Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Game Preview - VT vs. UVA

Well folks, here it is - the single biggest game in the history of Virginia-Virginia Tech. A good bowl game vs. a crappy one. State bragging rights. A chance for the ACC Championship. My sanity. All of these things hinge on the outcome of this already spirited rivalry.

When the Hokies lost to LSU, I thought to myself - "Well if we can just beat Virginia this will be a successful season". When the Hokies lost to Boston College I thought to myself -  "Well as long as the Hokies beat Virginia, this will be a successful season". Now that the big game is here I'm thinking to myself - "If the Hokies lose this game, the season will be a complete failure, and I will have a firsthand glimpse at what Dante's 5th circle of hell looks like." 

I always ignore the statistics when talking about rivalry games because honestly, they don't mean anything in these cases. Does it really matter that the Hokies have a slightly better defense statistically and a slightly worse offense? No. I have taken a look at the matchups and there are a few interesting tidbits there, so I'll lay those out and then tell you what this game will really come down to.

Matchup-wise this will be the toughest defense for the Hokies offensive line since Georgia Tech. Not only do the Cavaliers have Chris Long, who plays like his dad Howie, with a non-stop motor and great balance, but they also play a 3-4 defense which means blitzes can come from any combination of linebackers. The offensive line is JUST coming into form but this will require phenomenal communication made tougher by the fact that the game is on the road. 

If the Hokie QB can get good protection (don't get me started about this rotating QB situation), the Hokie receivers have a distinct advantage on the UVA secondary in terms of height and speed. This class of 4 senior receivers - Eddie Royal, Josh Morgan, Justin Harper and Josh Hyman - have all gone over 1000 yards for their career, which is the first class of receivers to do that in Virginia Tech history. All but Josh Hyman will be either be drafted or make an NFL squad.

Defensively, the Hokie linebackers matchup very well against an athletic QB and the defensive line has been shutting down the opponent's running game for the past 4 weeks. But I think we will see a commitment to the run from the Wahoos that has been missing from the Hokies' opponents. Unless Tech gets out to a huge lead early, Virginia will probably continue to try and run the ball if for no other reason than the Hokie CB's are better than the Virginia receivers. Brandon Flowers will be All-ACC again and be gone to the NFL where he'll get drafted. Macho Harris will likely be back for his senior season but he's also having a huge season. It should be tough to get big plays through the air for Virginia, but I guarantee they will take a few shots deep in the first half if only because the Hokies aren't expecting it. 

Now, let's face reality. This game, which is already big for both teams because of the rivalry, is made enormous due to the ACC Coastal Division also being on the line. The deciding factor in the game is simply going to come down to who can handle the magnitude of the moment. UVA has been in close, tough games all year (setting an NCAA record by winning 5 games decided by 2 points or less). This Hokie senior class has been in big games as well, winning the ACC title in Miami, beating Clemson at Clemson, crushing UVA 52-14 two years ago in Charlottesville. But the mental toughness is going to decide things like penalties, turnovers, mistakes on special teams. It will be mental toughness that will decide this game. Who can make the fewest big mistakes?

And as crazy as this sounds (I told you not to get me started), if you reason this out with me you will agree that the true freshman is the better player at QB for these circumstances. When have you seen Tyrod Taylor flustered? I saw him angry when he got hurt last week, but I've never seen him shaken up by a situation. Sean Glennon has a history of playing poorly in big games. His one exception is the Georgia Tech game this season, but I have never seen poise like Taylor's. Remember the Clemson game this year in Death Valley at NIGHT? With everything on the line in the 4th quarter, Taylor made a HUGE run down the sideline that led to the score to ice the game. Remember Florida State in Blacksburg? Down by 1 point, in the 4th quarter, Taylor made a throw that an NFL QB would have been proud of that put the ball on the Seminole 2 yd line, then ran in the score himself to give the Hokies the lead on a big 3rd down. It's hard to believe a freshman can have that kind of poise, but in the final analysis I am an engineer, and I have to believe the data. Taylor has proven in similar circumstances he can handle this. Glennon has shown that, for the most part, he cannot. So I love the idea of telling UVA that they need to prepare for both QB's and then after kickoff give the start to Taylor and don't look back. If Taylor gets hurt you have Glennon coming off the bench, who in that situation, might play looser because he wants to prove he should still be co-starter. 

Regardless, this should be a huge hitting game. There will be a lot of trash-talk which the Hokies have done a LOT less of this year (nice job Coach Beamer) but there's no way to avoid it in a game like this. What the Hokies have to be careful of is to not let that extend into stupid game changing personal fouls (either killing their own drive or extending a Cavalier drive). I think all you need to know about the mentality of Virginia comes from their coach, Al Groh. Listen to this direct quote from his opening statement during his press conference on the game -  "with those four receivers that we'll be very pleased to bid adieu to after this game". Who says "bid adieu" when talking about football??? Could you stomach the thought of losing to someone who wants to bid you adieu? It makes me nauseous just thinking about it. Now the Hokies need to show the Cavaliers how to say goodbye in HokieSpeak - "See ya'll later!" - and go and kick some tail in Charlottesville on Saturday. Noon kickoff everyone so be ready early.

GO HOKIES!!!!!!!!!!!

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