The Virginia Tech Hokies and Tennessee Volunteers are making their final preparations ahead of Saturday’s game of the week in primetime at Bristol Motor Speedway. Both teams and fan bases have had their eye on the Battle at Bristol since it was first announced but now that dream is almost reality with a football field in the center of Bristol Motor Speedway and over 150,000 tickets sold.
Both teams know that a win would make them nationally relevant in 2016 especially with a weak week of games in which this game would have a good shot of getting College GameDay even if the game was not at Bristol.
This is one of the biggest games on the Hokies’ schedule so let’s take a look at Virginia Tech’s keys to the game against Tennessee.
Win the Battle in the Trenches
Last week against Appalachian State, the constant talk about Tennessee was the fact that they were losing the battle in the trenches with Appalachian State effectively running the ball against the Volunteers along with limiting the effectiveness of Jalen Hurd on the ground, limiting him to an average of less than 4 yards per carry.
On paper, Tennessee has a lot of talent especially on the defensive line but the Hokies also have a very talented defensive line. Both teams know that the battle in the trenches will be critical to success on Saturday with both teams looking to get tons of pressure on the opposing quarterback.
Virginia Tech’s offensive line was the better of the two offensive lines in week 1 though Tennessee did face a tougher opponent than the Hokies. Both teams know that the team that can create space for their running back and give their quarterback more time should be in the better position to win this game.
With two talented defensive lines in this game, the offensive line that proves to be better in this matchup likely will also be a part of the winning team.
Protect the Football
Last week, the Hokies struggled to protect the football as two fumbles helped Liberty get all 13 of their points off of fumbles including one returned for a touchdown and the other setting Liberty up inside the Virginia Tech 15. Overall, the Hokies had 5 fumbles on the game, 4 of which were turnovers, and Virginia Tech can not afford a repeat of that this week against a Tennessee team that will take advantage of extra opportunities.
Ball security will likely have been emphasized throughout the week for the Hokies after Saturday’s struggles. Part of the plan to reduce fumbles will also likely involve making sure Jerod Evans does a better job of feeling pressure as Evans holding the ball too long led to a fumble that set Liberty up for a quick touchdown.
Protecting the ball will be critical and Volunteers’ defensive coordinator Bob Shoop has likely been putting an emphasis on trying to force some fumbles after Virginia Tech’s 5 fumbles against Liberty. What’s clear is that if Virginia Tech has another high-fumble day, the Hokies will have a very hard time pulling off the upset.
Force Joshua Dobbs to Beat You in the Passing Game
Tennessee’ offense is built around the Volunteers running the football whether it be up the gut with giant 6’4”, 240-pound running back Jalen Hurd or with mobile quarterback Joshua Dobbs. While Dobbs is a little banged up, expect the Volunteers to try and do damage on the ground with the duo of Hurd and Dobbs leading the way plus backup running back Alvin Kamara.
For the Hokies, the key defensively should be to force Tennessee to try to beat them through the air knowing that Dobbs and the Vols’ passing attack is not as good as their rushing attack. While Dobbs does have some arm talent, Dobbs has never seemed to be able to put it all together in the passing game just yet.
A large part of this strategy will rely on strong run defense from linebackers Andrew Motuapuaka and Tremaine Edmunds. The Hokies will need the duo of linebackers to play with a lot of decisiveness and aggressiveness in containing Dobbs when he tries to escape the pocket and fill any holes that Tennessee’s offensive line will try to open for Hurd to make plays through.
If the Hokies can force Dobbs to beat the Hokies through the air instead of the duo of Dobbs and Hurd leading the charge on the ground, the Hokies’ chances of pulling off the upset get a lot better.
Stay with The Tech Lunch Pail for the best Battle at Bristol coverage.