10 yards or more.
For a team as momentum-driven as the Hokies, this is crucial. In their last three losses, they faced three of the defenses least-prone to give up explosive plays in the ACC in Miami, Pittsburgh and Clemson. This made it difficult to have the types of plays that jumpstart the team’s momentum.
If the Hokies can have some long plays - particularly long touchdowns - through Herbert and Big Play Tre, plus even introducing Big Play Tay(vion) and Big Play J(ames Mitchell), momentum could swing firmly in the Hokies’ direction.