A beginner's guide to the Virginia vs. Virginia Tech football game

Answering some frequently asked questions before the season’s biggest game

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Last year, Bryce Perkins' fumbled handoff to Jordan Ellis prevented Virginia from winning in overtime against Virginia Tech at Lane Stadium.

Courtesy Virginia Athletics

After Thanksgiving dinner, many Cavaliers fans will look to attend this year’s Virginia vs. Virginia Tech football game the next day. While hearing “This is the year” over and over again can be exciting, some fans may still not understand why the game is such a big deal. Alongside the “Good Ol’ Song” controversy and the program’s recent turnaround, the Commonwealth Clash is one of the most important storylines for Virginia football this season. Here’s a guide to the classic in-state rivalry.

When is the game this year?

Since 1990, the game has almost always been held in late November, often on Thanksgiving weekend. This year the Virginia Cavaliers and Virginia Tech Hokies meet Nov. 29. Kickoff is at 12 p.m from Scott Stadium in Charlottesville.

What is the rivalry all about?

Both Virginia and Virginia Tech attract many students from the state of Virginia, both are Division I schools and members of the ACC and both have enjoyed long histories of athletic success. This makes a rivalry inevitable. The rivalry — dubbed the Commonwealth Clash — is so serious that there’s even a trophy for the winner. Although the rivalry has lasted much longer, since the 2014-15 season, the two schools have competed for the Commonwealth Clash trophy within the 22 varsity sports in which the rivals compete against each other. Each head-to-head win brings the respective school closer to the trophy. As of now, Virginia leads the series 3-2 and won it last year. This year’s football game is part of the Commonwealth Clash between the two schools across all sports. 

Why does the football rivalry matter so much?

For Virginia fans, it’s because while the Cavaliers can beat the Hokies at other sports, they are seemingly unable to beat Virginia Tech in football. For the last 15 years, the two teams have played every year, and Virginia Tech has emerged victorious every time. This includes several nail biters, including last year’s overtime loss. History is a big part of the significance of the football rivalry. The teams first met in 1895 and have played each other every year since 1970. The Hokies lead the all-time series record 58-37-5.

How good are the teams this year?

Pretty good. Both teams enter the game sitting at 8-3 overall, and with a 5-2 conference record, they are tied for first in the ACC Coastal division. Virginia started hot out of the gate, winning its first four games — including a crucial away opener against Pittsburgh — before dropping consecutive road games at Notre Dame and Miami. Despite falling to Louisville, the Cavaliers come into this game with three consecutive wins. Virginia Tech’s season started out the opposite. The Hokies started out slow, with some calling for Coach Justin Fuente’s firing. They began 2-2 and picked up a 45-10 loss to a now-struggling Duke team. However, they have since won six of their past seven, only losing by one point at No. 16 Notre Dame. 

Who are the teams’ key players?

Both teams live and die by the play of their quarterbacks. For Virginia, that is senior Bryce Perkins. Perkins is a dual threat quarterback — he can pass and run the football. Perkins has passed for 2,638 yards and 15 touchdowns and has rushed for 523 yards and 9 touchdowns. He has broken numerous records in just two years at Virginia and can change the game in the blink of an eye.

Virginia Tech started the season with senior quarterback Ryan Willis at the helm, but after a rough first few games, sophomore quarterback Hendon Hooker replaced him. Hooker has won all of the games he has started. Hooker has thrown for 1,134 yards and 10 touchdowns and rushed for 262 yards and 4 touchdowns in his five starts. 

Both teams also have strong defenses and especially solid linebacking groups — critical in stopping the rush and the pass. Both teams have especially great middle linebackers, who control the defense. For Virginia, senior linebacker and team captain Jordan Mack stands out. Mack has 63 tackles and leads the team with 7.5 sacks. For Virginia Tech, junior linebacker Rayshard Ashby is the player to watch with a team-high 98 tackles.

What is at stake this year?

Outside of bragging rights and ending a 15-year losing streak for Virginia, this game has a lot on the line. The winner of the game will win the ACC Coastal division and move on to face Clemson in the ACC Championship in Charlotte, N.C. Dec. 7. Even though Clemson is the No. 3 team in the country and will most likely win that game, reaching a conference championship is no small feat. Since the ACC split into the Coastal and Atlantic divisions in 2005, Virginia has never made the championship. Virginia Tech has made it six times, with their most recent trip being in 2016.

What comes after the game? (If you’re really trying to become an expert)

After the conference championships — in which the winner of this game will participate — come bowl games. According to NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision rules, a team qualifies for a bowl game if they reach six wins. Both teams already have eight, so they are guaranteed to play in a bowl game. The winner of this game is likely to play in the Orange Bowl in Miami, Fla., barring an upset of Clemson. The Orange Bowl is one of the New Year’s Six Bowls, which are reserved for the top teams in the country. Because the ACC is affiliated with the Orange Bowl, they automatically send their best representative to it. Since Clemson will probably finish undefeated and reach the College Football Playoff, the ACC would then send their second-best team to the Orange Bowl. That team would likely be the loser of the ACC Championship — likely the winner of Virginia-Virginia Tech game. The ACC team would then face off against one of the best teams in the country to not make the College Football Playoff. If Virginia makes it, the Orange Bowl will be the most prestigious bowl the Cavaliers have made since they made the Peach Bowl in 1998 under Coach George Welsh.

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