Here it is. One big game that has implications on Commonwealth bragging rights, recruiting supremacy, an ACC championship, a BCS bowl, and a long shot at playing for a national championship. Any Hokie football player, whose focus is not 100% on not only winning in Charlottesville on Saturday, but making an emphatic statement of dominance, should be punched right in the dick.
From a matchup perspective, UNC provides Virginia Tech with a pretty good "scout team" look for what UVA does and does not do. UVA uses a multiple pro-set offense and a base 4-3 defense, both very similar to what we saw from UNC. I have only watched one UVA game this season (the debacle against Florida State) and I saw the following tendencies.
Virginia's success and failure offensively hinges on the performance of a huge offensive line. The line, lead by mammoth (and by reputation, dumber than a coal bucket) Morgan Moses, focuses more on occupying blockers rather than strong drive blocking. They are effective at engaging and keeping their feet moving (and at least based on the Florida State game, they know how to get away with a ton of holding penalties.) The UVA offense uses a zone running scheme, with a smattering of power plays out of a one back set, usually pulling the lead side guard while blocking down at tight end. Virginia Tech's zone and seal plays are very similar. Both UVA running backs are small and get lost behind their blockers, but they run very hard. I don't see the two backs as being as shifty as the frosh from UNC. Coupled with the experience of playing against UNC last week, the defense should be well prepared to combat the UVA running game. VT must limit UVA's ability to run, because their offense is predicated on manageable down and distance that allows for screens and play action.
UVA presents a more unique challenge in the passing game. Michael Rocco does not have the arm strength of Bryn Renner, but he is much more effective moving outside of the pocket and scrambling. Both UVA running backs are used EXTENSIVELY as screen options and as primary receivers out in the pattern. Virginia Tech has not faced a team that uses their backs as receivers more than UVA. UVA has several tight ends that don't appear to be athletic, but find ways to get open, especially on deeper crossing routes that go against the flow of a passing play. UVA's split ends are big, but none present the coverage challenge that UNC's Jones and Highsmith gave the Hokies.
I thought UNC was VERY tentative in their play calling for the passing game. UVA will use misdirection and have similar looking passing plays in an attempt to subdue the Hokie pass rush, but they will look to make big plays using tight ends and running backs against our safeties. This is a HUGE game for the Hokies whip linebacker, rover, and free safety. UVA will try to get Whitley, Exum, and Fuller to bust coverages, while staying away from our corners except for short comeback routes against our field corners.
Second, the Hokies MUST not only get pressure on Rocco, but they also must contain his scramble plays, especially when Bud Foster uses the blitz to get pressure. The Hokies front four did NOTHING to rush UNC without blitzing, but the Florida State defensive line had a great deal of success chasing Rocco from the pocket or sacking him. They also drew a ton of holding calls (or would have if the officials had been inclined to throw them.) FSU failed when Rocco was able to scramble up the middle when their young defensive tackles lost gap leverage. The Hokies must pressure and contain him. If they do, the Hokies DB's should get some opportunities for some interceptions. He will make panic throws.
UVA on Defense
UVA runs a base 4-3, and they will follow UNC's pattern of "eagle-ing" their defensive tackles on the outside eye of the center. The Hokies struggled with UNC's look and athleticism. While UNC tended to "eagle" their strong side defensive tackle, UVA eagled BOTH defensive tackles much of the game against Florida State. Double eagle puts tremendous pressure on the backside guard to cut block the backside DT, wears out the center, and often causes both guards and the center to focus so much on those tackles, that the middle backer has free reign to scrape sideline to sideline. However, the vulnerability of the double-eagle look showed itself again and again. Florida State had TREMENDOUS success with inside, quick hitting power and dive plays in the center/guard gap where guards were able to cross block or combo block, sealing both the mike backer and the DT, while the playside tackle turns the 4-3 end out. Florida State gashed the UVA front.
From a personnel perspective, I don't think UVA's front 4 is as talented as UNC's. Certainly they don't match up to a Quinton Coples. However, the 3 linemen who will start in this game (Stauitz of course was hurt towards the end of the game) all have tremendous pass rush technique, and all are similar body types (6'3-6'5, 250ish.) They also use several zone blitz packages, which gave the Hokies fits against UNC. You will see defensive ends and tackles dropping up to 7 yards deep into zones. Florida State did a terrible job against the UVA pass rush, and I will have nightmares all week about Andrew Lanier and Nick Becton preventing the outside leverage pass rush of Cam Johnson. I hope we see the Hokies use Drager to his side to at least "chip" his outside shoulder on passing downs before going into the pattern.
I had a tough time getting a read on the talent level of the UVA linebackers and defensive backs. The linebackers seemed to be a scrappy bunch, but I didn't see guys making any "wow" plays. I would regard them as the weakness on the defense. The secondary is a mystery to me. Florida State had success passing, but most of it was on broken plays where EJ Manuel ran for his life away from the UVA pass rush, which broke down the secondary. Florida State didn't get much in rhythm on their regular 3-5 step drops. That could be because UVA had the receivers blanketed, or it could be that EJ Manuel doesn't see the field well. I am not sure, but it sure seems like Chase Minnefield played with Thomas Jones. He has been there FOREVER.
Hokies key to the game offensively is simple. 1) RUN THE BALL. 2) RUN THE BALL. 3) RUN THE BALL. Neutralize the pass rush by making UVA's defensive line defend the run first. The Hokie backs need to get downhill and try to take advantage of the lack of athleticism by UVA's linebackers. Play action will also help stop the pass rush, and the Hokies have used almost no play action over the last two games despite having some success running. I would LOVE to see Logan Thomas pass off the zone-option midline look. That would be a nightmare for UVA to defend.
The UVA punt team is AWFUL in coverage. They have a rugby style punter, so if Jayron Hosley or Kyshone Jarrett can field the punt, don't be shocked if the Hokies can break a return. Cam Johnson is outstanding at blocking field goals, so the Hokies can neutralize that by SCORING FUCKING TOUCHDOWNS until the scoreboard operator gets carpel tunnel. Let's hope the Hokies don't have to punt much.
I am going to use this section not to summarize the game, but to issue a call to arms to the Hokies players and coaches. Dominate this game, if not for you and the well being of the program, do it for me. Do it for every time a non-UVA grad runs into a UVA alum, tries to have an interesting discussion, and immediately is faced with the douchebag announcing that they are an alumnus of the University of Virginia, as if that pronouncement suddenly gives them the moral and intellectual high ground in any discussion involving issues of the day. Take away their heart early, dominate the trenches, and then come back with big plays to blow it open. Let all the Maroon clad masses occupying Scott Stadium have the opportunity to serenade the future douchebags of the Commonwealth as they exit in the middle of the 3rd quarter to enjoy a wine spritzer and discuss the fall foliage. Win this for all that is good and right about college football, hard work, consistency, strength, and precision. After all the hours I have spent writing reviews of your games, do me a solid. Kick their ass.