UVA vs. Virginia Tech Preview: How’s that new coach working out for you?
Tech got its man first, with AD Whit Babcock interrupting the start of Frank Beamer’s final postgame press conference in the state of Virginia, at Scott Stadium following the Hokies’ 23-20 win over the Cavs, to tell reporters that he couldn’t confirm reports circulating earlier in the day that he had already hired then-Memphis coach Justin Fuente.
It was a classic, yeah, we just beat you on the field, and now we’re beating you in the front office moment for Babcock and the Tech athletics department.
Virginia seemed to answer well with the stunning announcement that it had somehow lured Bronco Mendenhall away from BYU.
Fuente, at least, was a guy rumored to be in the running for any number of jobs. No one had any idea that Mendenhall, finishing his 11th season at BYU, where his father and brother played, was looking.
Both front offices, then, and certainly both fan bases, thought, yeah, got our guy, see you next season.
Well, things have worked out pretty well for Virginia Tech (8-3, 5-2 ACC), with Fuente, in year one, on the doorstep of a trip to the ACC Championship Game.
At UVA (2-9, 1-6 ACC), it’s been another forgettable season, the ninth losing year in the last 11 for the program, now spanning three coaches, and actually, it could be argued that this season has been the lowest of a series of low points for the once-proud program.
A season-opening blowout loss at home to Richmond, a good FCS team, but still an FCS team, a missed 20-yard field goal as time expired in a three-point loss at UConn, a loss on a 29-yard TD pass with 13 seconds to go against then-#5 Louisville, a six-game losing streak.
Tech is headed to Orlando and presumably a New Year’s Day bowl game; UVA could be headed toward its second 10-loss season in the last four.
Getting to know: Virginia Tech
The Hokies are averaging 33.5 points and 441.5 yards per game on offense. Quarterback Jerod Evans is the key: throwing for 2,786 yards, 24 touchdowns and five interceptions, completing 64.2 percent of his passes, and also leading the team in rushing, with 675 yards (4.5 yards per carry) and seven TDs on the ground.
Travon McMillan is a threat at tailback, gaining 568 yards, 4.6 yards per carry. As a team, Tech runs for 183.0 yards per game, gaining 4.0 yards per carry.
The leading receivers are Isaiah Ford (65 catches, 13.6 yards per catch), Cam Phillips (52 catches, 13.3 yards per catch) and Bucky Hodges (38 catches, 13.9 yards per catch).
The run-pass mix is roughly 60-40 run-pass.
The Tech defense isn’t the most stout bunch that defensive coordinator Bud Foster has had in his time in Blacksburg, but it’s pretty good, giving up 22.1 points and 339.9 yards per game.
As always, Foster will load the box to stop the run, blitz the quarterback, and isn’t afraid to leave his corners on islands to press the numbers advantage up front.
Woody Baron leads the D with 17 tackles for loss, and Tremaine Edmunds has 15.5 tackles for loss. Ken Ekanem leads the team with 5.5 sacks, with Baron and Edmunds adding 4.5 each.
Terrell Edmunds and Greg Stroman each have three INTs, and Stroman and Brandon Facyson have eight pass breakups each.
Placekicker Joey Slye is 19-of-24 on field-goal attempts, with a long of 47, though he is just 1-of-5 from 40+.
Slye has an impressive 54 touchbacks on 72 kickoffs.
Punter Mitchell Ludwig averages 38.5 yards per kick, with 23 of his 52 punts downed inside the 20.
Getting to know: Virginia
The Cavs won’t have backup tailback Albert Reid (480 yards, 4.9 yards per carry, six rushing TDs) this week for the finale
Virginia averages 23.6 points and 362.5 yards per game on offense.
Senior tailback Taquan Mizzell is Mr. Everything for the O: with 827 yards rushing (5.0 yards per carry), and a team-leading 51 catches (8.0 yards per catch), and seven total touchdowns.
Olamide Zaccheaus (49 catches, 10.9 yards per catch) and Doni Dowling (47 catches, 12.8 yards per catch) have been bright spots in the receiving corps.
The UVA defense has been a sore spot, giving up 32.1 points and 434.5 yards per game. The ‘Hoos do have two of the best tacklers in the ACC: Micah Kiser (120 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, one interception, six pass breakups) and Quin Blanding (108 tackles, two INTs, six pass breakups).
Andrew Brown has been a revelation on the D line with 13 tackles for loss and six sacks.
Placekicking has been a joke. The Cavs have converted just four field-goal attempts this season, with a long of 36, limiting offensive play-calling, obviously, even in the red zone.
The kickoff guys – Dylan Sims and Sam Hayward – have just 18 touchbacks on 48 kickoffs this season.
Punter Nicholas Conte might be the team MVP – averaging 44.6 yards per kick, with 32 of his 64 kicks downed inside the 20.
Preview by Chris Graham