After falling in dramatic fashion to Georgia Tech in overtime last Saturday, Virginia football will look to bounce back Saturday in Blacksburg against Virginia Tech in the Commonwealth Clash. Virginia Tech has struggled significantly in recent weeks, losing four-consecutive games, and will attempt to extend its 14-year winning streak against Virginia. The Cavalier Daily sports staff takes a look at some key players and keys to the game that could help the Cavaliers (7-4, 4-3 ACC) defeat the Hokies (4-6, 3-4 ACC) at Lane Stadium Saturday afternoon and end Virginia Tech’s historic streak.
Players to Watch:
Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins
Bryce Perkins has been the key to Virginia’s success throughout this year. Certainly, the Cavaliers are a complete football team. It’s not just Perkins that has carried Virginia to its best season in years. The Miami game is a great example of this — the defense’s performance, especially that of the secondary, was the reason why Virginia pulled off the upset. That said, without Perkins, the Cavaliers would not be where they are today: a four-point road favorite against Virginia Tech. They’ve been favored to beat Virginia Tech in Blacksburg just once in the past 20 years. Perkins has been absolutely dynamic for Virginia this year, and he is the key to Virginia ending Virginia Tech’s 14-year reign over the Commonwealth Clash. The last time the Cavaliers beat the Hokies, in 2003, it took an outstanding performance from quarterback Matt Schaub for Virginia to win. Schaub passed for 358 yards. Bryce Perkins is a different quarterback from Schaub, but has the same ability to single handedly change a game. His ability to get in done on the ground — he has 730 rushing yards and nine touchdowns — and through the air — he has over 2,000 yards passing and 19 touchdowns — makes him so deadly. He has had moments of absolute brilliance, like hurdling a player on a touchdown run in the Louisville game, miraculously evading tacklers to find Evan Butts for a game-clinching touchdown against Duke, and coming back from injury to nearly lead Virginia to victory away at Georgia Tech last weekend. Above all, Bryce Perkins is a winner: he’s willing to do whatever it takes. This mindset will be crucial come Saturday.
Virginia cornerback Bryce Hall
Bryce Hall has been great for Virginia this year, with his 19 broken up passes and two interceptions. Against the Hokies, he’ll have his work cut out for him. They’ve completed 198-of-338 pass attempts for a 59 percent completion rate. Virginia Tech’s go-to receiver has been Damon Hazleton. He has had three games with over 100 receiving yards, including 131 yards against the toughest opponent Virginia Tech has faced, Notre Dame. The athletic 6-foot-2 receiver is a skilled route runner and pass catcher, making him a threat to Virginia. Hall is someone who can be key in minimizing this threat.
Keys to the Game:
Get stops early on defense
Virginia Tech’s Lane Stadium is always a difficult place to play. Despite Virginia Tech’s struggles this year, playing at home gives them a significant advantage. The last time the Cavaliers beat the Hokies in Blacksburg was 1998. That said, this year has been a season of breaking barriers. Virginia is going to a bowl game for consecutive years for the first time since the 2004-2005 seasons. The Cavaliers beat a ranked team for the first time in four years. Beating Virginia Tech is the next big obstacle for Coach Bronco Mendenhall’s program to overcome. The way Virginia can counter the home crowd advantage the Hokies have is by getting stops early on defense, quieting the Hokie fans and bringing the sizeable traveling Cavaliers fans to life. While Bryce Perkins has been huge this year, Virginia’s defense is Mendenhall’s staple and has been strong this season. In particular, Virginia’s secondary has been huge and can force some quick three-and-outs by making stops on third down. Potentially getting sophomore safety Joey Blount back from injury could bolster an already strong Cavaliers secondary. Look for senior linebacker and team captain Chris Peace to lead the defense in what will be his final chance to defeat the Hokies and show what the New Standard is all about.Peace’s work ethic and grit will set the tone early defensively, and getting stops can suck all the energy out of the Hokies crowd. Then, Perkins and the offense will be able to do their thing with momentum, and end years of disappointment.
Execute well on special teams
After the Georgia Tech loss, Coach Mendenhall said, “Ultimately, the storyline was the special teams miscues.” Mendenhall was referring to a 77-yard kickoff return from the Yellow Jackets and a costly Virginia turnover off of a punt return. The Cavaliers also weren’t able to convert on a 35-yard field goal in overtime to stay in the game. These small plays were the difference in a game where Virginia’s defense played strong and Perkins was impressive, going 21-for-26 on pass attempts. The Cavaliers can’t afford to make these same kinds of mistakes against the Hokies, and they’ll need special teams to come out and play a clean, well-executed game if they want to snap Virginia-Tech’s 14-game win-streak in the series between the two rivals.