Virginia Tech kicks off against in-state rival Virginia at 3:30 this afternoon. Before the Battle for the Commonwealth Cup begins, take a look at our five things to know about UVA.
1. The Read Option and RPO's
Finally, Bronco Mendenhall has his offensive scheme where he wants it. After two years of using traditional pro-style quarterbacks, Mendenhall has the athletic, dual-threat quarterback that he needs.
Bryce Perkins is a nightmare for opposing defenses. The junior from Queen Creek, Arizona boasts 2,213 yards, a 65.4 completion percentage, 19 touchdowns, and nine interceptions as the starter this season. But the other aspect of his game is just as effective, as Perkins has 730 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground this year.
Perkins is able to put up these gaudy numbers by using the read option and the run pass option. This means he has three options on almost every play: either hand the ball off to RB Jordan Ellis, run with the ball himself, or throw it downfield.
This style of play has immensely helped the UVA rushing attack. RB Jordan Ellis is much improved, as he has 868 yards and nine touchdowns on the season. Virginia went from ranking 127th in rushing offense last season to 62nd this season. Last year, Virginia gained only five rushing yards against the Hokies; expect that number to increase dramatically this Black Friday.
Perkins has the ability to roll out of the pocket and extend plays, which can be very tough on linebackers. Bud Foster elaborated on the challenges Perkins presents to the Lunch Pail Defense.
“I think every pass play also has a designed draw in it, or at least the majority of them are,” Foster said. “That presents a lot of problems. All of a sudden you’re trying to send linebackers out in coverage to get in the void areas in your zones and things of that nature. All of a sudden he sees a window that he can create.” (VT Insider).
Virginia Tech will have to play assignment sound football tomorrow, or else Perkins could be running on Worsham Field like Tobias Oliver was for Georgia Tech.
2. Thornhill Leads the Defense
Despite losing some big names from last season, Virginia is again making their money on the defensive side of the ball. The Cavaliers rank 22nd in total defense, 15th in passing yards allowed, and 17th in passes intercepted.
As it can be inferred from those stats, the secondary has done the bulk of the work for the Wahoo defense. With the 3-4 scheme Bronco Mendenhall runs, Virginia's defense is set up to stop the pass. A couple of players stand out statistically.
The first is SS Juan Thornhill. The senior from Altavista, VA leads the team and is fourth in the nation in interceptions with five. He also leads the team in tackles with 78. Virginia Tech will likely have a hard time getting any passes downfield against the stalwart strong safety.
The second standout is DB Bryce Hall. Despite being tested, Hall has gotten his hand on the ball plenty of times this year, as he leads the team with 19 passes deflected. Hall also has two interceptions on the year. After an excellent freshman year, Hall has seen his role increase in the Virginia defense. Expect to see him in tight man-to-man coverage against Hokie wide receivers.
3. The Pass Protection Problems
When he passes, Perkins often rolls out of the pocket. While that is in part because of Perkins' passing style, the main reason for that is because of the constant pressure he faces, particularly up the middle.
It's no secret that Virginia has struggled to protect the passer; the numbers don't lie. In 2018, Virginia has given up 29 sacks, which is 98th in the country and third-worst in the ACC.
It has been a long time since Virginia had a solid offensive line, and it looks like Mendenhall is still trying to build up that position. They have had particular problems with one-on-one match-ups with defensive tackles, so it will be up to Bud Foster to find whatever way possible to get Ricky Walker in those favorable match-ups.
If that happens, then Walker can impress the All-ACC committee by showing his impact on the field.
4. Key Player: WR Olamide Zaccheaus
This is the main horse that gets the Virginia offense rolling. Zaccheaus is no wee little man, as he leads the team with 903 receiving yards and 6 touchdowns.
The senior from New Jersey has been a big part of the Cavalier offense his whole career, as he is closing in on 2,700 career receiving yards.
Zaccheaus is known for his speed in the open field, and is phenomenal at gaining yards after he has caught the ball.
Zaccheaus has ran a 4.48 40-yard dash before, which makes him the most NFL ready player on this Virginia roster. With a skill set similar to Golden Tate, many think he has some upside for the big leagues.
"He may not have the ideal height of an NFL receiver but his ability to win in space and make plays will give him chances to contribute at the next level. Look for a big senior season from Zaccheaus as the focal point of the Cavs’ offense," said NFL Draft expert Joe Marino. (The Draft Network).
5. Is this the year?
This will be the 100th anniversary of the great Commonwealth Cup, which started all the way back in 1895. But these two schools will be thinking of another significant anniversary; it will be 14 years since UVA last beat Virginia Tech.
Most of the Tech faithful are well aware of their team's dominance in this series. VT has won 18 of the last 19 against Virginia, with only 4 of those games being decided by double-digits.
But now with Virginia sitting at 7-3 and Virginia Tech at 4-6, the Cavalier faithful must feel like they are due for one. This is the first time that Virginia has come into the Commonwealth Cup game with the better record since 1992.
While many Hokie fans brag about the 14 game-streak, it is not what the doctor ordered for Black Friday. Seniors on the UVA roster have a golden opportunity to avoid being yet another class to go 0-4 vs Virginia Tech.
Tech also is fighting to keep their 25-year bowl streak alive, as they would play Marshall on Dec. 1 should they win Friday. For a game between two teams not eyeing the ACC title, there is a whole lot at stake.