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Virginia Tech vs. Virginia: Commonwealth Cup preview

Winner takes all and gets a date with Clemson.

Virginia v Virginia Tech
Virginia vs. Virginia Tech in 2018
Photo by Michael Shroyer/Getty Images

It’s officially Black Friday, which means millions of crazy shoppers all across the world are battling for TVs, kitchen gadgets and any other deal they can find. In the state of Virginia, Black Friday means the Virginia Tech Hokies battle the Virginia Cavaliers on the gridiron, with the winner taking possession of the Commonwealth Cup.

This season, the stakes are much higher in 2019 as the Hokies (8-3, 5-2) head north to Charlottesville to battle the Wahoos (8-3, 5-2) with the winner taking the ACC’s Coastal Division and earning the right to play Clemson next week for the ACC Championship.

How we arrived to this point is a different tale for these teams. UVa started 4-0 and was ranked in the top 25. The Cavaliers’ first loss came at Notre Dame in late September. After the loss to the Fighting Irish, Virginia would lose two of its next three before rallying to win its final three games heading into Friday.

As for the Hokies, they lost the opener at Boston College when quarterback Ryan Willis turned the ball over four times and the defense couldn’t get off the field when it mattered the most. Then, Tech would win its next two games in unimpressive fashion over Old Dominion and Furman. The Hokies faced Duke on Friday, Sept. 27 in Lane Stadium. That ended up being Virginia Tech’s worst home loss in 45 years and Blacksburg wasn’t a pleasant place.

Fans and alumni called for head coach Justin Fuente’s dismissal, a key recruiting target for the class of 2020 cancelled his official visit and committed elsewhere. Nothing was going right. But instead of the Hokies going into the toilet, Fuente and defensive coordinator Bud Foster challenged this young team and their toughness. Slowly, this group responded.

Fuente made a quarterback change before the next game at Miami, inserting sophomore Hendon Hooker into the lineup. Tech won and Hooker is 6-0 as starting quarterback. VT’s only loss during this impressive run is a one-point loss at Notre Dame when Hooker was sidelined. On that day, the Hokies still outplayed the Irish, but came up just short.

Now, here we are.

Much of the talk will center on the Coastal, however, this game is much bigger for both schools. At this point for UVa, it is about ending Tech’s 15-game winning streak over the Hoos. For the Hokies, they don’t want to send out Bud Foster with a loss to Virginia in his final regular season game.

Tomorrow is huge, for many reasons.

Offensively, Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins presents a unique challenge to a reinvigorated Virginia Tech defense. Foster’s group has two straight shutouts and 10 straight quarters of dominant play, dating back to the second half in the win over Wake Forest.

Perkins is Virginia’s offense. He has completed almost 65 percent of his passes for 2,638 and 15 touchdowns. Perkins is also Virginia’s leading rusher, accounting for 523 yards and nine more scores. As we know, dual-threat passers have caused issues for the Hokies in recent years, although that trend has been a bit more in Tech’s favor recently. Last November, the Hokies did a solid job against Perkins.

UVa’s offense isn’t as strong as it was a year ago after losing a couple of key contributors but this is still a good unit. Receivers Joe Reed, Hasise Dubois and Terrell Jane make up a solid trio of weapons for Perkins. The Hoos rank No. 43 is passing offense but are near the bottom in rushing offense. I expect Chamarri Conner to play a key role in watching Perkins.

Defensively, Virginia is once again a solid group, despite losing future first-round pick Bryce Hall. The Cavaliers rank No. 22 in total defense. Jordan Mack, Charles Snowden and Zane Zandier are just a few of UVa’s impact defenders. The Hokies rank No. 24 in run defense with Virginia right behind them at No. 25.

While the Hoos have a strong defense, it isn’t quite as good as the group the Hokies faced in a 28-0 win over Pitt last week. The Panthers were a dominant group and the Hokies thrived off big plays to win last week. I do believe the Hokies will move the ball against Virginia.

Hooker is the key for this one. He needs to use his legs to open the running lanes for the Hokies. Tech must challenge for Virginia’s DBs with Hall out. Tre Turner, Damon Hazelton and Tayvion Robinson are mismatches. Offensive coordinator Brad Cornelson must continue to find ways to involve Dalton Keene and James Mitchell in the offense. Virginia Tech has a plethora of talented offensive weapons that can cause problems for any defense. I do expect the Hokies to strike on a couple of big plays in this one.

Can the defense stop Perkins from doing the same? That is critical. While I am expecting UVa to be fired up, I also expect the Hokies to be pretty amped up for this one, too. You don’t think all the players heard the chatter from everyone that THIS would be the year Virginia finally ended the streak?

Whatever the outcome, expect a close one til the end, much like last year. And, while the game is in Charlottesville, expect the Hokies to be well-represented in the stands.

How are you feeling, Hokie Nation?