Is this the year the Virginia Cavaliers finally take possession of the Commonwealth Cup?
At 2-9, with eight losses in a row, UVa closes out the season at home this Saturday against archrival Virginia Tech.
The Hokies aren't exactly entering this weekend's game riding a wave of positive momentum. After a season-opening loss to No. 1 Alabama, the Hokies reeled off six wins in a row and look poised to dominate the Coastal Division. Losses to Duke, Boston College and Maryland changed things dramatically for the Hokies, though.
As impossible as it may sound, a Virginia Tech win coupled with a Duke loss would put the Hokies in the ACC Championship Game against Florida State.
The Cavaliers have a chance not only to end their nine-game losing streak against Tech, but also to ruin the Hokies' season.
Are they up to the challenge?
The Wahoos haven't beaten the Hokies since 2003. Overall, VT has won 13 of the past 14 meetings and now leads the all-time series 52-37-5.
- When: Saturday, Nov. 30
- Where: Scott Stadium, Charlottesville, Va.
- Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
- TV: ESPNU
- Radio: Virginia Tech IMG Sports Network. Here is a complete list of stations by area.
- Spread: Virginia Tech (-13), via BetOnline.com
Turnovers single-handedly cost the Hokies two important ACC games. In the stunning home loss to Duke, quarterback Logan Thomas turned the ball over four times despite the Hokies out-gaining the Blue Devils by 189 yards. Against BC, the story was much of the same. If the Hokies turn the ball over against a struggling Virginia team it could mean trouble. VT can't allow a bad team to gain confidence, or it will lose.
Pressure the Quarterback
Whether it is David Watford or Greyson Lambert, the Hokies must get consistent pressure on the UVa quarterback. Watford has more mobility, but he has struggled all season, leading head coach Mike London to split his time Saturday with Lambert, a freshman. The Hokies need to get after both quarterbacks early and often and make it a long day for the 'Hoos.
Sounds like a simple enough strategy, right? Well, Virginia Tech hasn't exactly been a juggernaut on offense all season.
On top of that, the Hokies are without a reliable kicker for this weekend's game. Kickoff specialist Mitchell Ludwig, punter Michael Branthover and walk-on Eric Kristensen all figure into the mix. Kristensen handled the duties against Maryland and Branthover will likely handle any long attempts. If it comes down to a field goal, like it did in 2012, the Hokies could be in trouble.
Run the Ball
Virginia must effectively run the ball on Saturday in order to have any chance of ending this losing streak. Starting running back Kevin Parks is having a good year, but the Cavaliers should find a way to get freshman Taquan Mizzell the ball more. Mizzell could be a difference-maker, but he needs opportunities. This weekend would be a perfect time to get Mizzell more involved in the offense.
Feature High-Percentage Passes
It doesn't matter if Watford or Lambert plays quarterback, UVa must get the ball out quick. VT has an outstanding pass rush and force a lot of turnovers. Virginia should focus on short routes to tight end Jake McGee and receivers Tim Smith and Darius Jennings. The Hokies will be short-handed in the secondary on Saturday, and the 'Hoos should attempt to exploit that.
Pressure Logan Thomas
If UVa can get pressure on Thomas, there is a good chance he will turn the ball over. You have to be careful, though, because Thomas is hard to bring down and can make plays with his legs. The Cavaliers must show different looks to confuse Thomas and send extra rushers often. A score on defense could go a long way in determining if Virginia pulls off the upset.
Which Thomas will show up? The Miami version, where Thomas looked every bit like the NFL prospect many consider him, or the Duke and BC version? This is the key to victory for the Hokies. If Thomas plays well and doesn't turn the ball over, Tech will be in good shape on offense.
The exciting freshman receiver has made a name for himself in recent weeks. Stanford has shown an ability to not only be a reliable option on third downs, but create big plays, too. Thomas trusts him more and more each week, and look for offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler to find ways to get Stanford in space. The Hokies need to hit a big play or two downfield, and Stanford can make that happen.
Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson will both likely start at cornerback again this week. Kyle Fuller had groin surgery, keeping him out 4-6 weeks, while Antone Exum appears to be a game-time decision. If Exum plays, his time will likely be limited. Don't feel sorry for the Hokies, though. These aren't your typical freshmen. They've combined for 10 interceptions on the season, and both are very physical.
The freshman has fared well in two relief appearances of Watford recently. Keep in mind, those games were mostly decided when Lambert entered, so facing the Virginia Tech defense will be a tall order for Lambert. If he completes high-percentage passes and doesn't turn the ball over, he will be giving Virginia a good chance at pulling off the upset.
The junior running back is quietly having a solid season for the Wahoos. He has rushed for 926 yards and 11 touchdowns. He's also made an impact in the passing game, catching 35 passes and another touchdown. Parks needs to touch the ball at least 20 times this weekend.
The junior safety leads the nation with eight interceptions but must sit out the first half of this weekend's game for committing a targeting penalty last week against Miami, per NBC29.com. With Thomas' propensity for throwing interceptions, Harris has a chance to make a big play or two. He better do it in the final 30 minutes.
Logan Thomas had a chance to go to Virginia but didn't feel like it was the place for him, per Andy Bitter of The Virginian-Pilot: "If there's one thing I hate, it's losing, and the way things were, it didn't seem like things were going to get better anytime soon."
Hokies senior guard Andrew Miller embraces the rivalry:
Playing for Tech this long, the guys before us really taught us how important this game is, just to win our conference and hold the Commonwealth Cup for another year. And that's a big deal for us even though we had losses here in the past. This game really changes our season as long as we win.
Mike London insists his decision to split the quarterback duties between Lambert and Watford is more about the future, according to Andrew Ramspacher of The Daily Progress:
Looking at the fact that it's our last game, and we have no bowl opportunities and the next opportunities will be winter workouts and spring practice, we'll give Greyson some opportunities to go in the game and play as well. It's important that he gets some development as the season winds down.
If Virginia is going to beat Virginia Tech, this year could be the year. The Cavaliers were close last year but couldn't get the job done.
What has changed?
While UVa's defense should fare well against an inconsistent VT offense, the Cavaliers are unlikely to get much going on the offensive end. London's hope is that Lambert's presence could give the 'Hoos a shot in the arm. But is it enough to move the ball consistently against the nation's No. 4 defense?
That's unlikely. However, this game will be close until the fourth quarter.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 20, Virginia 13