The Virginia Tech Hokies and West Virginia Mountaineers are set to renew their rivalry Saturday in Morgantown. There is a lot of history between the former Big East rivals who have met 52 times before on the gridiron. Fans are excited about the matchup, but the Black Diamond Trophy will be at stake for just the second time in 16 seasons and the first time since the Hokies beat the Mountaineers 31-24 in 2017.
The Hokies have a three-game winning streak in the series and have also won three in a row overall dating back to last year. The highlight was a 17-10 upset win over a top-10 North Carolina team in Week 1, and Virginia Tech overcame a slow start to avoid a letdown against Middle Tennessee last week. West Virginia comes in 1-1. The Mountaineers lost 30-24 to Maryland in the opener (another renewed rivalry) but rebounded with a 66-0 victory over Long Island University last week.
No. 15 Virginia Tech at West Virginia
Kickoff: Saturday, September 18 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: West Virginia -3
When Virginia Tech Has the Ball
Though his early stats are modest, Braxton Burmeister has solidified the quarterback situation for the Hokies in 2021. Burmeister has completed 60.5 percent of his passes for 311 yards and two touchdowns with one interception thus far. He leads the Hokies with 94 rushing yards, having averaged 5.5 yards on 17 carries, including one touchdown. The junior was forced to the sideline temporarily against Middle Tennessee but should be fully healthy for the trip to Morgantown.
Jalen Holston and Raheem Blackshear have split the workload at running back to date. Holston has 80 rushing yards and one touchdown on 18 attempts, and Blackshear has gained 69 yards on 21 carries with two scores as well as two receptions for 71 yards. Fellow running back Keshawn King (17 yards), receivers Tayvion Robinson (25 yards) and Tré Turner (22 yards), and multi-use quarterback Connor Blumrick (38 yards, TD) give the Hokies a diverse rushing attack. Turner leads the Hokies with eight catches and 131 receiving yards, while Robinson and tight end James Mitchell added five receptions each as well as a touchdown apiece. Unfortunately, Mitchell suffered a season-ending injury last week, leaving Drake Deluliis (2 rec., 12 yds). as the top receiving threat among tight ends.
When West Virginia Has the Ball
Quarterback Jarret Doege reclaimed his starting spot this fall and, despite a pair of interceptions in the loss to Maryland, has put up solid passing numbers in 2021. Doege has completed 61.3 percent of his passes for 536 yards and four touchdowns while averaging 8.6 yards per attempt. Last week, he was 14-for-22 (63.6 percent) for 259 yards (11.9 per attempt) and three scores. Four West Virginia receivers have tallied 97 receiving yards or more, with Sean Ryan leading the way at 125 yards and one touchdown on six catches. Winston Wright Jr. has racked up 101 yards on a team-high nine receptions on which he has gained 101 yards, and Sam James is close behind with eight catches, including a team-high two touchdowns, for 120 yards. Bryce Ford-Wheaton chipped in with six catches for 97 yards.
West Virginia has had success through the air, but the running game should be better. Though he has four touchdowns on the ground, as well as a touchdown reception, running back Leddie Brown has been held to 102 yards on 32 carries — an average of 3.2 per attempt. Last week, Brown managed just 31 yards on 15 carries against a weak LIU defense. The bright spot was backup quarterback Garrett Greene, who gained 98 yards and scored twice on 14 attempts.
West Virginia fielded one of the best defenses in the country in 2020, and the Mountaineers are off to a strong start this year after holding opponents to an average of 295.5 yards of total offense through two games. WVU has limited opponents to 99.5 rushing yards per game and 2.7 yards per carry as well. The Hokies have surrendered 351.5 total yards on average and allowed 5.1 yards per play (more than a half-yard more than the Mountaineers’ 4.5). After an impressive performance against Sam Howell and North Carolina, limiting the Heisman Trophy candidate to 208 passing yards and forcing three interceptions, Virginia Tech allowed 283 yards through the air to Middle Tennessee (but added another pick). However, the Hokies have kept opponents in check with 106.0 yards on the ground per contest, and, like the Mountaineers, Virginia Tech has yet to allow a rushing touchdown.
Virginia Tech has one of the most impressive wins of the early season to its credit, and West Virginia has already lost once as a favorite. Therefore, it is somewhat surprising to see the Mountaineers favored, even at home. Nevertheless, the teams are evenly matched in terms of talent, and no single unit has a major advantage over another. In that case, the home crowd could be the difference for West Virginia in its quest to beat the Hokies for the first time since 2003.
Prediction: West Virginia 28, Virginia Tech 24
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