Game Preview: #6 Virginia Tech at Virginia
by Chris Coleman,, 11/16/05

Saturday, November 19th, 2005, noon


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Preview: #6 VT (8-1, 5-1 ACC) at Virginia (6-3, 3-3)
by Chris Coleman

The Commonwealth Cup will be on the line once again this Saturday when Virginia Tech travels to Charlottesville to take on archrival UVA in an important ACC battle. The Hokies are desperately trying to get an at-large bid to a BCS game, and UVA sees this as their last decent chance for a win in the regular season. Bowl pairings are at stake, as well as bragging rights for another year. This one is going to be huge.

Virginia enters the game healthier than they have been all season. Linebacker Ahmad Brooks is back in the starting lineup, as is tailback Wali Lundy and left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson. Just when it looked like Al Groh’s team was hanging on by the skin of their teeth earlier in the season, they knocked off Florida State. Despite a road loss to UNC the following week, they have rallied to win their last two games.

The Cavaliers have been an outstanding team at home since 2003, winning 21 of their past 23 games at Scott Stadium. Their two losses were close games to Florida State (2003) and Miami (2004). UVA has enjoyed a lot of success against all other teams at home, including a victory over Virginia Tech in 2003.

Virginia is undefeated at home thus far in 2005, and the game on Saturday will be the Senior Day for outstanding seniors such as Marques Hagans and Wali Lundy. They will be fired up and ready to go. Even without that extra emotional factor, this would be an extremely difficult game for the Hokies. Just take a look at what UVA has done this year at home.

UVA At Home







Western Michigan

W 31-19

188 252 86 271


W 38-7

110 214 107 108

Florida State

W 26-21

20 306 95 377


W 51-3

262 187 10 160

Georgia Tech

W 27-17

161 207 136 205


W 34.6-13.4

148.2 233.2 86.8 224.2

Now compare that with their road performance, which can be described as somewhere between poor and terrible.

UVA On the Road








W 27-24

271 145 80 172


L 45-33

136 270 250 320

Boston College

L 28-17

145 195 196 301

North Carolina

L 7-5

90 109 172 98


L 26-20.5

160.5 179.75 174.5 222.75

On the road UVA has managed just one win, and that came in a narrow three point victory over possibly the worst Syracuse team ever. Maryland and Boston College physically whipped the Hoos, and to top it off, Virginia lost at Chapel Hill the week after knocking off Florida State.

At home Virginia is a different team. In 2005 they have won all five home games by an average of three touchdowns. Marques Hagans is much better at home as well, throwing for over 50 yards more per game. On the defensive side of the ball, the Hoos are much better at stopping the run at home. They give up twice as many rushing yards on the road as they surrender at home.

On the other hand, their competition at home has featured games against Western Michigan, Duke and Temple. Western Michigan has improved, but they are still a team that any solid ACC program should dominate. Temple and Duke are simply two of the worst teams in college football. Playing those teams has helped UVA’s home statistics. But still, they did knock off Florida State and Georgia Tech at home, two teams they would have been unlikely to beat on the road. Home field advantage means a lot to the Hoos.

The UVA Offense

The UVA offense is led by fifth year senior quarterback Marques Hagans. Hagans is underrated by many Virginia Tech fans and underappreciated by many UVA fans. He has less than ideal height for a quarterback, but he is a very good thrower and runner. He is very comparable to Antwaan Randle El of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who plays wide receiver in the NFL but was a very good quarterback in college for the Indiana Hoosiers.

Hagans’ best attribute is his ability to throw the football when rolling out, particularly when rolling out to his right. He is very accurate and repeatedly burned Florida State when doing this back in October. It will be important for the Virginia Tech defense to play their gap responsibilities and use their speed to keep Hagans in the pocket. The Tech coaches should have a very useful teaching aid for their defense. The Miami defense was able to keep Marcus Vick in the pocket, and it might be wise to implement some of their strategy when facing Marques Hagans.

UVA tailback Wali Lundy missed a game earlier in the season due to an injury and is only now getting back to full strength. He has been at his best the past two games of the season. Lundy’s best attribute is his ability to break tackles. He has always shown a knack for slipping away from defenders. He is Virginia’s leading rushing on the year with 387 yards and six touchdowns.

Michael Johnson is UVA’s fastest tailback. He broke a 70 yard touchdown run against Syracuse in the Carrier Dome. However his playing time has decreased recently to the point that he has not had a carry or caught a pass since the Florida State game. He has been suffering from an ankle sprain. Running in his place has been converted fullback Jason Snelling, who has been a load to say the least. Snelling only has 39 carries on the season, but he is averaging 6.7 yards per carry. Look for Virginia to run right at the Tech defense with Snelling. They will not likely beat the Hokies’ defense to the outside.

UVA’s biggest offensive question mark coming into the season was wide receiver. Deyon Williams has helped to answer some of those questions, catching 40 passes for 517 yards and four touchdowns. Williams is a big target (6-3, 185) who always seems to get open for Marques Hagans. Virginia’s second leading receiver is another big target, Fontel Mines (6-4, 217). Mines has 20 receptions for 265 yards and a touchdown on the season.

UVA’s second biggest threat receiving is the tight end combination of Jonathan Stupar and Tom Santi. They have combined for 30 receptions for 430 yards and three touchdowns this season. Stupar is a conventional tight end who will go over the middle, while Santi is more of an H-back type player, lining up at fullback, lining up at tight end, and going in motion.

The UVA offensive line has been banged up for part of the season but appears to be as healthy as ever heading into the Virginia Tech game. Three seniors start on the offensive line, and the group is led by left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson. Ferguson is a great pass blocker with long arms and good leverage. He will be a first round NFL Draft Pick in April. The other seniors are right tackle Brad Butler and center Brian Barthelmes. Freshman Branden Albert and sophomore Marshal Ausberry man the guard spots up front for UVA.

The Hokies should be able to win the battle up front in this game. The UVA offensive line has struggled this season. Injuries have played a factor, but overall the line has not played up to expectations. The Tech defensive line is healthy right now, and Jonathan Lewis, who will be making his 39th consecutive start, will present a lot of problems for Virginia’s interior offensive linemen.

Look for Virginia to throw the kitchen sink at the Tech defense. Al Groh has shown a tendency in the past to try trick plays against better teams, and sometimes they have worked. In 2001 a below average Virginia team beat a solid Georgia Tech team on a hook and ladder play on the last play of the game. UVA will open up the playbook in this game, and the Tech defense must be ready.

The UVA Defense

The Virginia defense has been ridiculed all season long for their poor play, sometimes deservedly. In road games against Maryland and Boston College, offenses that the Virginia Tech defense handled easily, the UVA defense gave up 570 and 497 yards. BC and Maryland were successful on the ground and through the air against the Cavalier defenders.

The UVA pass defense has been roughly the same at home and on the road. Western Michigan and Florida State torched the UVA secondary in Scott Stadium, but both teams ended up losing. FSU quarterback Drew Weatherford seemingly completed all of his passes to either a Seminole wide receiver or a Virginia defensive back. As noted above, Virginia’s rushing defense has been much better at home.

The Virginia defense has young players all over the field. At outside linebacker, the Cavaliers start r-freshman Clint Sintim and r-sophomore Jermaine Dias. Dias has battled the injury bug all season long, only playing in five games. Up front Virginia starts sophomore nose tackle Keenan Carter and sophomore defensive end Chris Long. Carter has done a better job that many expected. He had weight problems in high school and at Fork Union, but he has worked hard and kept himself in shape this season, which has improved his play on the field. He suffered a leg injury against Georgia Tech but returned later in the game. However the injury got worse over the weekend, and his foot was in a protective boot at the beginning of the week. He will not be 100% this weekend.

The status of nose tackle Kwakou Robinson and defensive end Vince Redd remains up in the air heading into the Tech game. Both were suspended and missed the Georgia Tech game due to a violation of team rules. Robinson also faces charges on four traffic violations, and Al Groh has not commented on the status of these two players. If Robinson does not play, look for defensive end Brennan Schmidt to slide inside and get some snaps at defensive tackle. Schmidt is Virginia’s best defensive lineman. He has 9.5 tackles for loss and four sacks on the season.

The UVA front seven does not generate much of a pass rush. The Hoos have just 18 sacks on the season, an average of two per game. Virginia Tech is the fifth best team in the ACC in sacks allowed, giving up 21 on the year. The one player that Marcus Vick must be aware of is inside linebacker Kai Parham. Parham leads the ACC in sacks with 8.5. The remainder of the UVA defense has generated just 9.5 sacks on the year, with four of those coming from Schmidt.

Highly touted linebacker Ahmad Brooks is back from injury for UVA. He has played in just five games this season, making 16 tackles, one tackle for loss and a sack. Brooks missed a lot of time and has been very rusty, but he should be getting back into the swing of things by now. Tech needs to run right at the middle of the UVA defense to test Brooks and Keenan Carter.

The UVA secondary has been piecemeal for the entire season. There have been different starters at just about every position, and that will include the Virginia Tech game this weekend. Marcus Hamilton is a consistent player at cornerback for the Hoos. He is second on the team in tackles with 50 and leads the team in interceptions with five.

The other starting cornerback will probably be sophomore Chris Gorham, although true freshman Mike Brown should see a lot of playing time as well. Look for the Hokies to go right after Brown (5-9, 173) with their bigger receivers. Brown is a good player, especially for a freshman, but the talented and physical Tech receivers should be able to beat him in single coverage.

Tony Franklin is expected to return to the starting lineup at safety after missing the Georgia Tech game due to a suspension. The other starting safety, Nate Lyles, will miss the Virginia Tech game due to an injury. Sophomore Jamaal Jackson will start in place if Lyles. Redshirt-freshman walk-on Byron Glaspy could start at free safety, even if Franklin does return.

Marcus Vick and the Virginia Tech receivers have a chance to have a big game, and for VT to win the game they must take advantage of it. UVA is ranked 68th nationally and tenth in the ACC in passing defense. In total defense the Hoos are 40th nationally, but just eighth in the ACC. The Hokies need to be balanced in this game, running the ball between the tackles against the 3-4 defense and throwing the ball against a relatively weak Virginia secondary.

Special Teams

Virginia is very good in the kicking game. Conner Hughes is the best kicker in the ACC, booting 18 of 21 field goal attempts this year. He is 9-11 from 30-39 yards, 4-4 from 40-49 yards, and 1-2 from distances greater than 50 yards. Hughes is likely a future NFL kicker, and when UVA gets into field goal range his presence basically guarantees three points, barring a turnover.

Chris Gould is Virginia’s punter, and he is averaging 39.7 yards per punt. That average ranks ninth in the ACC. He has pinned opposing offenses inside their 20 yard line 11 times and has had one punt blocked on the season.

The Hokies need to contain Cedric Peerman and Michael Johnson on kickoff returns. Neither has returned a kick for a touchdown this season, but Peerman is averaging 27.9 yards per return, while Johnson is just behind with an average of 26.9. As a team Virginia ranks 11th nationally in kick returns, averaging 25.07 yards per return.

Here is a special teams stat to remember. Virginia Tech has blocked a kick against UVA in every season that Al Groh has been head coach. In 2003 the Hokies didn’t officially record a block because Vincent Fuller lined up offsides when Eric Green blocked the punt. But Fuller was lined up on the other side of the line of scrimmage, and had no effect on the outcome of the play. In 2002 Tech blocked a UVA punt and Darryl Tapp returned it for a touchdown. Tech also blocked a punt in 2001 and a field goal in 2004. That’s four years in a row that the Hokies have blocked a kick against the Hoos, and if they make it five they stand a good chance to win the game.


UVA is great at home, while Virginia Tech is great on the road. The Hokies are more talented, but will they be emotionally ready after Miami knocked them out of the national championship race? I believe they will be ready and will play a good game, but history (2001-03) says otherwise. Even if they are ready to play, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are going to win the game. They're going to have to play their A game to leave with a victory.

Never count out a senior quarterback. Marques Hagans is a fifth year senior that is playing his final home game. He is one of the greatest competitors you’ll see at the quarterback position and he won’t let his team lose without a tough fight. The Hokies need to hit him hard early in the game to establish their dominance.

Here’s a prediction, or rather a hope. Branden Ore will rush for 100 yards against the Virginia defense. Mike Imoh is out with an injury, opening the door for the talented Ore, who is averaging six yards per carry this year. It’s pretty obvious he is the best running back on the team and the Hokies will stand a much better chance of winning the game if they unleash Ore.

I think Tech shows up, plays well and wins a dogfight.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 27, UVA 19

Will Stewart's Take: Those that read this site regularly know that I tend to be a big-picture guy and a psychology-of-the-game observer, as opposed to an X's and O's guy or one who watches matchups closely. And the psychology of this game is tricky and worrisome, of you're a Hokie fan.

I covered most of my thoughts and feelings in today's column, One Chance to Get it Right. (it's a TSL Pass column, but non-subscribers can view it using our FreePass to get temporary access to our pay content – click here for more info). This game is all about energy, and there's very little energy surrounding the Tech program right now, at least from this side of the fence. I will, however, freely admit that after the over-hyped Miami game of two weeks ago, anything's going to seem pale by comparison.

So what's going to happen Saturday? Heck, who knows? I don't know. I don't know if VT's going to regroup, come out strong, and win by three touchdowns. I don't know if Virginia's going to come out and blow the Hokies off the field. I don’t know if something in between is going to happen.

I've rarely been this clueless about a game, so we'll just have to line 'em up, kick it off, and see what happens. Having said that, I did say that I'm going to pick VT to win every game this season, so here we go … it'll be tight:

Will's Prediction: Virginia Tech 20, Virginia 16

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