Cavaliers aim to win their second straight over the Hokies
Something feels different about this year's game between the Virginia Cavaliers and Virginia Tech Hokies. Sure, the situation surrounding COVID-19 certainly plays a part, but it's more than just that.
Oh yeah, it's because Virginia isn't looking to snap a long losing streak in the series. After falling to the Hokies 15 consecutive times, the Cavaliers broke through last year with 12 points in the last 7:35, including nine in the final two minutes, to claim a 39-30 victory.
This year, the momentum of the two programs has flip-flopped. The Hokies got off to a strong start but have lost their last four games while Virginia started the season 1-4 and now is riding a four-game winning streak.
Virginia at Virginia Tech
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 12 at 8 p.m. ET
TV: ACC Network
Spread: Virginia Tech -3
When Virginia Has the Ball
After shuffling through quarterbacks for various reasons to start the season, Brennan Armstrong claimed the starting job midway through the year and that was the catalyst for UVA's recent success. During the four-game winning streak, the sophomore from Shelby, Ohio, has completed 65 percent of his throws for 1,081 yards with nine touchdowns against three picks. He has also rushed for 308 yards and four scores over that span.
The versatile Billy Kemp's 6.4 receptions per game top the ACC while Terrell Jana and tight end Tony Poljan both have 33 grabs on the year. Armstrong is Virginia's leading rusher and Wayne Taulapapa heads the running back committee. The Cavs' rushing offense has had a 50-yard per game improvement over 2019 and much of the credit has to go to their offensive line.
Virginia will be going against a Hokie defense that is 13th in the ACC in total defense, just four yards clear of league-worst Florida State, and they are only above the Seminoles with an average of 6.33 yards allowed per play. Last week, Clemson had 433 yards on just 52 plays. Mobile quarterbacks like Armstrong have given the team problems at times, but Boston College, Louisville, and Pittsburgh threw for large totals too. The Hokies have not gotten what they would like out of a linebacking group that figured to be one of the league's best and the secondary has not made enough plays on the ball, especially considering that their front can apply pressure. End Amare Barno has been a standout this season with 14 tackles for lost yardage.
When Virginia Tech Has the Ball
The quarterback situation at Virginia Tech appears to be a muddled mess at this time. Starter Hendon Hooker came out of the Clemson game after one possession, returned when Braxton Burmeister was injured, then left again because he was experiencing discomfort due to the cold temperatures, putting third-string Knox Kadum in the game. Who starts this week is anyone's guess though it would make sense that if Burmeister can play, he would be the choice as he had the most success against the Tigers.
Regardless of who takes snaps, Tech will look to running back Khalil Herbert to generate some offense. The senior had another nice showing with 96 rushing yards versus Clemson and went over the 1,000-yard mark in the process. If Hooker is in there, he is another dynamic running threat while Burmeister can also pick up some yards with his feet. But getting something out of the passing game is imperative because...
The Virginia defense allows just 126 yards per game on the ground but ranks last nationally in pass defense, yielding 315 a contest. Five opponents have passed for more than 300 yards on the Cavaliers, including Boston College in their most recent game, when Eagle backup quarterback Dennis Grosel threw for 520. The Virginia defense is spearheaded by linebackers Nick Jackson and Zane Zandier, two good run defenders that can pressure the quarterback at times. UVA's big defensive issue is that they give up way too many big chunk plays in the passing game.
Despite the spread favoring Virginia Tech, everything else seems to be pointing in Virginia's direction. The Cavaliers got the Hokie monkey off their back with a win last year and they come into the game having won four in a row while Virginia Tech has lost four straight. Virginia is versatile enough on offense to give a struggling Virginia Tech defense problems and with the Hokies' questions at quarterback, Tech may not be able to take advantage of UVA's biggest weakness. Virginia will win the game and retain the Commonwealth Cup.
Prediction: Virginia 38, Virginia Tech 27
Podcast: CFB Rankings, Coaching Changes and Week 15 Preview and Predictions
— 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.