Football takes on in-state rival Virginia Tech for last regular season game

Cavaliers try to pick up first win over Hokies since 2003

Junior cornerback Bryce Hall has anchored Virginia's defense throughout the season. Andrew Walsh | Cavalier Daily

The rivalry that divides the state of Virginia will be on display Friday afternoon as Virginia travels to Blacksburg, Va. to take on in-state rival Virginia Tech.

In the 100th meeting between the two programs, the schools will vie for the Commonwealth Cup — an award created for the winner of this intense rivalry. The Cavaliers (7-4, 4-3 ACC) have not defeated the Hokies (4-6, 3-4 ACC) since 2003.

“It's always exciting to have an occasion to rise to, something that's meaningful to play for, at the end the year, and in this case for our program,” Coach Bronco Mendenhall said in his press conference on Monday. 

Virginia enters this meaningful game after losing last weekend to Georgia Tech, 30-27. 

“I really like the way my team played this past week,” Mendenhall said. “They played hard. I thought they played physical. They are becoming what I expect and how I expect, a good football team, a physical football team and a competitive football team to play every week.”

Against the Yellow Jackets (7-4, 5-3 ACC), the Cavaliers were edged out by a field goal in overtime. Despite the end result, there were positive takeaways for Virginia. junior quarterback Bryce Perkins, who briefly left the game with an injury, had an impressive game, going 21-for-26 on pass attempts, earning 217 passing yards, while also rushing for 73 yards. 

“What we are doing well is Bryce's ability at the quarterback position to run the ball and scramble,” Mendenhall said. “That's been a huge boost in our yardage.”

However, Virginia hasn’t gotten as many rushing yards as they hope to out of senior tailback Jordan Ellis. In each of Virginia’s losses, Ellis’ presence has been limited, with his 63 yards against Indiana, 30 against N.C. State, 46 against Pittsburgh and 33 against Georgia Tech. 

“The traditional run game is still a work in progress,” Mendenhall said. “I'm not satisfied with that. When you put [Bryce’s scrambling and the traditional run game] together, that has giving us another element that makes it more difficult for us to defend. That's been fairly consistent throughout the entire season.” 

Virginia’s defense performed well last week, powered by strong showings from junior inside linebacker Jordan Mack, sophomore inside linebacker Robert Snyder, senior safety Juan Thornhill and junior cornerback Bryce Hall. 

On the season, Virginia’s defense has been holding opponents to an average of 20.64 points, 148.3 rushing yards and 178.36 passing yards a game. Thornhill has been a staple for the Cavaliers with a team-high 78 total tackles and five interceptions. His five interceptions are tied for the fourth most in the nation and the third most in the ACC. Hall has also been crucial for Virginia’s defense, with his team-high 19 broken up passes. 

Against the Hokies, the Cavaliers will look to continue to come out with solid defense, particularly in regards to defending the run game.

“The games we've defended the run well, we've mostly won, and the ones we haven't we've mostly lost,” Mendenhall said. 

Virginia Tech comes into the game having dropped their last four games, needing to pull off this win so they can keep their bowl-game hopes alive. The Hokies average 164.6 rushing yards a game, led by senior running back Steven People’s 586 rushing yards on the season, and 257 passing yards a game, with sophomore wide receiver Damon Hazelton averaging 74.5 receiving yards in each of Virginia Tech’s contests. 

Regardless of what the Hokies’ record says, the Cavaliers aren’t taking their opponents lightly.  Especially, considering that the Hokies have had the better of the rivalry in recent years, winning the last 14 of the Commonwealth clashes. 

“They're well coached and they play hard and I think they're schedule has been tough,” Mendenhall said. “I think they've had a few key injuries, but their coaches and schemes and culture I think is strong.” 

In Mendenhall’s matchups against the Hokies, he’s suffered a 52-10 loss two years ago and a 10-0 loss last year. 

“It's not just another game,” Mendenhall said. “Virginia hasn't won the game in a significant amount of time. It's an in-state rival game. It's hard to take over a conference until you take over your own state, and certainly then your side of the division … This game is more important to Virginia in terms of our regrowth and development and recapturing an exceptional college football team than a normal game.”

Kickoff from Blacksburg is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. and will be nationally televised. Both the Commonwealth Cup and a point in the Commonwealth Clash are at stake. The game also marks Virginia’s last game of the regular season. 

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