Chris Graham: UVa.’s Virginia Tech Hurdle

Talk about needing a win in the worst way. If it doesn’t happen this year for Virginia, it may never again be a rivalry.

For years, the Virginia Tech Hurdle has been that effectively nobody on the UVa. sideline knows what it feels like to beat Virginia Tech in football. It could be argued that, of course, Anthony Poindexter does, since ‘Dex played on Virginia teams that beat Virginia Tech teams, but that was as close to a hundred years ago as anything current, and whatever institutional knowledge guys like ‘Dex and Shawn Moore have is limited in the grand scheme of things.

It’s been nine … long … years since Virginia has won in the series. How long ago was that? Facebook didn’t exis in 2003 when Matt Schaub helped break what was then a four-game Tech winning streak in the series.

That’s right. That’s 12 wins in the last 13 between the two.

Remember that 1998 game in Blacksburg when Virginia rallied from a 29-7 halftime deficit to win 36-32? That was the end of an era. Virginia had won eight of 12 in the series to that point, including a five-of-six stretch from 1987-1992.

Hard to believe that now. By and large, the games haven’t been all that competitive. Only one of the 12 Tech wins dating back to 1999 has been by less than double digits (the 17-14 win in 2009), and the average margin of victory for the Hokies in their 12 wins has been 21 points.

This has taken place in an era in which Tech football has been in a clear pattern of ascendancy, and Virginia football has been in decline, but even in seasons in which the two teams were comparable on the field – in 2004, 2007 and 2011, all years in which both were ranked in the Top 25 nationally, the Hokies won by a combined 64 points, or actually a tick above the 21-points-per-game average over the longer period of dominance.

Which brings us to this year’s game. Virginia Tech is suffering through an uncharacteristically bad season. It’s been since 1992 since Tech last had a losing record at the end of a season, and a loss by the 5-6 Hokies on Saturday would make that happen for the first time in 20 years. One could say that’s a motivating factor for Tech heading into Saturday, as is the fact that a win would make the Hokies bowl-eligible, even if that eligibility would be for a bowl in some Siberian outpost far from the usual Virginia Tech landing spot in a BCS game.

The biggest motivating factor, bigger than some meaningless fourth-tier bowl game, bigger even than preventing the losing record, has to be keeping the decade-plus of dominance over Virginia intact.

The ‘Hoos, for their part, smell blood in the water. Pittsburgh beat Virginia Tech two weeks after losing by two touchdowns to I-AA Youngstown State. Boston College, all two wins of Boston College, took Tech to overtime just last week. If ever there was a year in which UVa. could break the dry spell, it would be this year.

It’s been a long year in Charlottesville, too, with the Cavs, similarly to their rivals down in Blacksburg, underperforming their way to a 4-7 season, the fifth losing season in seven years at UVa. But hope springs eternal in the land of Mike London, who has been patiently rebuilding his way out from under the mess that he inherited from the disaster that was the Al Groh era.

Even with this year’s disappointments, there is optimism for the near future, with a young team gaining valuable experience in its otherwise forgettable 2012 campaign.

What a feather in the cap for all involved it would be for these underachieving Cavs to be able to do what eight of their predecessors could not do, in ending the season with a win over the Evil Empire from Southwest.

A W would send all concerned into the winter with an extra bounce in their steps that could carry over into conditioning drills, spring practice and the start of camp in the summer.

Another loss? Well, it wouldn’t exactly be devastating, now, would it? Losing to Virginia Tech in football has become part of the culture at UVa., up there with referring to campus as “Grounds” and calling freshmen “first-years.” Losing to Virginia Tech in football is what is expected.

Just as beating Virginia in football is what is expected at Virginia Tech.

Watch the game on Saturday, closely, intently. What happens when Tech smacks Virginia in the mouth? Last year, it came when Virginia tried to respond to an early Tech touchdown drive, and moved the ball inside the Hokie 10 before getting to a fourth-down play. Going for it, naturally, the Virginia offense came up short, and you could almost feel the air pressure change instantly. Virginia Tech cruised once again to victory, this time by a 38-0 count, dominating a game with a team that on paper at least was close to its equal.

The two are again this year pretty close to equal talent-wise. Tech walks in as it has every year for the last baker’s dozen with a clear advantage in the area we tend to refer to as “intangibles.” Tech knows how to beat Virginia; Virginia has no clue how to beat Tech.

If it ever hopes to be able to win again, somebody in Bryant Hall needs to figure it out, and this year might need to be the year for it to happen.

Augusta Health Kris McMackin CPA
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Augusta Free Press