Virginia Preview and Prediction

The Hokies pulled out an epic comeback against Notre Dame. The biggest one since NC State in 2010. The second half was the best half of football this team has had since the first half of the Duke game. All season I’ve been waiting to see the team that had three excellent games against BC, ECU and UNC. There have been glimpses and spurts but it hasn’t been consistent. Putting together a complete game against UVA would be huge for this team.

UVA has only won two games this season. They beat Central Michigan at home and beat Duke on the road. They’ve been able to keep games reasonably close but haven’t been able to close the deal. This looks like a team that has been improving throughout the year but may not have all the pieces in place yet.

Virginia Tech

Overall S&P+ ranking: 27th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 58th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 19th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 41st

Virginia

Overall S&P+ ranking: 92nd
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 86th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 81st
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 86th

At quarterback, Virginia will be playing either Matt Johns or Kurt Benkert or both. Matt Johns has the higher completion rate but also has the higher interception ratio. Kurt Benkert has a better touchdown-to-interception ratio but he has the lower completion rate. Neither quarterback is much of a threat to run (thank goodness!). Both have had their moments this year but have been inconsistent overall. UVA is best in the passing game so they will need a big game from whoever is playing quarterback for them.

Running back Taquan Mizzell is a big weapon that the Hokies must account for. Particularly in the passing game. He is a threat to make plays out of the backfield. He has over 400 receiving yards this season in addition to over 800 yards rushing. UVA runs a lot of their offense through Mizzell. The Hokies need to keep an eye on him whether UVA is running or passing.

UVA has not been consistent on defense but they have three big-time players. The Hokies need to account for Micah Kiser (MLB), Quin Blanding (FS) and Andrew Brown (DE). These are UVA’s playmakers and have the ability to change a game. The Hokies will have to be able to win the one-on-one battles with them to have success on Saturday.

This is a huge game because it will likely decide whether the Hokies go to the ACC Championship Game. That would be a big step forward in Justin Fuente’s first season as head coach. UVA would like nothing more than to spoil those plans. They would also like to put an end to the Hokies’ 12 game winning streak in the series. Rivalry games are never easy. Throw the records out the window. Both teams want to win this game bad. The Hokies just have more talent and motivation this time around.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 30, Virginia 20

Notre Dame Preview and Prediction

It’s always frustrating to see the Hokies let an opportunity slip through their fingers. Having the Coastal wrapped up before a trip to Notre Dame and visit from UVA would’ve been nice. Oh well. The Hokies will just have a little extra motivation against their in-state rival next week.

Notre Dame. One of the pillar programs of college football. To me, Notre Dame is Rudy. A movie about a kid who idolizes a college football program so much, he’ll do anything to play for them. Pretty epic stuff. Besides that, they are a strong program but they are not what they once were. Either way, going to Notre Dame is a big deal. Just ask any older Tech alums. You would think the Hokies were playing at the Vatican this weekend.

Virginia Tech

Overall S&P+ ranking: 28th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 65th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 14th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 52nd

Notre Dame

Overall S&P+ ranking: 33rd
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 44th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 30th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 57th

A running quarterback. DeShone Kizer. Terrified yet? Kizer has not cracked 100 yards on the ground in a game this year. But if the Hokies history with running quarterbacks is any indication, this could be the week he does it. I got a text from a Notre Dame fan this week, he said Brian Kelly threw the ball 26 times in a hurricane this year. So I guess you never know what’s going to happen. But if the Notre Dame staff has watched film this week, you can expect to see a lot of designed runs for Kizer.

Notre Dame has a young secondary and a front seven that has had trouble pressuring the quarterback. You would think this could be a week that the Hokies could put up big numbers through the air. The current weather forecast calls for temperatures in the 30s, high winds and snow. Doesn’t sound like ideal conditions to throw the football in.

One big question mark in this game is how the Notre Dame defense is going to play. Since switching defensive coordinators to Greg Hudson, the defense has played well. Two of those games were against service academies. One was in a hurricane. And one was against a struggling Stanford offense. My guess is that they play better than expected and get assisted by the poor weather conditions.

Given the poor weather conditions, I’m looking for the team that runs the ball better. And I’d have to give the nod to Notre Dame. All the stats suggest they are the better rushing team. And the Hokies have had trouble stopping the run in the last three weeks. That plus the conditions make me think that this is not a good matchup for the Hokies.

I don’t like this matchup on paper. At all. It’s made even worse by the weather conditions. The Hokies can win this game if they are able to make plays on special teams and generate turnovers. The old Beamerball special. If not, I’m afraid this game looks pretty good on paper for Notre Dame. I hope I’m wrong. It would be great to go into South Bend and come out with a win.

Prediction: Notre Dame 24, Virginia Tech 17

Georgia Tech Preview and Prediction

You take conference road wins however you can get them. Even if they are ugly. Getting the win is all that matters. Hokies took care of business on the road at Duke last week. Each week the games get bigger.

Georgia Tech is next. This is a team that gives the Hokies fits every year. This year should be no different. This is an offense that stays in every game. They don’t often get blown out. They limit possessions on both sides of the ball. That means your offense has to be efficient.

Virginia Tech

Overall S&P+ ranking: 17th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 56th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 11th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 36th

Georgia Tech

Overall S&P+ ranking: 62nd
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 44th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 81st
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 74th

How will Bud Foster’s reshuffled lineup perform against the Georgia Tech offense? If there was a game where you’d feel okay losing Greg Stroman and Terrell Edmunds, it’s this one. However, you’re asking your backups not to make many assignment errors. That can be a lot to ask sometimes. Either way, I think Bud Foster knows this offense well enough to make those adjustments. He will put his players in a position to succeed.

This is a game where the Hokies offense should be able to move the ball. First, the Hokies offense has been excellent at home. The Hokies have averaged 46.7 points per game against FBS opponents at Lane Stadium this year. The Georgia Tech defense has had trouble stopping opponents this year. They don’t give up the big play but you can dink and dunk them downfield all day long. Expect the Hokies to put up some points in this game.

You worry about the reshuffled lineup on defense. You never know how that’s going to go against a dangerous Georgia Tech offense. But if there is someone who knows how to scheme against that offense, it’s Bud Foster. Also, this offense has been lights out at home. They look like a completely different team in Lane Stadium. If the defense can hold up and not have too many assignment issues, I expect the Hokies will be fine. I never go into this game expecting a comfortable win. But if the Hokies play at home like they have all season, I’m feeling pretty good.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 34, Georgia Tech 21

Duke Preview and Prediction

The Hokies were finally able to break the curse of Heinz Field. It took a gritty effort and for the first time in a long time, the offense had to pick up Bud Foster’s defense. That is not something that happened often in the Beamer era. In big games on the road, only one thing matters and that’s winning. The Hokies found a way to win at Heinz Field and now are in the driver’s seat for the Coastal division.

The word of the week is focus. Top 25 teams get upset every week by unranked opponents. There are no easy wins in the Power 5. Teams need to show up focused. It’s not easy to come off a big win on the road then come ready to play the next week. Earlier this season, the Hokies notched a huge win against UNC then put up a dud against Syracuse the next week. Let’s hope the Hokies learned from that experience.

Virginia Tech

Overall S&P+ ranking: 13th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 41st
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 8th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 19th

Duke

Overall S&P+ ranking: 72nd
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 88th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 44th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 108th

On paper, the Hokies have a significant advantage in this matchup. Duke is without their starting QB, Thomas Sirk, he was lost for the season in August. They are also without their top running back, Jela Duncan. This is a team that should struggle to move the ball against the Hokies’ defense. They also have a quarterback who has thrown nearly as many interceptions as touchdowns. This seems like an offense that Bud Foster’s group should be able to slow down.

Duke can give teams trouble when they are on defense. They are good at limiting teams thru the air but have been prone to give up the big play from time to time. The Hokies are going to have to try to stretch the Duke defense by going deep to one of their three deep threats. Like they did against Pitt. The Duke defense is also good at limiting teams in the red zone, which the Hokies struggled with last week. They will have to be better this week.

Duke is a team to worry about because David Cutcliffe teams do not beat themselves. Every FBS game that Duke has played this year was decided a margin of 14 points or less. Duke does not get blown out. They don’t commit many penalties and play solid defense. They are not the type of team you can expect to walk over.

If there are two areas the Hokies can look to turn the game, it’s turnovers and special teams. This may be a game where the Hokies can show off a little new-look Beamerball. Daniel Jones has thrown 9 interceptions this year. Duke is ranked 125th in the nation with 12 lost fumbles. And they have not been particularly strong on special teams (see S&P+ ranking above).  They particularly struggle on punt coverage and converting field goals. Keep an eye out for turnovers and special teams in this game.

This game will not be a cakewalk. Duke is a legit team and can absolutely upset the Hokies. The same way Syracuse did. If the Hokies show up focused like the did against Miami and Pitt, they should be fine and roll to a comfortable win. If they start slow or sleepwalk like they did against Syracuse, they could be in trouble. I do think there will be a bit of an emotional letdown after the Pitt game. I still think the Hokies win and pull away in the 4th quarter.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 31, Duke 17