Date: September 3, 2017
Time: 7:30pm EST
Venue: FedEx Field, Landover, MD
Streaming: WatchESPN (or the WatchESPN app)
Spread: Virginia Tech -4.5 (Oddshark)
West Virginia: The Mountaineers are reportedly rocking their white on white on white Stormtrooper look. Always feels a little weird to see the good guys dressed as bad guys, but they are undoubtedly sharp.
Virginia Tech: As the "home" team, Tech gets to wear their all maroon getup. If something about seeing these colors again doesn't make you see red, get out. Just go.
Know The Enemy
Series History: West Virginia leads the all-time series 28-22-1, but Virginia Tech has taken 7 of the last 10, including the last meeting in 2005.
Head Coach: Justin Fuente. Fuente found his way to Virginia Tech after a 4-year stint at Memphis that saw him elevate a program that had gone 3-21 in the two seasons before he arrived to a squad that went 19-7 in the two years before he left. He enters his second year at Tech after a successful debut campaign that saw the Hokies win 10 games, including a 35-24 triumph over Arkansas in the Belk Bowl.
Offensive Coordinator: Brad Cornelsen. Cornelsen is an 18-year coaching veteran who made his way to Tech after serving as a Co-Offensive Coordinator and QB coach for Fuente at Memphis. He was a crucial part of that turnaround by grooming Paxton Lynch into one of the finest quarterbacks in the country.
Defensive Coordinator: Bud Foster. Foster has been one of the most respected defensive minds in the country for more than two decades now. He's spent 30 of his 36 years in the business stalking the Virginia Tech sidelines, and very few defenses in the country have been have been as consistently opportunistic and aggressive as his since he took over as coordinator in 1996.
When we have the ball
Players to watch: LB Tremaine Edmunds, LB Andrew Motuapuaka, S Terrell Edmunds, CB Brandon Facyson, WHIP Mook Reynolds, DE Vinny Mihota
Key to the game: Get blockers to the second level to neutralize their linebackers
Bud Foster’s defense returns 8 full-time starters and several more key contributors from a unit that finished 2016 ranked 27th nationally in points allowed, 18th in yards allowed, and 6th in tackles for loss. Schematically their base defense is a 4-2-5 that will be led up front by senior Vinny Mihota and sophomore Trevon Hill at defensive end while safety Terrell Edmunds, corners Brandon Facyson and Greg Stroman, and whip Mook Reynolds anchor the back end. The strength of the unit though is undoubtedly at linebacker, where Andrew Motuapuaka and Tremaine Edmunds (brother of Terrell) both return and will be as formidable a duo as we'll face this year.
Strategically we pretty much know what to expect, as well: Tech is going to try to get after us. Those two backers, along with Reynolds and Edmunds the safety, are their top 4 returning tacklers, and it's hard to overstate how active those guys are. Tremaine Edmunds in particular lived in opposing backfields last year, finishing with 106 tackles and 18.5 TFL (18th nationally), and whatever he missed, Motuapuaka generally cleaned up (114/5.5).
That's why I think the key for us will be our ability to get blockers to the second level in the running game. Those four guys are going to fly around and make plays, so it's crucial that we get bodies to them to ensure that those plays are being made 5 and 6 yards downfield as opposed to right at the line of scrimmage. If we can do that, it'll open up the rest of the offense for us and possibly allow Will to hit some big plays (20+ yards) on a secondary that allowed 44 of them last year (82nd nationally); if we can't, we're going to have a really hard time doing anything. Simple as.
When they have the ball
Players to watch: QB Josh Jackson, WR Cam Phillips, RB Travon McMillian, RB Steven Peoples, TE Chris Cunningham, LG Wyatt Teller
Key to the game: Stop the QB run
Justin Fuente is widely regarded as a bright offensive mind, and in Blacksburg he's put together a strategy that has brilliantly leveraged the personnel that they have at their disposal. It's a testament to his coaching ability that he was able to be so successful last year despite the Hokies looking quite a bit different offensively than the Paxton Lynch-led squads that he made his name with at Memphis.
Tech returns 5 starters on offense, including both running backs, the entire left side of their line, and WR Cam Phillips on the outside. The most notable newcomer is QB Josh Jackson, a redshirt freshman who was in the mix for the starting job last year right up until the start of the season. Jackson is an athletic dual threat type who on paper should be able to do most of the things they did with Jarod Evans last year (designed runs, option reads, RPOs) just fine. They'll spend the majority of their time lined up in 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR), which provides maximum formational flexibility without requiring any of the substitutions that our guys might use to sniff out what's coming. To counter that we'll likely have to play more of a conservative, simplified scheme, and that's a big part of what makes them so tricky. Much like Kansas State, Virginia Tech is more than happy to take whatever the defense gives them. If they get to the line and see something they like, they have no problem changing the play, getting their 3 or 4 yards, and lining up to do it again the next time.
This means the key for us defensively has to be staying patient, staying disciplined, and limiting Jackson's running room, both on designed QB runs and in scrambling situations. They love to use the QB in the running game (Evans led them in attempts, yards, and touchdowns last year) to set up the rest of their offense, but if we can slow that down, especially on early downs, it sets up those obvious passing situations where our #Dawgs can go hunt. We'll need a big effort from our inexperienced front to do it, but I’ll back Gibby's 3-3-5 against a first-time starter on 3rd and long any day of the week.
Players to watch: K Joey Slye, PR/CB Greg Stroman
Key to the game: No blocked kicks, please and thank you
“They're really good, really sound. Not only do they have good specialists, you know the unknown is the punter, obviously, but the kicker's as good as there is out there in football, their returners are really good, and their coverage units are fast, they get down the field and they're sure tacklers.“
That’s what Holgs said about Tech’s special teams in his August 29th presser, and knowing what we know about the Hokies, that’s about what you’d expect to hear. BeamerBall may have waned a bit in the twilight of Frank’s career, but it still feels like good special teams play has become a part of Virginia Tech’s DNA; they always seem to do a solid job of covering both kicks (only 17.9 yards per kick return in 2016, 12th nationally) and punts (4.4 ypr in 2016, 20th), as well as generating big plays in the return game. That means the key for us in the third phase is to absolutely limit the opportunity for any splash plays, which means guys are maintaining lane discipline on kick coverage, blocking for a full two-count on punts and place kicks, and taking no chances whatsoever in the return game. Just fair catch it. Please. Football games are hard enough to win against good teams without gifting teams points and/or field position.
It's been 12 years since Virginia Tech left our house with the Black Diamond Trophy. 12 years is a long time for a loss to fester. It's a long time to be left wondering when, if ever, we'd get our chance to right that wrong. Well, it's here.
This is not Texas, or TCU, or Kansas State. This isn't even Syracuse or Maryland.
This is Virginia Tech.
This is Michael Vick and Shayne Graham ripping our hearts out.
This is Grant Wiley stuffing Lee Suggs to save the game, and Brian King picking off Bryan Randall to end it.
This is Rasheed Marshall 93 yards to Travis Garvin, and a whole stadium full of people staring down a pepper spray firehose, because damnit, give us those goal posts.
This is Jahmile Addae decapitating a guy, and still being upset more than a decade later about how terrible that call was.
This is Marcus Vick elbowing our coaches and giving our crowd the finger.
Allow me dispel any notions from Tech fans that renewing this rivalry will be "fun". Make no mistake, we are very much looking forward to this game and very much plan to enjoy it, but we are not marching ourselves down to the DMV in droves of hundreds and thousands for the pleasure of your company. This is all business. We are going to tailgate you to pieces in the parking lot, and then our guys are going to handle your guys out on the field. The Black Diamond is coming back to where it belongs.
West Virginia 31 Virginia Tech 27