For a while on Saturday afternoon, it seemed as though the wheels were falling off the Virginia Tech bus. After barely surviving Duke and losing an ugly game to Georgia Tech in the previous two weeks, the Hokies continued their uninspired play and found themselves down 17-0 – and then 24-7 – to Notre Dame.
But then things came together once again. Quarterback Jerod Evans got the ball to his playmakers out wide, the Hokies eliminated the mistakes, and the defense finally clamped down on the Fighting Irish, especially in the fourth quarter when the home team was going against the wind.
Now at 8-3 and, more importantly, 5-2 in the ACC, Virginia Tech is again one win away from wrapping up the Coastal Division crown. This Saturday the Hokies host Virginia, their rival to the east that is 2-9 on the season and has not won the Commonwealth Cup since 2003.
Virginia at Virginia Tech
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 26 at 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: Virginia Tech -17.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Virginia Offensive Line vs. Virginia Tech Defensive Front Seven
This really looks like a mismatch on paper. The Cavaliers’ front line has had problems opening up alleys for the running backs and has allowed 35 sacks. In both rushing offense and sacks permitted, Virginia ranks among the bottom 10 teams in the FBS. Meanwhile, the Hokies have an aggressive defense that can stuff the run and pressure the quarterback. Virginia has to be wary of Woody Baron, Ken Ekanem and Tremaine Edmunds dominating this game.
2. Virginia Quarterback Situation
Cavaliers quarterback Kurt Benkert has thrown for 2,430 yards and 20 touchdowns, numbers that place him among the top 10 signal-callers in the ACC. But he’s also tossed 11 interceptions, the second most in the conference, and was benched and replaced by Matt Johns two weeks ago after losing a pair of fumbles in the home loss to Miami. However, Johns threw three picks in his first start against Georgia Tech last week, putting the starting job in flux again. Whoever starts against Virginia Tech is in for a challenge. The Hokies thrive on capitalizing on opponents’ mistakes, something both Virginia quarterbacks have shown a propensity for.
3. Jerod Evans Developing a Rhythm
Throughout this season, when the Virginia Tech quarterback has been able to get the ball out quickly and into the hands of his talented receivers, good things happen. That was true versus Notre Dame, but only after Evans and the offense struggled early. But once the Hokies found their rhythm, they were lethal outscoring the Irish 34-14 after Notre Dame jumped out to a 17-0 lead early in the second quarter. Evans gets a helping hand from his receivers, who are athletic and adept at getting open, but the junior college transfer also has made his share of plays with his legs. Evans also isn’t afraid to take a shot downfield, but against a Virginia secondary with good size, timing and making the right decision will be a priority for him and the Virginia Tech offense to get off to a good start
Virginia Tech has been pretty inconsistent over the last half of the season. The Hokies have lost two games against teams they should have beaten and were lucky to escape with a win at Duke. But the second half in South Bend put Justin Fuente’s team in a better frame of mind and now get to face Virginia, who has lost six in a row overall and 12 straight to its in-state rival. Coming home after a big win on the road, Jerod Evans and the offense will start slowly but Bud Foster’s defense will suffocate the Cavaliers. Virginia Tech will eventually get it going offensively and will pull away to earn a spot opposite Clemson in the ACC Championship Game.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 31, Virginia 7
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.