Gameday has arrived as Virginia Tech and West Virginia are ready to face off in one of college football's biggest game of the opening weekend. The Hokies and Mountaineers both know that a win will launch them up next week's top 25.
More than that, this game is the return of the battle for the Black Diamond Trophy, 12 years after the Hokies beat West Virginia in Morgantown. This is a game that both fan bases have had marked on their calendars for years and both teams have had their eyes on since last season ended.
After 12 years of dormancy and years of anticipation, the battle for the Black Diamond Trophy is back and ready for the primetime stage. Both the Hokies and Mountaineers know that this rivalry game gives them a chance to make an early statement that they are a force to be reckoned with this fall.
The matchup between West Virginia's talented offense and Virginia Tech's loaded, experienced defense is one of the best matchups of this opening weekend. WVU has two of the Big 12's best playmakers in Will Grier and Justin Crawford while the Hokies have a loaded defense headlined by Preseason All-American LB Tremaine Edmunds.
This should be a great battle and though WVU will be able to move the ball, the Hokies will be able to force the Mountaineers to kick a few field goals in the red zone.
Virginia Tech will need Josh Jackson to avoid playing like a freshman even against a West Virginia defense that only has 2 healthy, returning starters. Tony Gibson will look to confuse Jackson with plenty of different looks and it will be critical for Jackson to keep his composure especially if he gets off to a slow start. If Jackson gets overwhelmed by the stage, it's hard to imagine the Hokies winning, but he has shown the poise of a QB with lots more experience than him in the past.
Jackson will need his supporting cast to step up, and Cam Phillips will be ready to lead the charge. Phillips has a great opportunity facing a WVU defense with an almost brand new secondary including a pair of new starting cornerbacks. Though WVU will try to double team Phillips some, Phillips will get his share of one-on-one matchups and has the talent to take advantage. However, Phillips and Jackson will need the Hokies' running backs to step up and establish the run against a unique 3-3-5 defense.
Mook Reynolds is my guy to watch as x-factor for the Hokies as Reynolds shined in the Belk Bowl and will need to be very versatile working out of the nickelwhip. The Hokies will need Reynolds to step up in man coverage and be ready to make plays in run defense to contain star WVU tailback Justin Crawford. Reynolds is one of America's best nickelbacks and has carved out his own role in VT's defense that forced Bud Foster to get him on the field as much as possible last season.
For WVU, the x-factor is linebacker Al-Rasheed Benton who is one of their few returning starters and the only returning starting linebacker that is healthy. Benton was solid last year with 80 tackles including 1 for loss, but the Mountaineers will be looking to their senior mike linebacker to step up and lead this young defense. If WVU has a proven defensive playmaker outside of safety Kyzir White, it's Benton and they'll need him to be a playmaker around the line of scrimmage tonight.
This will be a nail-bitter of a game that will come down to the wire between two evenly-matched teams. In college football, defenses are usually ahead of offenses to start the season and that favors the Hokies who have a very experienced defense ready for this game.
Getting stops in the red zone will be decisive and though WVU's offense has more talent, the Hokies' defense will be able to get more stops. Meanwhile, the Hokies will have more red zone success against a young WVU defense with Cam Phillips giving the Mountaineers to help lead the Hokies to victory and keeping the Black Diamond Trophy in Blacksburg.
Prediction: #21 Virginia Tech 27, #22 West Virginia 23
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Coming into this game, there are so many unknowns, on both sides of the ball, for both teams. If Josh Jackson can be the QB that this team needs, the Hokies could be very successful against a WVU defense that is replacing several key players. If WVU has an offense that lives up to the hype, they could pick apart a good Bud Foster defense.
With all that said, I think the Hokies pull out the victory. WVU is relying on Will Grier, but I just don’t see how he could be as good as he’s hyped up to be. VT has one of the best defenses in the country, and I think Fuente will have the Hokies offense playing at a higher level than expected.
Prediction: #21 Virginia Tech 31, #22 West Virginia 17
The battle for the Black Diamond Trophy is once again here, just 12 years after the last game. The Hokies are opening with a West Virginia team that has been back on the rise over the last few years. However, the Hokies are coming off their best year in quite a while and 2nd year coach Justin Fuente has the swagger back in the Hokie locker room.
This game has some serious hatred in it and more than likely will be ugly at the start.
Both teams have new signal callers this year with Will Grier for WVU and Josh Jackson. Grier is a veteran from the SEC so he has seen stout defenses before. I bet Bud Foster has a scheme cooked up just to keep Grier very uncomfortable though.
Jackson should fair a lot better as he faces a depleted WVU defense who only return a handful of starters. Jackson also have a pretty good security blanket in Cam Phillips, who is posed to have a breakout year.
The x-factors for the Hokies will be two freshman. Jalen Holston and Dalton Keene will have big roles on the offense. If both don't shrink in the spotlight, the Hokies should be in great shape. I predict Holston will be the starting tailback by the Clemson game as he is just too talented to not get meaningful reps.
This game on paper looks like the Hokies should win. However, they will need to overcome the curse of FedEx Field. The Hokies are losers of three in a row in the home of the Redskins. The Hokies were poised to win all three games before heartbreak struck. However, I think think the Hokies will break this trend and get the win (a result I recently had to convince myself could happen at FedEx). The final score will be 38-24. 1-0 Hokie fans.
Prediction: #21 Virginia Tech 38, #22 West Virginia 24
When you look at the strengths of West Virginia and Virginia Tech, the one thing that stands out most to me is Bud Foster's defense. Despite the fact that the Mountaineers offense can be explosive at times, Virginia Tech's secondary should be able to balance the air attack if Will Grier.
It may take Josh Jackson a few series to get the first game jitters out, but by the second half, the offense should be clicking. I like Virginia Tech to win 35-28 and reclaim the Black Diamond Trophy.
Prediction: #21 Virginia Tech 35, #22 West Virginia 28
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