Virginia Tech Football: Virginia Q&A Preview

An across-the-field examination of Hokies-Cavaliers.

The Hokies travel to Scott Stadium on Saturday afternoon to try to extend their win streak over UVa to 12 straight. The Hoos (4-7, 3-4) come into this year's match-up fresh off a victory over Duke. In an effort to better understand another disappointing season in Charlottesville, and what to expect from Mike London's #newhoos #SameOleHoos, I exchanged questions and answers with Paul Wiley of Streaking the Lawn. Paul's answers to my questions are below, and you can find my answers at Streaking the Lawn.

Four of Virginia's seven losses were by one score or less and they've been playing some tight games down the stretch. Last week, they led a talented but reeling Duke team from the opening kick and appear poised to spoil Frank Beamer's final Commonwealth Cup game. Looking back at this season, how would you assess the Wahoos' performance against pre-season expectations? Have they underachieved, overachieved or hit the mark?

Sad as it is to say, at 4-7 Virginia probably hit its preseason mark. That tells you something about how low the bar was set. With the murderers' row start to the year, most Wahoos expected to go into ACC play needing a strong run in conference play in order to go bowling. We got the 1-3 start we expected, but not the conference play we hoped for.

UVa quarterback Matt Johns is having the best season by a Cavaliers quarterback since Matt Schaub in 2002. Though he has put up solid statistics, he has also managed to throw 15 interceptions on the year. What would you say is the cause (or causes) of Johns' interception problem? Is it a mental issue? A gunslinger attitude? Incorrect reads? Poor protection? Or simply accuracy issues?

He tries to do too much, but that's been out of necessity. For most of the year, Virginia has had a non-existent running game. In the last few games, the ground game has picked up and Johns has had some of his best games as he's taken advantage of defenses cheating up. Early on, though, everything rested on Johns' arm. Some of the problems were accuracy related: he has a tendency to float his deep balls and has gotten bailed out of some bad throws by man-beast WR Canaan Severin. But as he's had the ability to work off the play-action, and as he's gotten the talented TEs involved more in some match-up advantages, Johns has looked like the QB who won the starting gig in a race that "wasn't close."

Though he didn't quite explode on the scene like most expected, tailback Taquan "Smoke" Mizzell is having a very strong junior season. For Hokies DC Bud Foster, which area of Smoke's game would you say is more important for him to slow down in order to stymie the UVa offense: In the running game or the passing game?

This is the Smoke that UVa fans have been waiting to see. Going into the Tech game, Smoke needs only 62 rushing yards and 39 receiving to be the first 700/700 player in college football since Percy Harvin in 2007; good company to keep (and a testament to the talent in the 757). But in terms of which element of the offense is more important to shut down, I'd say it's the running game because of what I said about Johns, above.

Everything else works off the run game. When the Hoos can pound the ball, the line gets confident, Johns gets comfortable, and the WRs get open deep. But if a Virginia opponent can stuff the run without bringing extra men, then they'll have the chance to flip the field if Johns starts to force things. The backs are capable of breaking big plays on the ground, too, so I expect to see the Hokies focus on dominating the line of scrimmage to set up success with their pass defense.

The Cavalier defense has really struggled this season, ranking #89 in the nation in total defense and #111 in turnover margin (thanks in part to Johns' interception issues). Despite that, sophomores Micah Kiser and Quin Blanding have been tackling machines for a Hoos D that lost a lot of key players to graduation and the NFL draft. Where would you say this year's defense is strongest and where is it weakest?

The biggest weakness has been the pass rush, which has been the fatal flaw. Jon Tenuta's schemes are get-pressure-every-down. With the edge-rushing threats, Eli Harold and Max Valles, gone to the draft after last year, no one emerged as the type of player who would command double-teams and open up the rest of the defense. The last few games have seen improvement in that regard. Mike Moore has shown flashes, especially with his power rush moves, and Trent Corney has started to show the smarts and technique to go with his immense physical gifts. The defensive backs were supposed to be the backbone of this year's defensive unit but have been left out to dry by the lack of a pass rush.

If the Hoos need a big play, I'm going to look for a defensive lineman like David Dean or Andrew Brown to break through, more than I'm going to expect an interception or big hit in space from a defensive back.

True or False: This will be Mike London's last season coaching the Wahoos. What is the sentiment of the fanbase at this point, regarding London?

Ugh. Tralse? Frue? The sentiment of the fanbase is pretty evident from the attendance at Scott Stadium. This team doesn't just lose, they lose stupid. The wins always feel like they're more the product of chance than scheme or coaching. They certainly don't look sustainable over any stretch of games or seasons. But the fanbase doesn't really control this decision. A number of us have tried to vote with our dollars (or, more accurately, the absence of our dollars) but the decision-making power rests with the few who can stroke a check big enough to buy out London's contract. The rumblings are that they're finally ready to do so.

Time to put you on the spot: Who wins this year's Battle for the Commonwealth Cup and how do they do it?

I want UVa to win this game. I want it so very desperately badly. The main source of my frustration with Mike London has been how he's brain-farted away wins against Tech. Thankfully the game is at home instead of at Lane Stadium; given that Virginia hasn't won a road game in three years (yea, that's a real thing that's happened), that gives me some hope.

But Tech is playing for its bowl life. Tech is playing for Beamer's bowl streak. Tech is playing for being able to send their beloved coach out on a high note. And Tech already seems to come out more ready for this game than Virginia does every year. Add in those other factors, and I have a hard time charting how Virginia wins this game. I think Tech comes out hot and jumps out to an early lead of two or three scores. Virginia claws back into it but doesn't have enough consistency to pull off the comeback. VPISU 23, Virginia 21.