It’s that week. This will probably be the last Black Friday Commonwealth Cup game in a long while. The news floating about is that the 12:00 kickoff didn’t sit well with either athletic department. Even with the game being in Charlottesville, getting up on Black Friday morning at 3:00 or 4:00 and driving somewhere is about choice deals at brick and mortar retailers, not getting in the car and heading to either Blacksburg or Charlottesville from the prime fan bases’ homesteads (mostly NOVA), and even Southwest Virginia when it’s a Scott Stadium is the game venue. I haven’t seen Virginia retailers going to the state legislature to pass some weird one-off law that forbids Commonwealth Cup game times before 7:00 on Black Friday Evening; but I wouldn’t have put it past them. From now on the scheduling is going to be on Thanksgiving weekend Saturday, and that’s just fine with most folks.
With that controversy out of the way, it means that we are accelerated a day on our usual analytical pieces. So, yours’ truly starts off the game prep with a list of the five things that we think are going to help the Hokies win this year. I won’t do some theme standard thesis statement, let’s just launch right into the list. We’ll cover the issue from fifth to first this time.
Make the Offense Work, Drive it and Score
The fifth item that Virginia Tech needs to accomplish is getting the ball moving and keeping it going. The offense has been markedly better over the last few games, but it’s still depending on explosive plays, not steady scheduled plays. The offense needs to get some sustained drives happening. It’s likely to be cold and rainy on Friday in Hooville. We know that, we do that, and well. What we don’t do well is develop a play calling rhythm where really good plays are followed up by really good plays. We still tend to get a big play for big yards and then follow it up with a lead headed dud up the middle. The Wahoo defense is not particularly stout, but it’s not altogether horrid. All three of their losses have come from teams scoring 21 and over. There were several where UVA had been surprised early and had to rely on Perkensian Miracles to win. The truth is that the Wahoos win/loss pile looks a bunch like ours, but they did lose badly to Notre Dame (35-20) and then was nipped by Louisville (28-21). The Hokies can run and pass on the Hoos, and therefore the Hokie play calling needs to be more consistent. All of this depends on the weather, too.
Maintain Positive Field Position
The Fourth thing to note is that Tech is going to need to maintain positive field positon. We absolutely have to keep the Virginia offense trying to cover the entire field. Their offense, (such as it is, more about that later) is dangerous in the red zone and in the late quarters. Just ask ODU who had a convincing lead going into the 4th quarter. It’s going to be really important for Oscar Bradburn and the Special teams to keep the field as long as possible.
Maintain Morale and Emotional Momentum
The Third element of the proposed solution is to keep the energy up. There has been a very positive movement where the coaches have finally found a voice and an attitude to complement their players. The kids see their coaches getting involved, and that provides a positive emotional influence on them. The inducement is the Orange Bowl. No matter what happens with the ACC Championship game, if Virginia Tech wins or loses it, our likely landing place will be the Orange Bowl to play against either Georgia or Penn State. The players need to be reminded of that all week. The chance for total redemption from the pits of despair last season and mad scramble for anything. All of the losses go away, and Virginia Tech becomes the Cinderella Story of the 2019 football season. I’d put an orange in each locker, each day…
Prepare and Perform
Second, each player needs to show up ready to play from a level of humility and determination that speaks of a team that has put a 15 year win streak out of their minds and replaced it with the knowledge that this Wahoo team is a tough opponent and this game is not a “gimme”. Every single player playing every single snap needs to have their brain in the game, their eyes wide open, and their heads on a swivel. This needs to be a no mistake game. No missile hits, no sloppy tackling, and no procedural penalties. Ball handling will again be critical. We had two fumbles last week which are two too many. One was recovered by us, but one was recovered by Pitt on a short field. UVA is not Pitt, and Bryce Perkins is not Kenny Pickett. If we fumble we’ll pay. If we fumble on a short field we’ll pay double.
Shutdown Bryce Perkins
That leads us to the final point and the absolutely NUMBER 1 problem to solve for the game. The Hokies absolutely must stop, contain, slow down, harass, fluster, and shutdown Bryce Perkins. The fundamental point is that Bryce Perkins is operating behind a relatively good offensive line. He can throw reasonably well and has one really reliable target (Bryan will cover that in the details). But Friday, the Virginia Tech Hokies need to accomplish what Notre Dame, Louisville, and even Miami managed to do. We need to contain and stop Bryce Perkins. Doing that stops 85-90% of the Wahoo offense. If we can keep him in the pocket, and out of the open field, we’ll reduce him to a one dimensional passing game. On a cold wet game day that’s a winning strategy. It means that the front four need to rush with discipline. They need to stay in their rush lanes and not over shoot Perkins. TyJuan Garbutt and Emmanuel Belmar are going to need to concentrate on containment. Jarrod Hewitt, Dashawn Crawford, and Norell Pollard need to get the ‘A’ gap plugged and closed off for escape routes. Of course the cleanup job is going to go to Rayshard Ashby, Dax Hollifield, Alan Tisdale, Chamarri Connor and/or Divine Deablo. It’s going to take all of them working together, when they are in, to keep Perkins in check. Of course the biggest thing to help in stopping Perkins is point 5. Drive the ball and score more points than Virginia can make up for.
So that’s about it… This won’t be the last “five things” article for the year. We know there will be a bowl game to cover. If we lose Friday it will probably be the Belk Bowl. Though I really loved covering it in 2016/2017, I don’t want to this year because it would mean what we all don’t want to happen. So, we’ll think positively. We’ll have two more of these articles this season. For now, the Virginia Tech Hokies need to go 1-0 on Friday.