Football Game Preview: Virginia Tech

Game Eleven: Pitt (7-3) vs. Virginia Tech (7-3)

Saturday, November 23 at 3:30 p.m.

Series Record: Virginia Tech leads 10-8

Last Game: Pitt won 52-22 (2018)

Line: Virginia Tech Favored by 4

 

On my twitter account earlier this week I ran a poll asking my followers a simple question regarding how they view this weekend’s foe in relation to Pitt. I asked if they considered Virginia Tech to be a major rival, minor rival, or not a rival at all. Overwhelmingly, the option for minor rival was selected with 85%. I would be willing to bet most would consider West Virginia and Penn State to be Pitt’s only major rivals. However, given that those aren’t annual opponents anymore, and that the two teams have only met 18 times in their long histories, it stands to reason that Virginia Tech may one day be considered a major rival. That will especially be the case if they keep playing in meaningful contests in November as this year’s meeting has become.

With only two weeks of the regular season remaining, Virginia, Virginia Tech, and Pitt are the only teams remaining with a shot at winning the Coastal division.

[Standings]

As you can see, Virginia has the inside track with one more ACC game played than Pitt and Virginia Tech and with a head-to-head win over the former. All they have to do is beat the Hokies next week and they will win the division. However, if Virginia Tech wins next week (as they’ve done for 15 straight seasons against the Cavaliers) things get a little trickier. All three teams would still be alive and the division champ would be determined based on the combined results of the Commonwealth Cup and the Pitt-Boston College matchup next weekend. A loss would not eliminate the Hokies, but they would not control their own destiny, while a loss would eliminate the Panthers. Obviously, this makes this a huge game for both teams before you even factor in the fact that there are also Orange Bowl implications.

Offense

Virginia Tech has pretty much been two completely different teams this season. There was the underperforming team that limped to a 2-2 record through the first 4 games. But the current edition we’ve seen the last 6 games is 5-1 and has surged to position themselves to potentially win the Coastal. It doesn’t take much brain power to deduce that the source of the Hokies’ season flipping comes down to the switch to Hendon Hooker at Quarterback after they were embarrassed by Duke in Week 5. 

Since then, Virginia Tech has been a much better offensive team. In the first 4 games, the Hokies were committing nearly 3 turnovers per game, but since then they’ve averaged only 1 per game. During the same prior span they were only averaging 5.14 yards per play, but since then they’ve averaged almost a yard more per play (6.09). This has led to them scoring almost two touchdowns more per game on average (23.3 PPG in first four compared with 36.7 in the last 6). Unsurprisingly, Hooker has been a very efficient quarterback averaging 10.1 yards per attempt with 8 touchdowns and no interceptions this season.

Despite this overall improvement due to the Quarterback play, the Hokies are still averaging almost the same number of passing yards per game as they were before the switch (214.75 compared with 214.17). A lot of this probably has to do with the fact that Hooker isn’t much of a deep ball threat right now. This doesn’t really matter though as he’s taken care of the ball and has proven to be a threat with his legs. In his 5 games starting he has rushed for at least 40 yards in 4 of them. Virginia Tech’s offense relies on a lot of misdirection and Hooker runs it very well. This has opened things up for the running game as a whole, not just when Hooker keeps the ball.

It has taken a while for the Hokies’ running game to get going this year as they have been breaking in a young offensive line (sound familiar). Lately, opposing defenses have had to respect Hooker more, giving more room for the running game in general to get going. DeShawn McClease is the primary Running Back with 600 yards, but Virginia Tech also heavily utilizes

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