The West Virginia Mountaineers (1-2) return to Blacksburg for the first time since 2004 Thursday night to face the Virginia Tech Hokies (2-1). It’s the first time the two old rivals have played in back-to-back seasons since 2005. Before last season, the two schools last played in the season opener from FedEx Field in 2017.
This is a big game for both schools. Yes, they are playing for bragging rights and the Black Diamond Trophy, but West Virginia head coach Neal Brown has faced questions about his job security while Virginia Tech head coach Brent Pry is looking for a signature win in his first season.
There is plenty of excitement in Blacksburg for this one. Thursday night, under the lights, and on ESPN, with a hated rival coming to town.
When: Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022
Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
Where: Lane Stadium, Blacksburg, Virginia
Weather: Around 50 degrees at kickoff, 10-15 MPH winds
Radio: Virginia Tech Sports Network. You can find a list of affiliates here.
Odds: WVU is currently 1.5-point favorites, per Odds Shark.
The Mountaineers lead the all-time series, 29-23-1, and won last year’s battle in Morgantown, 27-21. The Mountaineers jumped out to a 14-0 lead quickly and the Hokies looked unprepared and overmatched. The Hokies finally scored but WVU scored the next 13 points and held a 27-7 lead in the third quarter.
Virginia Tech quarterback Braxton Burmeister led the Hokies back and they had a chance to win late, holding a first and goal from the the WVU three-yard line with two minute sremaining but questionable playcalling led Tech to come up just short. The finish of that game perfectly encapsulated the Justin Fuente era.
The Hokies should have won last year’s meeting despite a terrible start and it’s one the players haven’t forgotten.
WVU offense vs. Virginia Tech defense
This is classic strength vs. strength. The Mountaineers have the No. 13 offense in college football, averaging 513 total yards per game, and 6.55 yards per play. Quarterback JT Daniels is the ultimate veteran having played two seasons at USC, two seasons at Georgia and now with West Virginia. Daniels is having a good season, completing 64% of his passes for 753 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions. He is a big upgrade from what WVU had under center last season.
Daniels has plenty of talented weapons. Wide receivers Bryce Ford-Wheaton, Sam James and Kaden Prather are as good of a trio of wideouts the Hokies will see all season. Ford-Wheaton leads the bunch with 24 receptions for 296 yards and four touchdowns. It’s a terrific group.
Freshman C.J. Donaldson is one of the best freshmen in college football on this young season. He came to WVU as a tight end, but has quickly emerged as the team’s top running back. The 6-foot-2, 240-pound Donaldson is big and fast, presenting Virginia Tech’s defense with a unique challenge. The Mountaineers also have Troy Mathis Jr. in the backfield.
The Hokies are ranked No. 5 in total defense, allowing only 201 yards per game and 3.55 yards per play. Boston College had an excellent trio of offensive playmakers that the Hokies absolutely shut down in Week 2, but West Virginia is Virginia Tech’s biggest test thus far. The Mountaineers can beat you in multiple ways on offense and have a veteran quarterback who has seen it all.
Tech’s defensive line has been outstanding, but Saturday will present a huge test.
WVU defense vs. Virginia Tech offense
This is probably your key matchup. Everyone knows WVU’s offense and Virginia Tech’s defense are each team’s strengths. If that matchup is relatively even, then the game will be won here. The Mountaineers have some good players on defense, particularly senior defensive end Dante Stills. He’s a star.
Virginia Tech quarterback Grant Wells has played well over the last two games. Last week’s win over Wofford was clearly about getting Wells comfortable in the passing game ahead of the WVU game. Wells has a big-time arm, but he is sometimes too confident in that arm and it results in turnovers. He threw four interceptions in the opener, but you could argue two weren’t his fault.
The Hokies will likely be without sophomore running back Malachi Thomas again, but junior Keshawn King is back. King has emerged as a star in VT’s backfield as this coaching staff is utilizing him more in space, allowing King to use his athleticism to make big plays.
At wide receiver, Temple transfer Jadan Blue emerged last week. Blue was battling an injury and looks healthy now. Virginia Tech’s No. 1 receiver, Kaleb Smith, is still not 100%. The Hokies would love to see sophomore receiver Da’Wain Lofton emerge with some big plays Thursday.
The X-factor on offense is tight end/wide receiver/quarterback Connor Blumrick. The Hokies would do well to make Blumrick a key figure in the passing game. His combination of size and speed is unique. Tight end Nick Gallo will also be featured heavily for the Hokies.
We’ll wait until Thursday morning to share our staff predictions.