After a big win over ranked North Carolina followed by a three-touchdown victory over Middle Tennessee, #15 Virginia Tech reaches their second litmus test of the 2021 season with a tough road game at West Virginia.
Of course, this game isn't just any non-conference game but the return of a hostile rivalry to college campuses starting in Morgantown with the Hokies' Black Diamond Trophy on the line.
So will the Hokies stay undefeated and keep the Black Diamond Trophy or will the trophy stay in Morgantown? Here are our picks for the Hokies versus the Mountaineers.
On paper, this is a great matchup for Virginia Tech against a West Virginia team that lacks a mobile QB and has its defensive strength on the defensive line matched up against a strong Virginia Tech offensive line that has the firepower to slow them down. Of course, this is a rivalry game on the road which makes this a whole lot more complicated and tricky for the Hokies.
Part of the complicated nature of predicting this game is the fact that both teams still feel like fairly big unknowns. Tech has some better data points with their wins against North Carolina (who routed Georgia State last week) and a comfortable win against Middle Tennessee. Meanwhile, WVU is hard to evaluate after an opening road loss to a Maryland team that struggled at a bad Illinois on Friday night followed by beating Long Island, a D2 program that jumped to FCS in 2019 and has won 2 games in 2 seasons.
However, what we do know is Tech has a legitimately strong defense that gets a great matchup against a WVU QB in Jarrett Doege who is a quality passer but is not a mobile QB at all as his career rushing stats show. West Virginia does has a strong receiving corps, but Tech has the cornerback talent to go press man coverage and give guys like Amare Barno and TyJuan Garbutt time to get to Doege and either get a sack or force a bad throw.
Tech's rush defense has also proven quite stout the past couple weeks with Ty Chandler and MTSU's backs having limited success. Leddie Brown is on the same level as Chandler and will be a challenge but Tech's rush defense has been stout and shown few signs of folding even when Tech hasn't been on their A game in their first 2 games.
Meanwhile, Tech's offense may be limited in the passing game, but the Hokies have the ability to run a diverse rushing attack that can stretch the field horizontally and keep WVU's unique 3-3-5 defense on their heels. Maryland also showed that WVU can be ran against effectively with UMD's two tailbacks combining for 173 rushing yards on 32 carries, an average of 5.2 yards per carry.
This may not be a high-scoring affair but the Hokies have the defense to keep WVU at bay and the motion rushing attack full of jet sweeps and screens to put WVU on their heels, create space for Braxton Burmeister, Raheem Blackshear, and Jalen Holston up the middle, and the do enough damage to keep the Black Diamond Trophy in Blacksburg.
Pick: #15 Virginia Tech 24, West Virginia 17
One of the greatest college football rivalries has been restored with No. 15 Virginia Tech traveling up to Morgantown to take on West Virginia.
The Hokies have been on a hot start in 2021, winning both contests in their first home stand of the season against ranked North Carolina and Middle Tennessee.
With the defense only allowing 24 points through the first 2 games of the season, the Hokies look to utilize that side of the ball against the Mountaineers in their first true road test since 2019.
West Virginia has a stud at running back with Leddie Brown Jr., who has picked up right where he left off in 2020. After producing a one thousand rushing yard season, he has totaled over a hundred yards and four touchdowns on the year.
The special teams unit of the Mountaineers could also be a serious x-factor against the Hokies, as Winston Wright Jr. has returned six kicks for over 300 yards. The junior has recorded an average over 50 yards a return in 2021 and returned a 90 yard opening kickoff against LIU last week.
With the news about James Mitchell’s season ending injury coming out on Tuesday, the Hokies will look how to fill that void on the offensive side of the ball. Tight ends Drake DeIuliis and Nick Gallo will look to step up to the increased reps that will come their way for the remainder of 2021.
I believe if the Hokies want to come out of Morgantown with a 3-0 record, they are going to have to show improvements to the offensive side of the football especially after the Mountaineers completed their first shutout in a few years 66-0 against LIU on last week.
With the Hokies bringing up the Black Diamond Trophy from Blacksburg on Saturday, I see the trophy staying in Morgantown after the contest with a West Virginia victory.