In the regular season finale for both teams, Virginia and Virginia Tech square off in the 104th edition of the Commonwealth Cup Nov. 25 in Charlottesville. The Cavaliers (2–8, 1–5 ACC) have struggled at times throughout the season, but have shown their competence in the biggest games, most notably defeating then-No. 10 North Carolina on the road. Meanwhile, the Hokies (5–5, 4–2 ACC) have shown growth in Coach Brent Pry’s second season, but as fans of both teams know, the last game is always the most important. Below, writers from both The Collegiate Times and The Cavalier Daily share their thoughts on the Thanksgiving weekend showdown.
Which player will be the X-factor in the matchup?
Sam Mostow, Collegiate Times: Virginia Tech defensive lineman Antwaun Powell-Ryland has been critical to the Hokies’ success on defense. As a junior transfer from Florida, he sacked opposing quarterbacks nine times through 10 games, tied for eighth in the country, including four against Wake Forest. At that time, Tech was 4–0 when Powell-Ryland recorded a sack. When he didn’t record a sack, they were 1–5.
Thomas Bray, Collegiate Times: Virginia Tech wide receiver Jaylin Lane is the premier weapon outside for Kyron Drones. The Middle Tennessee transfer leads the team in receptions, yards, and touchdowns, and his involvement in the offense has been vital for Virginia Tech in the win column. The Hokies are unbeaten in conference play when the Clover, S.C. native has at least 60 receiving yards.
Stephen O’Dea, The Cavalier Daily: If the Cavaliers hope to keep Virginia Tech’s offense at bay, junior safety Jonas Sanker has to be the man to step up. Sanker leads the squad with 90 tackles, and he has also forced three fumbles. In a defensive setup that has yet to do much in terms of sacks and interceptions, the Cavaliers will have to bend but not break against an offense that has the potential to move the ball quickly downfield when they are at their best. If sophomore quarterback Kyron Drones will be able to move freely both inside and outside of the pocket, the Cavaliers must ensure that his targets have to deal with crippling pressure. If Sanker cannot spearhead that pressure, things could get ugly quickly for Virginia’s defensive unit.
Sam Chun, The Cavalier Daily: The Cavaliers know what kind of production they will get out of the nation’s second leading receiver, graduate student Malik Washington, as well as the reliable junior wide receiver Malachi Fields. Senior tight end Sackett Wood can step up as the third option for Virginia senior quarterback Tony Muskett, who has only primarily targeted two receivers for the majority of the season. Wood erupted for a career-high in yards in the Cavaliers’ victory over North Carolina, and despite missing two games due to injury, he picked up right where he left off with another solid game against Louisville. The Cavalier offense needs all of the weapons at their disposal, and Wood plays a major part in that.
What statistic will be the most important key to either team’s success?
Sam Mostow, Collegiate Times: The biggest key is whether or not the Hokies give up more or less than 200 rushing yards. Through their first 10 games, the Hokies gave up an average of 156 rushing yards per game. However, their run defense has been inconsistent, allowing as many as 282 yards (against Florida State) and as few as zero (against Syracuse). Tech is 4–1 when they allow less than 200 rushing yards and 1–4 when they allow more.
Thomas Bray, Collegiate Times: The Hokies’ offensive line has been a predictor of success for the Hokies this season. In the games Virginia Tech has lost this season, they’ve been manhandled up front. Ron Crook’s group has given up just five sacks in five victories, but they have surrendered 3.4 sacks per game in five losses. Drones is one of the more elusive quarterbacks in the country, but if the Hokies can keep him off the ground, history says they will leave Charlottesville with a win.
Stephen O’Dea, The Cavalier Daily: For the Cavaliers, the answer is clear — Virginia must run the ball and gain yards on the carry. Coach Tony Elliott’s squad has won both games in which they have surpassed the 200-rushing-yard marker, and this is no coincidence. The Cavaliers’ offense runs smoothly when Muskett and company are utilizing the ground game to offset an aerial attack downfield. The Cavaliers’ three-headed rushing attack seems to have the makeup for every sort of scenario, with bruisers graduate running back Mike Hollins and senior running back Kobe Pace taking some of the load off the back of the small and speedy graduate running back Perris Jones. If the Cavaliers hope to have any chance of leaving Scott Stadium with a victory, at least one of those guys will have to find weaknesses in the defensive line and work to move the chains.
Sam Chun, The Cavalier Daily:
Virginia needs to focus on not letting Drones extend plays that initially seem like a defensive victory. The Cavaliers have struggled to contain quarterbacks this season, most recently getting gashed by Georgia Tech sophomore quarterback Haynes King for 83 yards and two touchdowns. While the sample size for Virginia wins is small, it seems that part of the recipe for success is making the opposing quarterback one-dimensional, as the Cavaliers were able to limit North Carolina sophomore quarterback Drake Maye to just 17 yards on the ground in their victory over the Tar Heels. Drones had rushed for at least 40 yards in the Hokies’ last four games, of which they won three, prior to their most recent bout against Louisville where Drones was bottled up for just six yards on the ground, en route to Virginia Tech’s largest defeat on the season. Whether it be from implementing a quarterback spy or generating pressure to keep him in the pocket, the Cavaliers must find a way to neutralize the threat of Kyron Drones’ legs.
What is your prediction for the game?
Sam Mostow, Collegiate Times: Virginia Tech’s bowl hopes may very well rest on their trip to Charlottesville, a place where they’ve won eight of their last nine trips. The Hokies, although heavily inconsistent throughout much of the season, have found success against ACC teams with losing conference records. However, the Hokies’ run-based offense should thrive against the Cavaliers, a team that allowed the most points in the ACC per game through the first 10 games. This game might be tighter than Tech fans want, but they should manage to leave Charlottesville with a win and a bowl game appearance. Score: 24–17 Virginia Tech
Thomas Bray, Collegiate Times: Bowl implications aside, the Commonwealth Clash is a game that divides the state, and its result could have recruiting implications with two second-year head coaches trying to establish a culture in Tony Elliot and Brent Pry. Virginia has impressive wins on their resume, but Virginia Tech’s run game should be too much for a Virginia team that is at the bottom of the conference in rushing yards allowed per game and rushing touchdowns. Drones’ improvement as a processor coupled with his rushing ability should open up everything else offensively, and the Hokies should convincingly win this one. Score: 37–20 Virginia Tech
Stephen O’Dea, The Cavalier Daily: The Cavaliers have pride and a chip on their shoulder after an overwhelming tragedy stopped them from taking part in this rivalry last year. The Hokies have everything to lose in this matchup as the likely favorite, and Virginia has not shied away from challenges all year. A win against North Carolina and down-to-the-wire finishes against James Madison, NC State, Boston College, Miami and Louisville show that this team is no pushover. Despite a worse record, the Cavaliers have played to the level of their competition in most contests this season despite stacked odds. Meanwhile, Virginia Tech was recently gashed for a 34-3 loss in an away matchup against Louisville — a team Virginia battled with until the final possession. Factoring in the lack of quit in Elliott’s team, a number of competitive one-possession losses and the home crowd at Scott Stadium, the Cavaliers may have just enough in their favor to steal an unlikely victory. Score: 27–24 Virginia
Sam Chun, The Cavalier Daily: It is evident that this Virginia team has fight — shown by five one-possession losses this year — and there should be no other game to bring that energy to than the Commonwealth Clash. The fate of Virginia Tech’s bowl eligibility may lie in the outcome of this game, meaning that the Hokies will also be fired up to extend their season, but face more pressure to keep a roller coaster year alive for one more game. On the other hand, the Cavaliers are playing for nothing but pride. This may work in Virginia’s favor, though, as they have proven to play at their best in games where they have nothing to lose. Whoever finds themselves behind center will be given a chance to uncork deep balls to Washington without fear. Meanwhile, with higher stakes in a hostile environment, a Hokie turnover or mistake may give Virginia the edge in a high scoring bout.
Score: 34–30 Virginia