Hokies, Cavaliers play for ACC Coastal title
That's because the stakes this time around are as high as they've been since at least 2011. The two Commonwealth schools come in at 8-3 overall and, more importantly, tied for the top spot in the Coastal Division with matching 5-2 records. The winner will claim a spot in the ACC Championship Game opposite No. 3 Clemson.
The Hokies are riding high with wins in six of their last seven games, including a 28-0 whitewashing of Pittsburgh this past weekend. Bud Foster's defense has pitched two shutouts in a row after the Hokies beat Georgia Tech 45-0 two weeks ago.
UVA has won four of five and took a break from ACC play last Saturday with a win over Liberty. It was far from a clean first half for the Cavaliers, but they woke up and ran away from the Flames in the final 30 minutes.
Virginia Tech at Virginia
Kickoff: Friday, Nov. 29 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Virginia Tech -2
When Virginia Tech Has the Ball
Last Saturday was a cold, damp day in Blacksburg, one that was not conducive to offensive football. But the 21 points scored by the offense worked out just fine. Quarterback Hendon Hooker had another efficient day, completing 10-of-13 passes for 153 yards and two scores. Once again, he spread the wealth, as five different players were on the receiving end of Hooker’s 10 completions. On the season, six different receivers have caught 10 or more passes, with Tre Turner and freshman Tayvion Robinson leading the way with 26 apiece.
One underrated aspect of the 2019 Hokies is the development of the offensive line. They are extremely young, with two true freshmen in the starting lineup, and they took some lumps early on. But they have gotten better week by week. The run blocking may not be where head coach Justin Fuente wants it to be, but Hooker has been protected well. Last week, the Hokies allowed three sacks, but that was against a Pittsburgh group that was leading the nation in that category. In the three prior games, Virginia Tech quarterbacks had been sacked just four times.
The play of the line will be important once again this week as Virginia, like Pittsburgh, features an aggressive front that likes to harass the quarterback. Led by star linebackers Zane Zandler and Jordan Mack, the Cavs are eighth nationally in sacks with 37 and are 21st in tackles for lost yardage. They are solid statistically against both the run and the pass, though opponents have had more luck throwing on the Hoos since corner Bryce Hall and safety Brenton Nelson were lost for the season with injuries.
When Virginia Has the Ball
Football is the ultimate team game. But for the Virginia offense, if Bryce Perkins isn't getting it done, it probably won't get done. The senior quarterback has thrown for 2,638 yards and 15 touchdowns; he also leads the team with 523 rushing yards and has run for nine scores. Perkins has three receivers with more than 50 catches in Hasise Dubois, Terrell Jana, and Joe Reed, who is third in the ACC with 65 receptions.
However, the running game, outside of Perkins, has been abysmal. Virginia is last in the ACC in rushing at 123 yards per game, and the leading rusher among running backs is Wayne Taulapapa with just 399 yards. The Cavaliers have not rushed for more than 155 yards against a Power 5 team all season, but they did achieve a season-high 227 yards last Saturday versus Liberty.
Of course, Virginia Tech is not Liberty. In their last seven games, only two teams have rushed for more than 100 yards on the Hokies, with one of those being Notre Dame, which totaled 106. In the last three games, Tech has been particularly nasty, allowing just two yards per carry and a 43 percent completion rate, which is a more concerning stat for a Virginia team that relies more on the pass. Junior linebacker Rayshard Ashby is the leader of the crew with 98 tackles, 14.5 of which have resulted in lost yardage.
In the past six seasons, six different Coastal teams have won the division. The only Coastal team that has failed to play in the ACC Championship Game is Virginia, and the Cavaliers could make it seven different teams in seven years with a win on Friday. Since beating Pittsburgh in Week 1, they knew that winning the division was a possibility. But six weeks ago, no one could have predicted that the game against the Hokies to end the regular season would be a winner-take-all affair. But that's where we are. And the Hokies are the hotter team coming in, having dominated their last three opponents to the tune of 99-17. Meanwhile, Virginia has gotten by but has been less convincing in doing so. Even in the win over Liberty, the Cavs allowed the Flames to hang around until the third quarter. Virginia has an advantage in that this game is being played at Scott Stadium. But they also carry the burden of a 15-game losing streak to their hated rival. When they head to Lane Stadium in 2020, Virginia will be trying to snap a 16-game losing streak, as the Hokies win this game and the Coastal title.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 28, Virginia 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.