The Virginia Tech Hokies are one win away from winning the ACC Coastal and booking a ticket to the ACC Championship for the first time since 2011 when they were upset by Clemson in the championship game. The Hokies are heavily favored this week, but there is no doubt that it isn’t as simple as an 8-3 team hosting a bad 2-9 team given that this is a heated in-state rivalry game between Virginia Tech and Virginia with the Cavaliers desperate to end their 12-year losing streak to the Hokies.
While the Hokies are the better football team by far, anything can happen in a rivalry so with that said, here are our three key matchups for Virginia Tech against Virginia.
LB/S Mook Reynolds vs. RB Taquan Mizzell
Virginia’s offense is average at best but they have do have a dynamic playmaker in senior running back Taquan Mizzell who can be a nightmare in both the passing and running games, and will have to receive plenty of attention from the Virginia Tech defense. Mizzell is a versatile player who can be used in all sort of roles from being a spread offense slot-hybrid receiver to being a featured running back who has received at least 20 carries three of the past four weeks including a season-high 24 carries for 131 rushing yards last week.
Virginia seems to be using Mizzell at a higher volume and more effectively each week, and Bud Foster will know how important Mizzell is to the offensive success of Virginia.
Foster likely will use versatile sophomore nickelwhip Mook Reynolds to basically stalk Mizzell around the field and help monitor him especially in the passing game where Mizzell can be harder to contain given his non-traditional playmaking abilities. Reynolds has had some interesting matchups this season, but Mizzell likely will be one of the toughest matchups he has faced all season.
Reynolds will have to be ready to be aggressive and for Mizzell to be moved all over the field in this matchup to try to create some extra space or confusion to get Mizzell in space especially in the passing game. Terrell Edmunds will likely also have a role in covering Mizzell given how Virginia will move him around but the primary guy will likely be Reynolds whenever the sophomore isn’t blitzing Matt Johns.
Reynolds has a big matchup against the man who leads the Cavaliers in receptions with 51 this season and if Reynolds can prevent Mizzell from being a solid check-down for Johns, it will be a long day for the Virginia offense and especially for Johns.
RT Jonathan McLaughlin, RG Augie Conte vs. DE Andrew Brown
Andrew Brown was a guy that the Hokies were after hard on the recruiting trail but Virginia’s star safety and fellow five-star recruit Quin Blanding was able to convince Brown to come with him to Charlottesville. While Brown didn’t have as great of a start to his collegiate career as Blanding, Brown has taken off this season and is Virginia’s biggest threat in the front 7 of the UVA 3-4 defense with 38 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, and 6 sacks this season which will likely earn him at least an All-ACC Honorable Mention spot.
With Virginia having a 3-4 defense, Brown will likely end up being matched up at times against both seniors Jonathan McLaughlin and Augie Conte along with possibly Kyle Chung as Chung has taken some playing time at right guard from Conte. Both of these players are experienced and will be even more amped up on Senior Day to not only win the Hokies’ 13th-straight against Virginia but also know and remember that a win will send them to the ACC Championship.
Brown isn’t a speed rusher as a former defensive tackle that has moved to a 3-4 defensive role but he will be a power rusher that knows how to attack inside and will be ready to be aggressive and get after the quarterback or running back. McLaughlin and Conte know that if they can slow down Brown, it’ll give Jerod Evans a little more time to pick a p[at of a secondary that isn’t great outside of safety Quin Blanding who has a future in the NFL and solid cornerback Juan Thornhill.
Brown knows that a big game from him could make a big difference and make this game much more interesting, but McLaughlin and Conte will both be ready for the challenge on their Senior Day. If the duo can limit Brown in this game, Evans likely will have a lot of time in the pocket to pick apart the Virginia defense.
WR Isaiah Ford vs. CB Juan Thornhill
Isaiah Ford is once again one of the ACC’s top receivers and likely headed for a spot on the All-ACC First Team though the Hokies have spread the ball around a little more, making it a little more difficult for Ford to earn a spot though his numbers should be better at the end of this regular season than they were at the end of the last one.
Ford will face a young Virginia cornerback in Juan Thornhill who has been solid this season with 43 tackles, 3 interceptions, 5 pass breakups, and 1 forced fumble. However, Thornhill is still a young cornerback that hasn’t had to face a receiver as good as Ford all season and will likely be tested early and often by Brad Cornelsen and Jerod Evans.
Ford has proven this season that he has a future on Sundays that could potentially be as soon as next season while also having a chance to break Jarrett Boykin’s career receiving yards record with Ford only being 131 receiving yards from breaking the record. While Ford won’t be focused on breaking the record during the game, he has the speed and skills to get separation and make something big happen while Ford also seems bound at some point to break a reception for over 50 yards which he hasn’t had yet this season.
Thornhill will be tested in this matchup though Virginia’s overall inexperience at cornerback creates a big mismatch that the Virginia Tech passing attack will be ready to pounce on. If Thornhill can find a way to shut down or heavily limit Ford, he’ll help give Virginia a shot in this game, but that will be a very tough task for a young cornerback.
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