It is actually crazy what a difference a week can make. This time last week the sky was falling in the wake of a loss to Kansas and Mountaineer Nation (myself partially excluded) was kicking the tires on a coaching search for Neal Brown’s replacement. Now, with Kansas on an inexorable death march to Arlington and our team finally showing that they can play an (almost) clean game of football, the narrative has flipped and has the Old Gold and Blue riding high into Lane Stadium.
As for the Hokies, I didn’t come away from the WBP preseason deep dive thinking much of their football team and nothing I’ve seen out of them in the first three weeks has changed my opinion. There are potentially adverse variables at play here (rivalry game, night game, Lane Stadium, etc, etc) but there are far more reasons to be optimistic. Let’s get to it.
Date: September 22nd, 2022
Kickoff: 7:30PM EST
Where: Lane Stadium - Blacksburg, VA
Tickets: General Public
Online Streaming: ESPN app with a valid ESPN+ subscription
Radio Announcers: Tony Caridi (PBP), Dwight Wallace (analyst), and Jed Drenning (sideline)
Reminder: It is against site policy to post links to illegal streams in the comments.
Spread: WVU -2.5 on FanDuel
ML: WVU -138, Tech +116
Over/Under: 52.5 both -110
Covering -2.5 feels insanely manageable against this team. They haven’t yet breached 30 points and have played two of the 30 worst defenses in FBS and Wofford.
Clear - 63 degrees - Wind 5mph
Football weather, ladies and gents. Mid-70s by day, 63ish at kickoff, and into the 50’s by game’s end. It looks like there’s a slight chance of some rain in the area during the day, but everything should clear out well before Enter Sandman.
Where are they from? Blacksburg, VA. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious.
All-time Series: 29-23-1. This series is the inverse of the Pitt series - we built up a big lead before 1990 with things flipping somewhat in the modern era. It must be noted that Tech dodged the peak of the White-Slaton era and all of the Geno-Tavon-Stedman era, otherwise that record might look a bit more lopsided.
The Last Time We Played: West Virginia 27-21 Virginia Tech, 2021. The Mountaineers brought the Black Diamond Trophy back to Morgantown last year with a comfortable-turned-sketchy victory at Mountaineer Field. We jumped out to a 24-7 halftime lead and led by as wide a margin as 27-7 in the 3rd quarter, but ended up needing a goal line stand to secure the win.
Head coach: Brent Pry (1st season, 2-1). Pry didn’t get off to the ideal start in Blacksburg, but he has a solid track record of defenses across stints at Penn State and Florida State. I assume he’ll get that side of the ball ironed out in time, but his tenure will likely be defined by whether his offenses are a complement or hindrance.
2022 record: 2-1. The Hokies opened with a disastrous 20-17 loss at Old Dominion but have rebounded well with wins over 1-2 Boston College and 0-3 Wofford.
NUMBERS THAT MAY INTEREST YOU
79 - Pressures generated by the Hokies defense through 3 games. I haven’t checked to see how that stacks up nationally, but it’s more than everybody in the Big 12.
70% - The rate at which Tech runs the ball on first down (68 runs vs 29 passes), which ranks 12th nationally. Interesting note - we’re a perfectly balanced 50% with 52 runs and 52 passes.
4.9 - Yards per play for the Tech offense this year, good for 102nd nationally. They’ve faced ***checks notes*** Old Dominion (87th in defensive beta-rank), Boston College (98th), and Wofford. Not exactly a murderer’s row.
9.4% - Explosive play rate for the Hokie offense against the above competition (10+ yard runs, 20+ yard passes). That currently ranks 108th nationally. We cannot let this be the game where they figure shit out.
1.5 - Yards per carry allowed by Tech. The level of competition has and should continue to be noted, but that’s a better number across three games than what we gave up against Towson. I’m not convinced that their defense is as good as Pitt’s but they’re certainly improved.
KEYS TO THE GAME
WHEN TECH HAS THE BALL - BE AGGRESSIVE AND WIN EARLY DOWNS
I mentioned earlier that Tech has run the ball 70% of the time on first down this year, and that number’s still a hefty 59% if you include second down. They also have two tight ends that’ve played 100+ snaps and they’ll deploy both of them on about half of their plays. They’re going to try to run the football and they’re not going to be shy about it. I expect us to play those percentages and give them a bunch of even fronts on early downs, and to counter 12 personnel looks with a heavy box. We cannot be scared to play on the front foot against these guys, because if we’re able to consistently win those battles and put them behind the sticks, Wells has not shown himself capable of winning games with his arm. He's completed just 8/18 passes on 3rd and 7+, and just 6 of those throws have gone for first downs (33%). If our defense wins first down, we win the game.
WHEN WE HAVE THE BALL - NEUTRALIZE THE PASS RUSH
Level of competition aside, the thing that’s most concerning about Virginia Tech’s defense is the pass rush, and the thing that’s most concerning about their pass rush, at least on paper, is the fact that it’s not just one guy. The entire starting defensive front ranks in the top 40 among P5 defensive linemen in both pressures generated and pass rush win rate. The interior duo of Norell Pollard and Mario Kendrick have been particularly productive with 10 and 11 pressures, respectively, both of which rank in the top 4 among interior defensive linemen. Their linebackers aren’t quite as active in the pass rush as Pitt’s, but as a team they’ve still blitzed on 37% of their opponents’ pass attempts and will absolutely look to test an offensive line that has occasionally struggled to keep defenders away from JT Daniels.
To his credit, JT has handled those occasions even better than I expected him to, but even so, a scenario where he’s standing in the pocket taking bombs is not ideal. Establishing any sort of running game will definitely help, and the offense has plenty of quick throws built in that will get the ball out of JT’s hands, but the best-case scenario would be for the offensive line to wake up and just have an absolute day. Doug Nester should have plenty of motivation, as should James Gmiter, whose performances have fallen well short of expectations so far this year. If that group up front is able to hold up against whatever the Hokies throw at them then we shouldn’t have any trouble finding offensive success.
HOW AFRAID SHOULD WE BE?
5 out of 10. If it was 1999, and Michael Vick was playing quarterback, maybe I’d be intimidated by Lane Stadium, but it’s not, so I’m not. We are battle-tested and have a leader of men at quarterback. We’ll be ready to rock and roll.
I really should know better considering how many times I’ve been hurt, but I am really looking for us to handle the Hokies tomorrow night. I thought we were better than them back in July, and nothing I’ve seen through three games from either team has changed my mind. If anything, the gulf is even wider than anticipated.
For me, it’s this simple - we’ll field both the best offense and best defense that the Hokies have seen thus far, while they’re the second-best defense and third-best offense we’ll have faced. We’re battle-tested against quality opponents, while they’re not. They don’t have playmakers on the outside who can hurt us if we load up on the run the way Pitt did, they don’t have a scheme or a quarterback that can hurt us the way Kansas did, and they don’t have an offensive line that’s good enough to offset either of those first two points. Their defense is fine, but we moved the ball and scored points against a better, more aggressive unit in just as intense an environment on September 1st. I expect us to get north of 30 points and I can’t see them keeping up. The Black Diamond is staying in Morgantown. LFG.