It's Time

Posted on November 22, 2018, in Football by Karl Hess.

This one doesn't require much explanation. We don't like them. They don't like us. Both sides are mostly fine with that.

The stakes are pretty clear. While the 8th win for UVA (7-4, 4-3) would be fantastic, it's way down the list of priorities. What really matters is the first win in the series after 14 losses in a row. Then, the first win in Blacksburg since 1998.

Virginia Tech (4-6, 3-4) has a lot on its plate. Not only does it have the series streak to worry about, but the Hokies' absurdly long bowl streak is in mortal jeopardy. Lose to the Hoos and it is done. Finito. Complete. Even a win doesn't punch their ticket. It only advances them to the lamely purchased game next week against a decent Marshall team that won't be planning to roll over so that VT can back their way into a lower tier bowl appearance. 

There's also a crisis of confidence pervasive in the Hokie program. Judging from their message boards, the die hards are quickly losing faith in Justin Fuente and his staff. The way players have departed the program throughout the season, and especially in the last week, it's arguable that Fuente has lost the team too. That's the kind of thing that happens when you get embarrassed by Old Dominion and their backup quarterback, not to mention recent efforts against Pitt, Georgia Tech, Boston College, Notre Dame, and Miami where Bud Foster's defense was either shredded wholesale or victimized by the players simply quitting on the game.

These are not the Hokies you remember. 

Despite the #BeatTech mantra radiating outward from the McCue Center, and all the focus placed on this game and ending the streak by the UVA staff, the pressure rests firmly on Virginia Tech's sideline in the 2018 battle for the Commonwealth Cup.

And for that reason, do not expect this to be easy. A cornered animal is dangerous, at least for a spell. Get through the initial wave of energy and emotion. Then go to work. Be methodical and intentional. Play rugged and determined. Let the Hokies know that the Wahoos won't be backing down. UVA's players don't mind difficult things. They rather enjoy it. Do these Hokies? That's the million dollar question.

Here's how I think the Hoos can expedite their undoing.

Game Uniform

For the first time this season, the Hoos break out the blue-white-blue combo. You may remember these beauties from this game.

Avoid Self Inflicted Wounds

In recent history, these generally fall into one of three categories.

Untimely Personal Fouls - The Hoos took a 20-17 lead with 2:55 to go during the 2014 game in Blacksburg. VT began their next possession with an incomplete pass from their own 25. Momentum was UVA's until a pointless roughing the passer penalty was committed. The rest was history. From the 2017 game at Scott Stadium, you may remember a personal foul against a UVA defender that was unable to control his emotions after the play. It occurred late during the 4th quarter of a 10-0 game at about the 50 yard line. The Hokies didn't score on that drive but they kept the ball almost two additional minutes when time was UVA's most valuable resource. 

Special Teams Blunders - During that same 2014 game, UVA was punting out of its own end zone. Getting the ball away quickly was a must. Of course the Hokies blocked the punt and recovered it for a touchdown in a game they'd win by four. During the 2005 game at Scott Stadium, the Hoos trailed 10-0 about halfway through the second quarter. The Hokies were forced to punt near midfield. The UVA returner dropped the punt at the UVA 2 yard line. The Hokies recovered and scored a TD on the next play to take a 17-0 lead. They'd extend the lead to 24-0 at the half before winning 52-14. The fumbled punt changed everything about the game. The change was palpable. 

Coaching Mistakes - Bronco's first trip to Lane Stadium in 2016 saw the Hoos rotate between Matt Johns and Kurt Benkert at QB on nearly every play. Or at least if seemed like they rotated that often. You'll forgive me for blocking this game from my memory. Connor Brewer even made a one play cameo at QB during the game. He fumbled and VT ran it back 70 yards for a touchdown. The Hokies won 52-10 and the QB rotation remains as ill conceived today as it did during the game. The 2012 game in Blacksburg was the one where Mike London refused to use his timeouts during the game's final drive electing instead to save them to try to ice VT's kicker on the last play of the game. Every UVA fan watched in horror as the strategy unfolded, eschewing the chance to attempt a game winning or tying drive to play silly mind games instead. The Hokies made the field goal as time expired to win 17-14.

Be Ready For Pressure

Bud Foster is going to throw it all at Bryce Perkins and the UVA offensive line. Blitzes are coming up the middle, either delayed or at the snap. Blitzes are coming off the edge. They're coming from linebackers and defensive backs. 

Because of personnel losses to the NFL, injury, and a myriad of other reasons, the Hokies defense is an uncommon weakness on this team. Foster knows this and he's not going to sit back and let the Wahoos dictate things. He'll attempt to seize the initiative.

Be ready. You've been warned. There's no excuse to be unprepared for this. Other teams have deployed this approach with success at times during the season. There's never been a better time to have your counters ready.

Downhill Offense

Bud Foster's resume is filled with page after page of games where the Hokies shut down good, and not so good, offenses because those offenses took the wrong approach in their gameplan. Faced with the Hokies' speed and pressure, offensive coordinators often elect to try to attack the Hokies on the edge. They think that finesse and deception, often outside the hashes, are the best way to win.

This will not work. You cannot beat Virginia Tech by going east to west on offense.

Time and time again, the formula to success against a Bud Foster defense has these elements: throw the ball down field, work the middle of the field with the pass, run strong north to south between the tackles. You have to be strong to beat this defense. Weakness will be identified quickly and hunted without mercy. Your jet sweeps, bubble screens, and swing passes will get smashed. And you will lose, even against this weak Hokie defense.

Having a mobile QB that can make the Hokies pay helps a ton, too.

George Welsh understood this. It's not clear that Al Groh and his many offensive coordinators did. Mike London's offensive staff certainly didn't. It remains to be seen if Bronco, Anae, and company do.

Lucky for the Hoos, the offense in 2018 has shown many of the characteristics required to win this game. It's not a perfect match but it's the closest the Hoos have had to the winning formula in some time.

The Pick

The time for talking has ended. It's game day and the players' pads will handle all the talking from here. The Hoos are favored and for good reason. They are the better team. And Lane Stadium, despite the ESPN driven hype just isn't that scary any more.

If this was any other opponent, there would be no question about this pick. It would be an easy call for the Hoos. 

But that streak. There's no denying it and the impact it's had in the psyche of UVA fans. I've seen it play out all week on Twitter and on message boards. People want to believe, but...

Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

The streak has taken on a life of its own among Wahoo fans and the longtime beat writers that cover UVA. Picking against the Hoos in this game is now the default position until UVA actually wins despite any analysis of the matchup. To be honest, I've been a strong proponent of that position. But it's lazy.

The streak is going to matter the most on the Hokies' sideline this year. They're aware of its vulnerability. It's going to motivate them but combined with the long shot bowl streak extension, it's also going to be a source of added pressure that a rudderless team won't handle.

Is it finally time to believe in this squad? Even in spite of recent history? But Anae you might say. It's hard to trust. It's hard to make the leap of faith only to have the rug pulled out from under you once again.

This is the end

Beautiful friend

This is the end

My only friend

The end

UVA wins.




This article contains the tags:

Football, Virginia Tech