In fact, I think I can explain the Virginia Tech-UVa rivalry best because I didn't grow up in Virginia. When I came to Tech, I had no notion of disliking the Cavaliers. I went to football games all freshman year and loved Lane Stadium (it was smaller then, by a lot, but still so loud for it's size and even at only half full). The tailgating was just fun and crazy and the games were even crazier. The crowds got bigger all season and it was just a rock 'em, sock 'em good time. Then came the UVa game.
The Cavaliers were ranked at the time, and just a few years prior had been competing for a national title. This was the peak of UVa football and the game was at UVa against their big in-state rival. But the parking lots for tailgating were only half full even leading right up to kickoff. And I know it sounds cliched, but the students really honest-to-God, were drinking Zima and having pretzels and cheese dip. Not just the alumni, but the students! And half of them were dressed up in shirts and ties. And during the game, the home crowd was a joke. It was not loud at all, and the students would clap politely when their team did well, but in the end the Hokies upset the Cavs 20-17 and the Hokie fans were going nuts. After the game, there was all this passive-aggressive behavior towards us Hokie fans, saying stuff like "SOME people know how to win with class" and faking like they were going to run us over in the parking lot with their Volvos. I realized then why the rivalry existed - UVa is a bunch of PANSIES. And pansies don't get along very well with regular folks. This notion has only been reinforced for me over the many years that have passed since then.
Which brings us to the game on Saturday. Last year, the Hokies went to Charlottesville, it was the Wahoos Senior Day and they were playing for the ACC Coastal championship. And the Cavs lost the game. This year, the shoe is on the other foot and it is the Hokies who are having Senior Day, the game is in Lane Stadium and if they win the game they win the ACC Coastal. But the Cavs are going to play hard as they hate the Hokies, they want to ruin the Hokies' season and they are playing to be bowl-eligible. So I don't want to hear about the intangibles this year, because that's not going to win the game for Virginia Tech.
Unlike many times in years past, the analysis for this game is very simple. Which defense can dominate the inept offense it faces more thoroughly? The Hokie defense is really starting to come into it's own, just as the UVa offense has become a turnover factory so I really think the Cavs will struggle to score more than 13 points. Unfortunately, the Hokie offense is, in a word, pathetic. It is very possible that, just as what happened against Duke, the offense won't be able to score more than 13 points to beat the hated Cavaliers.
Let's take a closer look at the Hokie defense vs. the Wahoo offense. The Wahoos do have a serious running back in Cedric Peerman, who has never played against Virginia Tech due to pansy injuries. But he is a good runner. The QB was 3rd string at the beginning of the season, but he has a whale of an arm and is mobile enough. Marc (of course the UVa QB spells Marc with a "C") Verica's downfall has been his decision making and accuracy which has led to a great many interceptions. Of course, UVa always has a good tight end, who has a big game against this Hokies and this year the TE is senior John Phillips, one of the best in the ACC. Worst of all, the Wahoo offensive line has two NFL caliber players on it, which means that Verica should have some time to throw the ball. But that leads me to the one key area that will break down UVa's offense in this game - the Hokies secondary should dominate this group of wide receivers, forcing Verica to have a hard time finding open wide-outs until the protection breaks down, likely forcing him into a few turnovers. If those turnovers occur deep enough in Virginia's end of the field, the Hokies might actually be able to convert them into a FG or two.
So I expect the Hokies to key on Cedric Peerman to shut down the running game and leave it to the secondary to shut down the wideouts in man-to-man coverage. If that works, UVa is in trouble. If Peerman breaks loose or the wideouts make a few plays, UVa might be able to score, again assuming they are able to eliminate turnovers, which seems unlikely to me.
Unfortunately, the UVa defense matches up well against the Hokie offense, and that's simply because the Virginia defense is average. They have the 40th best defense in the country and are in the middle of the ACC pack in both pass and run defense. But an average defense appears fully capable of dominating this laughable (if it wasn't so damn sad) offense. Duke's defense was 59th in the country and the Hokies were unable to do anything in the 2nd half against the Blue Devils.
The only way I see the Hokies being able to score some points is if the Wild Turkey formation proves effective. We all know that the Cavs are going to bring 8 men against the run (though someone better get the memo to Coach Stinespring just to be sure), and for reasons we have gone over ad nauseum, the normal pass game for the Hokies struggles miserably. But a well mixed-in version of Wild Turkey with a few different runs and even one or two passes could be just the tonic this team needs to put up 17-20 points which should be enough to win the game.
It is possible that the Hokie offensive line plays the way they did against Nebraska and Maryland and executes cleanly, pushing the Cavaliers off the ball every time. It is also possible that Jessica Biel cans her photographer and needs me to come immediately to Fiji to handle her photo shoot for the 2009 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue. But when I check the Magic 8 Ball on both points it tells me "don't count on it" (although if any representatives of Ms. Biel happen to be reading, I do have the next few days off and I'm willing to fly coach).
Perhaps the game changing moment will occur on special teams and maybe even a defensive score to ice this game. The Hokies haven't blocked a punt all season, and this week would be a great time for that. Tech certainly has the edge in field goal kicking as Dustin Keys is going to be an All-ACC kicker and the Wahoos are only making 60% of their kicks. And defensive scores are what the Hokies do for offense these days. Those areas seem to favor Virginia Tech.
So there is hope. Virginia Tech won't need its best offensive game of the season, but they will need a better effort than we saw against Miami and Duke or this season is going to end worse than Hokie Superfans will have seen in a long time (going back to 2003), sending Tech into a tailspin for what seems sure to be a crazy offseason. Let me pull that Magic 8-ball back out again.