Week 12 is in the books with the Hoos getting their second and final bye week of the season. Time to recap the off week and reevaluate both the coming week and remaining road ahead:
Quick Hit Thoughts from the Game Bye Week
UVA got a much-needed week off while the rest of the league beat up on itself. Critical opportunity to rest up, self-scout, and prepare for a big next 10 days.
UVA's shot at the Coastal essentially comes down to needing to beat VT. If UVA loses that game, the division either goes to a 2-loss VT or Pitt (who play each other this Saturday), or if everyone has 3 losses it gets into tiebreakers which by my quick math VT wins anyways.
But enough looking ahead to next Friday, when Liberty's an intriguing test this Saturday.
Did you realize the Liberty game and our basketball game vs UMass are both at noon Saturday? Plan ahead, have DVRs ready.
UVA's ceiling this year was always caveated with "so long as we're healthy" which generally meant not having any position groups wrecked like the DL was last year. Do losses of Bratton, Nelson, Hall, and Clary on top of Crowell and Robinson count as a wrecked position group?
The secondary, actually did get a little healthier this week with the return of Heskin Smith to the corner and Chris Moore rebounding after a leg injury vs Georgia Tech. We've got three redshirt juniors (corner Nick Grant, safeties De'Vante Cross and Moore), a true junior (safety Joey Blount), and a redshirt sophomore (Smith) left to hold down the fort and hopefully keep the freshmen off the field.
Liberty is a good program to test this rebuilt secondary. Senior QB Stephen Calvert has a stat line this year of 294 passing yards per game on 61.5% completion with 23 touchdowns vs just 3 interceptions this year. He's excelling under new head coach (and former Ole Miss head coach) Hugh Freeze, and it will be telling how well our defense can contain him.
He's a pure pocket guy, though. Can we get to him before he gets the ball out? Syracuse sacked him 8 times way back over Labor Day, but more recently Rutgers only got to him 3 times and BYU only once.
Liberty and VT run very different offenses, and Calvert and VT quarterback Hendon Hooker are very different players, so not much worry here about UVA fearing to "tip" its Hokie strategy in its defensive schemes vs Liberty.
Obviously this season still has a few games yet to go including the postseason, so we'll wait a month or two before judging this season on the whole. But to date, think of it this way: we're 5-0 at home, one of which was a very good FSU win / the ND loss sucked but wasn't unexpected / we went 2-2 on the road in the ACC. That last item, 2-2 on the road in the ACC, is noteworthy; winning on the road in the ACC is not something we're accustomed to, and even going .500 is solid for this program.
Exciting opportunity to finish the season over the next two weekends. Remember, you have to be in it to win it. We never expected the Coastal chase to be smooth, or for our rivals to just step aside as we climb back into the mix. Just like anything else, it's gotta be earned, it won't be given. That's exactly what we're looking at this month.
N/A on a bye week.
Depth Chart Moves
Nothing to see on the offensive side of the ball, same as it was for the GT game. On defense, the front seven stays the same, but two key notes in the secondary. First, Chris Moore who left the GT game with some sort of leg injury is listed as the starter. That's not a guarantee he'll be 100% or even play (though Bronco's Monday press conference was encouraging), but it's a start. Second, Heskin Smith, who made his return to action after a four game injury absence in the last game, appears on the depth chart at backup corner, hopefully able to resume building on his potential on the edge. Lastly, Reed is listed as KOR again after passing those responsibilities to Kelly last week, a move that was reportedly precautionary due to load management concerns.
Coastal Power Rankings
Five Coastal teams were in ACC action this week, yet the results did little to change our perceptions of the division:
1. VT (Prev: 2) - 7-3 (4-2) - The lone movement in this week's rankings, VT completes their climb to the top after their second straight big victory. Not just winning but demolishing GT 45-0, a week after a comfortable win over Atlantic #2 Wake, the Hokies have now become the team to beat in the Coastal.
2. Virginia (Prev: 1) - 7-3 (5-2) - The Hoos got jumped in their bye week because, while on a 2-game win streak, both were narrow wins over the 5th and 7th-ranked teams in these standings. A big opportunity looms for UVA over the next 10 days.
3. Pitt (Prev: 3) - 7-3 (4-2) - Pitt still has a very real chance to win the division, though will need to both win Saturday and get some help from VT on Black Friday. But the Panthers are playing well, having won two straight since their painful homecoming loss to Miami in late October, and six of their last seven. Their road trip to Blacksburg is a must-win.
4. Miami (Prev: 4) - 6-4 (4-3) - The Canes were eliminated in their bye week due to potential tiebreakers going against them, but that doesn't change the fact that they've rebounded nicely after a loss to GT made them appear lost. Straight wins over Pitt, FSU, and Louisville are very respectable, and are likely to finish with 8 wins in Manny's first season.
5. North Carolina (Prev: 5) - 4-6 (3-4) - Another week, another one-score loss. It's a glass-half-full/empty exercise: are the Heels building towards something in Year 1 of the Sam Howell and the (second) Mack era, or is the inability to win indicative of bigger problems. Bottom line is that they need to beat NC State in two weeks to simply make a bowl.
6. Duke (Prev: 6) - 4-6 (2-4) - Syracuse had yet to win an ACC game this season, yet went into Durham and won 49-6 (not a typo). Duke has gone off a cliff. They'll be big underdogs against both Wake and Miami the next two weeks, and the Cutcliffe renaissance may be sunsetting.
7. GT (Prev: 7) - 2-8 (1-6) - The Jackets had shown some signs of life in recent weeks, playing UVA to 5 points and Pitt to just 10 after beating Miami. But a blowout shutout later and it's clear that GT's fight has gone out of them. They have a five-day turnaround to get ready for NC State before eying up a season-ending sacrifice to UGA.
Non-UVA Games to Watch this Weekend
The games you want to watch this weekend depend largely on how much appetite you have for games that have nothing to do with UVA's chase for the Coastal. With only one game relevant to the top of the division standings this week, it's either a good Saturday to catch up on the rest of the league, or you'll want to switch over to your DVR of UVA's basketball win over UMass (yes, I'm calling it now), which unfortuately tips at exactly the same time as our football game vs Liberty. Nationally, a lot of the big schools are doing what UVA is doing, playing a late-season "cupcake" to prep for their rivalry games next weekend.
NC State at Georgia Tech - 8:00 PM Eastern - ESPN: This is an "if you're bored Thursday night" recommendation. State is desperately fighting for bowl eligibility and GT will want to wash the taste out of the mouths after getting crushed by VT.
#9 Penn State at #2 Ohio State - 12:00 PM Eastern - Fox: Obviously it would be nice if both programs could lose, but alas the least we can do is root for PSU to pull the upset and maybe ensure neither of them is in the CFP running when the dust settles.
Pittsburgh at Virginia Tech - 3:30 PM Eastern - ESPN2: This is the one that matters for the Coastal. UVA is tied in the loss column with each and owns the tiebreaker over Pitt. A Panthers loss means UVA-VT next week is for all the marbles, while a Pitt win creates some contingency and possible tie-breaker scenarios alive, though keeps them in the hunt if VT beats UVA and they handle BC after Thanksgiving. Also, with VT rolling lately, it will be big to see what Tech looks like against one of the ACC's best defenses.
Duke at Wake Forest - 7:30 PM Eastern - ACC Network: Interesting for two reasons. Wake has seen their receiving corps decimated by injury in recent weeks, so a team that relied on offense to win shootouts has crashed back to earth. With that said, they've still got an outside shot at beating out the Coastal winner for the league's Orange Bowl berth if they win out and the Coastal closes in messy fashion. Duke, meanwhile, NEEDS to beat both Wake and Miami next week, likely as underdogs in both, to make a bowl and salvage their otherwise broken season.
The Remaining Schedule
Saturday, Nov 23 - Liberty: Win confidence 8 - UVA's lone weak spot right now, its secondary, lines up unfortunately with Liberty's frighteningly effective passing attack. The Flames had a bye week this week to give extra focus to their trip to Charlottesville which they'll treat as their Super Bowl, hoping to catch the Hoos looking forward to VT. Can't sleep on this one, it could be way more interesting than we like.
Friday, Nov 29 - Virginia Tech: Win confidence 5 - Even keeping this as a true toss-up is getting harder, as the Hokies have picked up incredible momentum of late. In Bud Foster's last regular season game, the Hokies will arrive in Scott confident and motivated to extend the streak to 16. Hard to call this a win, even with UVA's impressive record to date.
Predicted final record: 8-4 (5-3)