GameDay Preview: Can UVA football break long, long losing streak to Virginia Tech?
It will be 28 degrees in Blacksburg at 8 p.m. Friday. The good weather news for UVA football is that wind isn’t supposed to be a factor. The National Weather Service forecast is for light winds, less than 5 mph.
Oh, and no snow.
So while it will be cold, you could expect that in Blacksburg the night after Thanksgiving. At least weather won’t be a factor with who gets the wind in the fourth quarter playing a big role as it has in UVA-Virginia Tech games past, most recently two years ago, when the Hokies, with the wind in the fourth quarter, was able to play field position into forcing a late UVA interception that set up a game-winning, game-ending field goal.
OK, give Frank Beamer credit; he’s had some pretty good teams on his sideline that didn’t need that much help from Mother Nature as it piled up win after win after win in this series.
Ten in a row have gone to Virginia Tech, 14 of 15 dating back to Virginia’s last win in Blacksburg, a 35-32 win in 1998 on an unusually warm (70 degrees-plus) Saturday after Thanksgiving.
UVA goes into this one favored against its in-state rival for the first time since 2003, incidentally the only time this century that it has recorded a win in the season-ending game.
Can the Cavs follow up on the line and bring home victory for the first time since the advent of social media?
Offense: Neither team is a juggernaut on this side of the ball. Virginia Tech averages 362.0 yards total offense, 137.7 yards and 3.6 yards per carry on the ground, and 23.3 points per game on the season. And those numbers have diminished in its recent 1-4 run (302.8 yards total offense, 94.2 yards rushing and 14.6 points per game). Quarterback Michael Brewer has thrown for 2,362 yards and 25 touchdowns with 13 interceptions, a 60.7 completion rate and a 118.5 passer rating. Virginia averages 379.6 yards total offense, 146.8 yards and 3.9 yards per carry on the ground and 26.4 points per game. Quarterback Greyson Lambert has thrown for 1,421 yards and nine touchdowns with 10 interceptions, a 60.7 percent completion rate and a 117.1 passer rating.
Defense: Both teams shine here. The ESPN Power Index has Virginia Tech ranked ninth and UVA 13th in the nation on D. Virginia Tech gives up 333.3 yards total offense, 154.5 yards and 4.1 yards per carry on the ground and has a 105.9 pass-efficiency rating, leading the ACC with 42 sacks. UVA gives up 345.9 yards total offense, 113.6 yards and 3.2 yards a carry on the ground and has a 124.2 pass-efficiency rating, and is fourth in the ACC with 32 sacks.
Special Teams: Virginia Tech placekicker Joey Slye is 15-for-22 on field goals, with five of his seven misses coming on kicks of 40 yards or more. Punter A.J. Hughes averages 40.4 yards per kick with 18 punts downed inside the 20 and just three touchbacks. UVA placekicker Ian Frye is 20-of-24 on field goals, not missing inside of 40 and going 4-of-8 on kicks of 40 yards or longer. Punter Alec Vozenilek averages 42.8 yards per kick, with 11 punts downed inside the 20 and eight touchbacks.
How this one plays out: It’s low-scoring, first of all. Virginia takes away Virginia Tech’s efforts to establish the run, with an assist from Hokie play-caller Scot Loeffler, who seems to have given up on the run in recent game plans. Brewer will be pressured early and often, and an early mistake will give UVA the early opportunity to seize control.
The Cavs will game-plan conservatively on their side, taking the game out of the hands of Lambert in favor of trying to move the ball on the ground mixed in with a short passing game with a lot of screens that will serve as long handoffs. The focal point for coach Mike London and his brain trust will be in putting the game in the hands of the defense, a smart move given the relative success of that unit vis-à-vis the offense in 2014.
It will not be pretty to watch for the casual fan, but for the UVA fan base it will end up looking like a Picasso, because the Cavs will get their first win over the Hokies since 2003, by a final of 14-6.
– Column by Chris Graham
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