Thursday, November 24, 2011

Commonwealth Cup and More... Much More

Bedlam. The Iron Bowl. The Red River Shootout. The Great Cocktail Party. The Backyard Brawl. Sibling Rivalry. Army-Navy. The Holy War (the Boston College vs. Notre Lame one). Border War (which, by the way, is a football game that has traditions that lead back to an actual war between Missouri and Kansas that started before and led into the Civil War). These rivalries and more are among the reasons why I love college football.

The Commonwealth Cup earns its place among these games as one of the great storied rivalries. The Cavaliers and Hokies have met ninety-two times with the Hokies taking fifty of them. The first of these games took place back before they had the Internet in 1895. Early on, the Cavaliers dominated -- winning the first eight meetings. To be fair, the Virginia Agriculture and Mechanical College Fighting Gobblers were a young squad back then. Only coming into existence three seasons prior, the Gobblers got blanked 38-0 to open that season. [The Cavaliers started playing football in 1888.] Despite the loss, the Gobblers were able to achieve a 4-2 season that year!

I know right! Only six games in a season!? [Later that season the school was renamed and so was the mascot.]

Of late, the Hokies have dominated. Winning eleven of the last twelve, including the last seven match-ups, the Hokies are well on their way to making a future freshman Wahoo class have to say the last time the Cavaliers won was before they were born. Among these victories was my first visit to Scott Stadium in 2005. I never did get to watch the end of that 52-14 butt-kicking because my Virginia alum friend didn't want to sit through fourth quarter with the score already 52-7. I guess since she was my ride and provider of shelter, I had no choice.

Last year, the Hokies dominated in similar fashion, only to give up the shutout with 3 minutes left to play. However, things are very different now. The Hokies have had the luxury of Al Groh for nearly a decade. The Mike London era began after Groh was fired at the end of the 2009 season and I remember turning to MadJay and Where's The Ice and saying simply, "Uh-oh."

No longer can we look upon the Wahoos as bromidic adversaries. London did the best he could with the team Al Groh left him in 2010. But, with a year of recruiting and a year to install his defensive oriented styles, London has taken his team from not only from 4-8 to bowl eligible, but also in contention for the Coastal Division title and a chance to win the ACC.

The winner of Saturday's game will go on to Charlotte to face Clemson in the ACC title game. Not since 2007 has this game held major significant to both squads in any way.

Offensively, the Cavaliers come in with the dual attack of Perry Jones and Kevin Park. The two backs have accumulated 1514 yards on the ground and 500 yards through the air. These two have been a major driving factor in the Hoos march to an 8-3 record.

Jones, the leading back, will be especially tough to guard. He's caught 41 passes this year and when he leaks out of the back field it'll be tough for the linebackers to cover him. Tariq Edwards, who had a less than spectacular game against the Tarheels, will be covering the backs for the most part. Beyond that, it'll be in the hands of the mike, safeties, and corners. Eddie Whitley, at free safety, will probably garner the lot of the coverage on Jones beyond Edwards' coverage. Containing Jones and Park is key number one to success on defense for the Hokies.

At quarterback, Mike Rocco is night and day over his performance last year. The confidence that the Wahoos have in him this year is enough to keep me awake at night as this game approaches. Rocco has had great success rolling out and generally escaping the pocket. Containing him in the pocket will be key number two for Foster's defense.

Rocco hits a number of different receivers week in and week out. His elusiveness was key in Virginia's game winning 75-yard touchdown drive against the Seminoles.

The traditional style of offense laid out by OC Bill Lazor lends itself well into the hands of Bud Foster's defense. They have had most of their success through the use of power running and the swing pass to the backs. With injuries being what they were this year, Foster's defense has had its share of struggles. Despite it all, the Hokies have managed to scuffle past it and use the offense to make up for some of the defensive issues.

On offense, the corners will be tough overall to deal with. Demetrious Nicholson and Chase Minnifield each play well in pass coverage. Minnifield has three interceptions and 47 tackles with 6.5 of those for losses. He also has 1.5 sacks. Nicholson has 2 interceptions and 50 tackles. Despite their youth, they seem to have great football instinct and are always around the ball. The Hokie receiver corp will have to work hard against the talented Virginia secondary.

David Wilson has had two games with some major issues putting the ball on the ground. I'm going to say that I don't think that fumbles will be an issue in this game. Wilson seems to be able to put that all behind him. He's a very goal oriented individual and losing the national lead in rushing yardage, not getting to 100 yards in the first game since doing so for seven straight games, and not getting to the end zone will motivate Wilson to excel.

Virginia at 8-3 (5-2), managed to squeeze by Florida State last week in one of the most bizarre endings, I've seen in a long time. Poor clock management killed Florida State's chance to win the game with a field goal. The Cavaliers have squeezed by a lot of opponents on their way to their record. And yet, the same could be said about the Hokies. The clock was a factor in Tech's potential loss to North Carolina.

The Commonwealth Cup is on the line and Friday will mark the day 2,553 that the Hokies have held possession of it. In either stadium, this game brings emotion and excitement out of every fan, player, and coach. It's a leap year this year, which is great -- Hokies make it another 366 days!

Go Hokies!

One closing note. This week Kirk Herbstreit came out and made comments about the ranking. Specifically, he called out Tech's position at number four in the Coaches Poll, "I love Frank Beamer and his staff and his team, but who have they beaten to deserve to be up at No. 4 in the coaches’ poll?”

“It’s amazing to me me how many people just look at the scores and if you lose, you drop," continued Herbstreit, "and if you win, no matter who you play, no matter what the score is, you move up."

While I agree that the system is broken, it isn't the Hokies fault. They've lost to a very good Clemson team who just happened to pulling off "A Clemson" as the season comes to a close. While, the Hokies in many aspects are playing some of the best football in the country, I personally don't agree with a number four ranking but I leave you with Logan Thomas' comments regarding wanting Virginia to beat Florida State last weekend:

"We want to play the best teams possible. I think it looks better for us and it makes us better as a team. And to be where we want to be we gotta play the best teams and become better as a football team... I think Virginia has done a great job becoming who they are, finding an identity -- great offensive play and a very strong defense. So, in that aspect, it's going to be a tough game for us. But, I know if we come out there and play as good as we do and we execute and are disciplined we can win any game."
- Logan Thomas

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