It’s an exciting week for fans of the Virginia Tech Hokies and the West Virginia Mountaineers. The battle for the Black Diamond Trophy is upon us as the old rivals renew acquaintances for the first time since 2017.
The No. 15 Hokies enter this game with a 2-0 record. WVU comes in with a 1-1 record. The Mountaineers lost their season-opener to the Maryland Terrapins before bouncing back in a big way last week against LIU.
Through two weeks, the Hokies have certainly been battle-tested, but a trip to Milan-Puskar Stadium will be their stiffest test to date.
Now, let’s preview Saturday’s Virginia Tech/WVU showdown from Morgantown.
When: Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021
Where: Milan Puskar Stadium, Morgantown, West Virginia
Time: Noon ET
Stream: fuboTV (sign up for a free trial)
Odds: WVU is currently 2.5-point favorites via OddsShark
This series dates all the way back to 1912. West Virginia leads the all-time series, 28-23-1. The two teams last met in the 2017 season-opener at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland. The Hokies won that game, 31-24, in a battle of ranked teams.
Before that 2017 meeting, the two rivals last played in 2005. Before Virginia Tech entered the ACC in 2004, both schools were members of the Big East. The most famous battle in their history as conference rivals and in this history of this series came in 1999.
That season, the Hokies came Morgantown undefeated on the first Saturday in November. Tech was ranked No. 3, while the Mountaineers struggled that season. Virginia Tech had national title hopes behind freshman quarterback Michael Vick.
WVU scored with less than two minutes remaining to take the lead. Vick would get one more chance.
The freshman sensation would lead the Hokies on a last-minute drive with his arm — and legs — to put the Hokies in field-goal position. Then, the greatest kicker in school history, Shayne Graham, came in and knocked a 44-yarder through the uprights and the Hokies walked away with a hard-fought 22-20 victory.
Tech would play in the national championship that season, and its win at West Virginia was a big reason.
When Virginia Tech has the ball
Since our last preview, the Hokies suffered a major loss on offense. Tight end James Mitchell is now out for the season with a knee injury. This loss hurts. One of the best tight ends in the country, Mitchell does so many things well, even if offensive coordinator Brad Cornelsen doesn’t always entirely use Mitchell to his fullest potential.
Quarterback Braxton Burmeister has been efficient through two weeks. He has made some excellent throws, especially in the won over North Carolina. However, he has also looked tentative at times. Head coach Justin Fuente wants to see Burmeister let it rip because right now, it is holding the passing game back just a bit.
The Hokies have several talented running backs. Jalen Holston is Tech’s top runner. He is dependable and tough to bring down. Raheem Blackshear is versatile and can also line up in the slot. The Hokies should filter some of Mitchell’s passing game targets to Blackshear. Keshawn King is a home-run threat, but he must hold onto the football. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the coaches get King more touches on Saturday.
Tre Turner and Tayvion Robinson are an outstanding duo at wide receiver. Both can make plays from anywhere on the field and are also active in the jet-sweep game. The offensive staff must get Turner and Robinson more involved.
The Hokies have some depth at tight end in Nick Gallo and Drake DeIuliis. Both can play and are good receivers. Gallo is the more athletic of the two, while DeIuliis gets the edge as a blocker. The Hokies cannot abandon the tight ends with Mitchell out.
Tech’s offensive line is solid on the left side, but it is still working the kinks out on the right side.
Two players to watch on the WVU defense are defensive linemen Dante Stills and Akheem Mesidor. Each player could give Tech’s offense some problems.
When West Virginia has the ball
Jarret Doege is WVU’s starting quarterback. He is your typical pocket passer who will not hurt you outside of the pocket. Garrett Greene is the backup and the complete opposite. Greene isn’t the passer Doege is, but he is an electric runner.
I would expect the Mountaineers to employ both quarterbacks on Saturday. Greene is the type of player that has given Virginia Tech fits in the past.
Running back Leddie Brown is solid and dependable. He ran for over 1,000 yards last season but averaged over three yards per attempt in 2021.
West Virginia has plenty of depth at wide receiver. While the Hokies have a solid secondary, WVU’s pass-catchers will challenge them.
Sean Ryan is WVU’s leading receiver. The 6-foot-3 outside target is off to a strong start this season. Sam James is another quality wide receiver who can beat you deep. Winston Wright works out of the slot for West Virginia.
6-foot-3 junior Bryce Ford-Wheaton mans the “X” position for WVU. His backup is four-star freshman Kaden Prather.
West Virginia’s offensive line has a familiar face in former Hokie Doug Nester. Nester starts at right guard for the Mountaineers. Center Zach Frazier is arguably the linchpin for WVU’s offensive line.
The Hokies’ defensive line of Amare Barno, Jordan William, TyJuan Garbutt and Norell Pollard should be a fun matchup against WVU’s offensive line.
Another exciting matchup is how Tech’s secondary matches up against WVU’s receivers. This will determine the game.
I think this game is close and comes down to the wire. This is the first time the Hokies have been on the road in 2021. And going to Mountaineer Field is a challenge. Virginia Tech will need more from Burmeister to win this game. I expect to see some Connor Blumrick running the football some as Tech should throw the kitchen sink at the Mountaineers. Starting the season 3-0 with Richmond on the schedule next week gives the Hokies a good shot at 4-0 when Notre Dame comes to Blacksburg in October.
Ultimately, I don’t think Tech’s offense does enough to win this game. I think Virginia Tech’s defense keeps it close, but in the end, the Mountaineers, with their home-field advantage, pick up a massive win over the Hokies.
WVU 27, Virginia Tech 24