Early in the third quarter, with Virginia leading No. 3 Miami 28-14, upset alerts were popping up on the college football radar. The fact that Virginia lost its fourth game in five tries to fall to 6-5 shouldn’t change the perception of this football team. The difference between this squad and the one that took the field in head coach Bronco Mendenhall’s first season is night and day.
UVA now has a belief that wasn't there in 2016. Virginia Tech had that same type of feeling just a month ago, but the Hokies have had their confidence shaken in recent weeks. The big loss in Miami was followed by a defeat at Georgia Tech and an uninspiring win over Pittsburgh this past Saturday. Now they had to Charlottesville to face the rival ‘Hoos.
The Hokies are riding a 13-game winning streak over Virginia, and they have a 56-37-5 series advantage.
Virginia Tech at Virginia
Kickoff: Friday, Nov. 24 at 8 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Virginia Tech -7
Three Things to Watch
1. Josh Jackson
Tech's redshirt freshman quarterback had a huge first half of the season and was the clear-cut choice for ACC Freshman of the Year at the midway point. But the second half has not been as good. Since the Boston College game, Jackson (above, right) has completed just 52 percent of his passes with five touchdowns (three in one game against North Carolina) and three interceptions. After averaging 283 passing yards in his first six games, he has thrown for just 180 yards per contest over the last five. Virginia is third in the ACC in pass defense (182.9 ypg, 17 TDs, 14 INTs, 52.7 completion rate) and in sacks (27), so another big challenge awaits.
2. Kurt Benkert
After a little dip in the middle of the year, Benkert has rebounded during the stretch drive of his final season at Virginia. The Cavaliers couldn’t run the ball against Miami, but the fifth-year senior kept them in the game by throwing for 384 yards and four scores. His one interception was huge, as Miami’s Jaquan Johnson returned it for a touchdown that tied the game at 28. But overall, it was a sterling performance in a very strong final season for the transfer from East Carolina. Like their counterparts to the east, the Hokies have fared well against the pass (187.3 ypg, 14 TDs, 13 INTs, 46.4 completion rate), although a suspect Pittsburgh aerial attack went for 311 yards in Blacksburg this past Saturday.
3. The line of scrimmage
Both offensive lines have had issues at times, and as mentioned, they will be facing tough defensive fronts. This also is a game that features two teams that don’t have a ton of big-play threats, giving the advantage to the team whose offensive line is best at creating favorable down-and-distance situations. Virginia Tech’s line will want to open holes to create a running balance, while the Virginia group has to be on top of its game to protect Benkert from the Hokies' pass rushers.
On Nov. 29, 2003, Virginia erased a 14-7 halftime deficit and upset No. 21 Virginia Tech 35-21 to snap a four-game losing streak to the Hokies. That was the last UVA victory in this series. Since then, there have been the same number of Virginia Tech victories by 30 or more points (four) as there have been single-digit wins. But things could be different this year. Virginia has lost four of five, so it is not like the Cavaliers come flying into this matchup. But the early success at Miami and playing at home should provide a boost. The problem is that UVA can’t run the ball at all, and the offensive line may have trouble keeping the Hokies from getting to Kurt Benkert. And though Virginia may be a confident group going into this game, that 13-game losing streak has to be on the Cavs' minds. For those reasons, Tech wins a close game, keeping the Commonwealth Cup Trophy in Blacksburg for at least another year.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 24, Virginia 21
— 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.