Virginia Football 2016 Season Game Preview: Virginia Tech

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Senior center Jackson Matteo and the rest of Virginia’s offensive line will have to come up big against an aggressive Tech defensive front. ~

UVA travels to Virginia Tech on Saturday hoping to play the role of spoiler and seeking to capture the Commonwealth Cup for the first time since 2003.

Heading into Saturday’s matchup in Blacksburg, Virginia owns a 2-9 overall record (1-6 in the ACC) in its first season under head coach Bronco Mendenhall. The Cavaliers are on a 6-game losing streak and have not won since October 1, when they defeated Duke in Durham, North Carolina.

Virginia has won only two games against Virginia Tech since 1998, which was the last time the Cavaliers defeated the Hokies in Blacksburg. UVA’s last victory over Tech came in Charlottesville in 2003.

Virginia Tech (8-3, 5-2) enters Saturday’s contest tied for the Coastal Division lead with UNC. A win over UVA clinches the Coastal and a spot in the ACC Championship against Clemson. A loss coupled with a North Carolina win would put the Tar Heels back in the ACC title game for a second consecutive year.

As usual the Hokies boast a top defense led by longtime defensive coordinator Bud Foster. Tech’s defense ranks no. 20 in the nation in total defense (339.9 per game) and no. 28 in the country in scoring defense (22.1 points per game). The Hokies rank seventh in the nation in tackles for loss, averaging 8.1 per game.

First year Hokie head coach Justin Fuente has brought an innovative and potent offense to Blacksburg. Led by junior QB Jerod Evans, who has completed 64.2% of his passes for 2,786 yards with 24 touchdowns and only five interceptions, the Tech offense is averaging 33.5 points per contest. Evans is the catalyst of the passing game but also is the team’s leading rusher, averaging 61.4 yards on the ground per game.

After starting junior Kurt Benkert the first 10 games of the season, Coach Mendenhall turned to senior quarterback Matt Johns as the starter last week against Georgia Tech. Johns threw for 220 yards and a touchdown; however, he also threw three interceptions, the last of which was a Pick-6 that sealed the 31-17 win for the Yellow Jackets. Virginia controlled much of last week’s game in Atlanta, but the turnovers and big plays — major problems for the Hoos this year — were costly.

Johns, the Cavaliers’ starter all of the 2015 season, gets the nod once again this week.

Virginia Football Essentials

Hoo Facts

  • Virginia has lost the last 12 meetings against Virginia Tech.
  • UVA’s Bronco Mendenhall and Virginia Tech’s Justin Fuente will be coaching in their first Commonwealth Cup. However, the two have faced each other as head coaches before. A Fuente-led Memphis team defeated the then Mendenhall-led BYU Cougars, 55-48, in the 2014 Miami Beach Bowl.
  • At BYU, Mendenhall faced a TCU team that featured Fuente as a Co-Offensive Coordinator three times (2009-2011). TCU won all three times, scoring 38, 31, and 38 points in those victories.
  • Virginia last defeated Virginia Tech in Blacksburg in 1998, coming back from a 29-7 halftime deficit to defeat the Hokies, 36-32.
  • Virginia Tech wide receivers coach Holman Wiggins played wide receiver for New Mexico from 1998-2001. During the time, Mendenhall was the Lobos’ defensive coordinator/defensive backs coach.
  • UVA has scored a touchdown on 73.7% of its opportunities inside the red-zone. This ranks 14th in the nation among FBS schools.
  • With 38 yards rushing against Virginia Tech, senior Taquan Mizzell will topple the 2,000-yard mark for his career. He would be the 19th Cavalier to accomplish this feat. With six catches against the Hokies, Mizzell can become the second player in Cavalier history to total 200 career receptions.
  • Junior LB Micah Kiser leads UVA in tackles (120) and sacks (6.5) this season. Junior DE Andrew Brown leads the Cavaliers in tackles for loss (13).
  • Senior WR Keeon Johnson needs eight receptions to reach 100 catches for his Cavalier career.
  • Senior P Nicholas Conte is no. 1 in the ACC and no. 14 in the nation in punting average (44.6). Conte leads the nation with 32 punts inside the 20.

3 Hoos To Watch

    • Tailback Taquan Mizzell.

Tech surrendered over 200 yards rushing in a 23-20 win over Virginia last season. The Hokies are allowing 149.2 yards per game on the ground so far this year. Mizzell will be a factor in the receiving game as he always is, but he and Albert Reid will need to have huge running success for Virginia to come out on top on Saturday.

    • Defensive End Andrew Brown.

Virginia’s defensive front will have to get after Jerod Evans the way they did against Louisville’s Lamar Jackson. Controlling the line of scrimmage is a and Brown will be a big part of that.

    • Safety Quin Blanding.

On the back end, Blanding will be huge in coverage as well as against the run. Virginia’s Preseason All-ACC free safety has played well despite dealing with an injury for much of the year. He’ll need to be dominant, though, against the Hokies.

3 Hokies To Watch

    • Quarterback Jerod Evans.

The junior college transfer had some fumbling problems early on but righted the ship and has been terrific for the Hokies in the passing game and run game. He makes this offense go.

    • Wide Receiver Isaiah Ford.

Evans has several quality targets at his disposal, but Ford, a 2016 Preseason All-ACC selection, leads Tech in receptions (65), receiving yards (881), and receiving touchdowns (7).

    • Linebacker Tremaine Edmunds.

Edmunds is productive against the run but also creates major headaches in the pass game. The 6’5”, 235-pound sophomore currently ranks second on the team in tackles, second in tackles for loss (15.5), and tied for second in sacks (4.5).

3 Things To Watch

    • The trenches.

As I mentioned, establishing the run is imperative for Virginia to have success in this game. The Cavalier offensive line has to create some holes, particularly up the middle of an aggressive Hokie defense, and give Johns time in the pocket. Defensively, the Hoos have to harass Evans all day long. Ford, Cam Phillips, Bucky Hodges, and Sam Rogers are all quality receiving options for the Hokies. They all can break big plays if Evans has time.

    • Turnovers.

Virginia has turned the ball over 23 times. That’s over two per game. That’s not good, but what makes it worse is that these turnovers have been so impactful, leading to defensive scores or giving the opponent great field position or costing the Cavaliers scoring opportunities inside the red-zone. Virginia will need to be turnover-free against the Hokies. The Cavalier defense will need to create some turnovers as well. In its three losses, Virginia Tech has turned the ball over 11 times.

    • Start strong and finish strong.

Virginia cannot get down quickly or else this could turn into a blowout. The first half has generally not been a big issue for the Cavaliers this season, though. The second half has. Just this month, Virginia has blown second half leads against Wake Forest and Georgia Tech and watched Miami turn a close game into a blowout. The Cavaliers held fourth quarter leads against Virginia Tech in 2014 and 2015 but blew those as well.

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