Photo Credit: ACC Media
After being delayed from a late September date in this unique 2020 season, the latest played Commonwealth Cup is ready to be played with both teams entering this game trending in opposite directions. Virginia Tech is looking to end a four-game losing streak and bring back the Cup while UVA is defending the Cup for the first time in more than a decade and enters this game on a four-game winning streak.
So will the Hokies be able to restore their reign in the Commonwealth or will UVA extend it beyond a year? Here are our picks for the 2020 Commonwealth Cup.
The latest Commonwealth Cup in rivalry history as Virginia Tech looks to avoid their first 7+ loss season in almost 30 years while Virginia looks to maintain their reign of the Commonwealth and continue their late season surge. Both teams enter this game heading in opposite directions with UVA overperforming and Tech vastly underperforming, but the classic saying of throwing the records out for a rivalry game still applies some today.
Tech's best chance of winning is contingent on a healthy Hendon Hooker that Tech sticks with as Hooker, unlike Braxton Burmeister, has the arm talent to give the Hokies a legitimate vertical passing threat. Given that, the Hokies need to test UVA's pass defense with their secondary being the weak point on that side of the ball for the Cavaliers and Tech having the receiving talent to do damage down the field with Tre Turner, Tayvion Robinson, and James Mitchell.
Meanwhile, Tech's defense has shown some signs of life but has been inconsistent and had issues preventing big plays with two 50+ yard touchdowns allowed last week against Clemson. Brennan Armstrong and UVA's passing attack have had a knack for finding just that especially through 6'7'', freshman WR Lavell Davis Jr who is averaging over 25 yards per reception this season. UVA's passing game as a whole has been solid with Billy Kemp leading the way out of the slot and transfer TE Tony Poljan being a strong addition for the Cavaliers.
The Hokies are the more talented team but Virginia has been the better prepared and coached team while Tech has also had issues making adjustments especially on offense. This game feels like a toss up, but I'm going with the Hokies to find a way to pull off a win though it's impossible to feel confident about that pick.
Pick: Virginia Tech 31, Virginia 27
The Hokies will have to play significantly better than they have in the last four games in order to close the season on a strong note. The problem is that they have not really shown the potential to play to their abilities over a ten game sample size. Virginia comes into the game on a four game winning streak while the Hokies enter the game on a four game slide, but in rivalry games past performance is not generally the best indicator of success.
Virginia's offense has been clicking lately, scoring 30-plus points in four straight contests. Quarterback Brennan Armstrong had a slow start to the season, primarily using his legs instead of his arm to generate offense but he also has turned it on as of late. He is averaging 8.4 yards per attempt distributing the ball to a variety of playmakers on the perimeter, namely Lavel Davis - Virginia's big play threat, averaging 25 yards per catch - and Terrel Jana.
The Hokies' run defense was once again shredded against Clemson, and they will once again face a threatening zone read game with Armstrong at the helm. The Virginia quarterback leads the team in rushing through both designed keepers, zone reads, and scrambles. Given how much success Trevor Lawrence had getting on the perimeter against crashing defensive ends last week, Virginia will undoubtedly test the Hokies' defense using Armstrong's legs.
Tech's offensive success may just come down to the health of their quarterbacks. If Hooker plays as he is currently slated to, he should have success against a Virginia defense that has not been special this year giving up 29.2 points per game. But this offense, while generating yards, has not been opportunistic and tends to make poor mistakes at critical times.
Overall, it's hard to see the Hokies' fortunes changing given the way they have played lately. However, at some point Tech will play up to it's capabilities and they truly were a few turnovers and penalties away from being somewhat competitive with Clemson. This will be a close game, but Tech's inability to stop Armstrong on the ground will prove to be the difference here.
Pick: Virginia 33, Virginia Tech 28
When Virginia Tech and Virginia square off, their season’s performances are set aside as only one thing is on their mind - Winning the Commonwealth Cup.
After winning 15 consecutive contests against the Cavaliers from 2004-2018, the Hokies will look to regain the cup after last season’s 39-30 loss in Charlottesville.
Both programs are entering this game trending in opposite directions as the Cavaliers have quietly been on a four-game winning streak to improve their record to 5-4 after the year starting 1-4. Meanwhile, the Hokies are on a four-game losing streak to find themselves at 4-6 after a 4-2 start to the season.
The quarterback situation amongst Virginia Tech will be one to watch out for after Hendon Hooker and Braxton Burmeister both exited last week’s matchup against the Clemson Tigers, bringing on redshirt freshman Knox Kadum.
If Kadum starts for the Hokies on Saturday, it will be his first career start in his collegiate career and it couldn’t come in a bigger matchup as bragging rights for the commonwealth is on the line. However, that doesn't seem likely based on Justin Fuente's comments from earlier this week indicating that Hooker and Burmeister should both be ready to go.
Flipping over to Virginia, Brennan Armstrong didn’t have the strongest start to the season, but has slowly become a reliable quarterback for the Cavaliers.
His completion percentage has continuously gone up in every game during the Cavaliers’ four-game winning streak while his TD-INT ratio over the previous five games has been an impressive 11:3.
Virginia also holds one of the top wide receivers in the ACC with Billy Kemp IV. The junior leads the conference with receptions per game (6.4) and is just shy of ten yards per reception (9.8) in his nine performances this season.
We are no doubt going to get a great game on our hands, like most rivalries, when these two teams face each other on Saturday.
The trends of both teams’ recent weeks may play an important role in this year’s commonwealth clash as the Hokies are going to be ones who are trying to switch that momentum and regain the cup after losing it a short year ago.
But, I think the Cavaliers will continue their momentum into Saturday’s contest and pull out a close victory over the Hokies.
Pick: Virginia 24, Virginia Tech 20
We’ve made it to the grand finale. Today is the day. Virginia Tech will look to take back the Commonwealth Cup from Virginia.
After a brutal 45-10 loss against Clemson last week, the Hokies will attempt to bounce back against the less intimidating Virginia Cavaliers. Virginia Tech is also looking to snap a four game losing streak.
On paper, Virginia Tech and Virginia are shockingly even. This is essentially a matchup against a promising team that hasn’t lived up to the hype in Virginia Tech, going up against a weaker team that has pleasantly surprised.
Given that, and the fact that this rivalry matchup is always competitive no matter what each team looks like entering it, expect a close game.
Earlier in the year, I based my predictions off of what I thought Virginia Tech could be. Now, I feel obligated to base this week’s prediction on what the team actually has been, and that’s a very underwhelming team.
The team hasn’t been what people thought it would be, but it’s not as bad as it looks. The Hokies’ last four losses have come against three ranked programs and a very talented Pitt team. Although it may seem as though the sky is falling, it’s not.
Despite the team’s inability to live up to what many expected it to look like, I think the current squad is still talented enough to pull out a win over the Cavaliers.