Since 2004, the rivalry between Virginia and Virginia Tech has consisted of the Hokies pounding the Cavaliers on a yearly basis. Fourteen times in a row, Virginia Tech has beaten their in-state foe and only three of those outcomes have been by single digits.
But this year things could be different. Despite losing a heartbreaker to Georgia Tech last week, when usually reliable kicker Brian Delaney pulled an overtime kick wide left, the Cavaliers are 7-4 and bowl eligible for the second straight year. This time around, it’s the Hokies that are struggling, falling apart in the second half of a 38-14 loss to Miamito dip to 4-6.
Virginia at Virginia Tech
Kickoff: Friday, Nov. 23 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Virginia -4
Three Things to Watch
1. Bryce Perkins and Olamide Zaccheaus
In his first year in Charlottesville after transferring in from Arizona Western Community College, Perkins has been the key to the Cavaliers’ offense. He’s second on the team behind Jordan Ellis in rushing with 730 yards and he has thrown for 2,213 yards with 19 touchdowns. Perkins has developed a bond with Zaccheaus, who will wrap up his college career following the bowl game as Virginia’s all-time receptions leader. The Hokies faced a dual-threat quarterback last week in N’Kosi Perry of Miami and the results were not great. The Perkins-Zaccheus combination is even more dangerous.
2. Virginia Tech offensive line
The Miami defensive front made play after play behind the line of scrimmage last Saturday at Lane Stadium. In total, the Hurricanes had four sacks and seven other tackles for lost yardage. The week before, Pittsburgh had four sacks and nine total tackles for lost yardage. Virginia is a fundamentally sound defense that doesn’t create a lot of negative plays. But if end Charles Snowden and linebacker Chris Peace push Virginia Tech backwards, the Hokie offense will stagnate once again because big plays are hard to come by against this Virginia defense.
3. Taking care of the little things
Those little things are important to Virginia and it’s a big reason for their success. They are plus-two in turnover margin, third in the ACC in fewest penalties, and cover punts better than anyone in the league. The Hokies are not so good in these areas. While they are plus-one in turnover margin on the season, they have slid back to that number with a minus-thre November thanks in large part to a fumble and two Ryan Willis interceptions versus Miami. They have also averaged more than 50 yards of penalties per game and are 119th in the nation in punt coverage.
Virginia Tech is two wins away from bowl eligibility with only one game left on the schedule. However, the Hokies lost a game due to Hurricane Florence, as did Marshall. So the Thundering Herd will come to Blacksburg on Dec. 1, but only if the Hokies beat Virginia this week. At 7-3, Marshall has already qualified for the postseason, which is good because the Herd will be staying home next weekend. It’s been a while since Virginia Tech looked like a team that cared about playing football in December, so why would it start now? The Hokies certainly want to continue their winning ways over the Cavaliers, but Virginia wants that streak put to rest and they know that a victory to get to 8-4 would mean that a quality bowl bid awaits. Jordan Ellis will give balance to the Bryce Perkins-Olamide Zaccheaus combination, the UVA defense will be stout, and the new streak will be one in favor of the Hoos.
Prediction: Virginia 28, Virginia Tech 17
— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.