Two up and down seasons converge in Blacksburg tonight as Virginia looks to end a 10 game losing streak to Virginia Tech. There’s no time like the present for the Cavaliers to bust the streak, as Tech enters the game with a losing record and on the verge of missing a bowl game for the first time in 21 seasons. The Hokies are also coming off the low point of their season, a 6-3 OT loss to Wake Forest that went into the overtime period knotted in a scoreless tie. It was the first game since 2005 to go into overtime with goose eggs on the scoreboard. That game also produced this screen-grab of Frank Beamer celebrating a missed Wake field goal that sent the game to OT, which neatly sums up the Hokies season:
Man, what the hell happened in Blacksburg this season to end up with an image like that? Remember when the Hokies went into Columbus and beat Ohio State? Buckeye fans sure do, as that loss may be too much for their NCAA Playoff chances to overcome, due to Tech’s six losses since that win.
QB Michael Brewer transferred over from Texas Tech and won the starters job in the spring. His season has been very uneven with his interceptions dropping since September (10 in Sept, 3 since then) but his completion percentage has also dropped. Going from a spread offense to Virginia Tech’s more run focused, jumbo set offense has been a bumpy transition. A combination of the opponents not being spread out from sideline to sideline (making his WRs easier to see) and play calling that asks him to make one read has crippled his performance and the Hokie offense. This has led to protection issues, as Brewer has been sacked 28 times in 11 games, close to three times a game.
A rash of injuries at running back has been another factor in the Hokies lackluster campaign. Typically a team with a stable of good backs, Virginia Tech has dealt with serious injuries to four different backs, and now turns to pint sized J.C. Coleman from Tidewater’s football factory, Oscar Smith High School.
Defensively, the Hokies have been stout against the pass, but succeptible to the run. Sophomore Kendall Fuller is the latest Fuller kid to wear the maroon and orange in a Hokie secondary. With bloodlines that have produced several NFL players, he’s lived up to the hype, particularly in Ohio State and Duke games. In the latter, he sparked a secondary that only allowed Duke’s explosive offense to throw for 185 yards.
The run defense can partly blame the offense for constantly putting them back out on the field trailing their opponent, but it’s still been shocking to see a Hokie defense get run on as much as this team has in 2014. The absolute low light being a Thursday night versus Miami when the Canes steamrolled the Hokies to the tune of 364 rushing yards.
After that game, I wondered about the future of Frank Beamer as the head coach in Blacksburg. A program with visions of ACC titles and New Years Day bowl games has been sliding over the past few seasons in a watered down ACC, particularly the Coastal Division. This is a young team, with promising players like pass catchers Isaiah Ford and Virginia Beach’s Bucky Hodges. Odds are Beamer is back next season, but a 5-7 season that culminates with two streaks snapped (the bowl streak and the UVa streak) would extend the Hokie fans Thanksgiving hangover well into the winter.
Virginia coach Mike London got an unexpected vote of confidence this week, as AD Craig Littlepage assured him that he will be back for the 2015 season. Many speculated his future would rest on the result of tonight’s game in Blacksburg, but Littlepage saw enough improvement over the past two seasons to bring London back. It couldn’t get much worse than last years two win campaign, but there have been some signs of life in the program this season.
London has been a masterful recruiter, but his in game acumen has been questioned — justifiably — for the length of his UVa tenure. It’s been impressive how well London has recruited in Tidewater; the same high school football hotbed in Southeastern Virginia that former coach Al Groh seemingly didn’t know existed. But if the talent doesn’t translate to wins on the field, then all Charlottesville will be is a well manicured, history rich, stepping stone for elite players to the NFL.
The search for a viable QB option at UVa has been ongoing for the past decade; not surprisingly the same span of time that the Hokies have dominated this series. Greyson Lambert and Matt Johns have split time this year, with varying results. Lambert has been the guy since returning from injury and showed flashes in the win over Miami and the loss at FSU. With the Hokies stout pass defense waiting at Lane Stadium, the Cavaliers will likely lean on their ground game to try and finally solve the Hokies.
Kevin Parks has been a solid option this season, but sophomore Taquan “Smoke” Mizzell from Virginia Beach has yet to jump start the UVa offense after arriving to Charlottesville as a 5 star recruit. He has two touchdowns all season and has yet to top 100 total yards in a game. Tonight would be a brilliant time for “Smoke” to spark some fire in the Cavalier offense.
The defense has been very good this year, stopping the vaunted running games of Pitt and Miami in their tracks. Even Jameis Winston and FSU needed several short fields courtesy of UVa turnovers to generate points. On top of the stout run defense, UVa has 26 takeaways this season. If they are to finally win tonight, they can’t spot the Hokies short fields off of turnovers. Otherwise it looks like Virginia Tech will have some trouble moving the ball.
November 29th, 2003. That’s the last time UVa beat Tech. Matt Schaub was the QB that day for a 35-21 Cavalier win. A 10 game streak is unheard of in state rivalry match ups. Now matter how down a program is, they typically run into win at some point. Since that November afternoon in Charlottesville, most of these match ups haven’t even been close.
One oddity with this years matchup is that it’s an 8pm kickoff. This game is almost always on the Saturday after Thanksgiving with a Noon or 1pm kickoff. Will a stage under the lights be what the Cavaliers needed? Will Tech’s two streaks come to an end on the same night? Will UVa get back into a bowl game? (Apparently the winner tonight is slated for the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit on December 26th. A truly, humbling honor.)
Vegas has this game as a Pick’em, meaning if it were being played at UVa the Hoos would be a 3-4 point favorite once home field was factored in. UVa has shown some spark, and has played a very ambitious schedule over the past few seasons. Tech meanwhile is limping to the finish line, with that debacle in Winston Salem last Saturday fresh on their minds.
With all that being said, the psychology of a win streak this long is extremely tough to overcome. UVa has improved, but these are no world beaters. Tonight, under the lights, in front of a bourbon soaked crowd, the Hokies make it 11 straight and book their tickets for the Motor City.
Hokies 17 Hoos 16
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