We are days away from kickoff between #21 Virginia Tech and #22 West Virginia in primetime Sunday night at FedEx Field. Both fan bases have had their eyes on this game since Virginia Tech beat Arkansas in the Belk Bowl and West Virginia was blown out by Miami in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
Sunday night's game is full of great matchups that will give stars the chance to shine and test inexperienced players. With that said, here's our key matchups for Sunday night's showdown.
Cam Phillips vs. CBs Mike Daniels Jr. and Hakeem Bailey
Cam Phillips is one of the ACC's best returning receivers and will test West Virginia's inexperienced cornerbacks. Mike Daniels Jr. was a backup who only played in six games last year while Hakeem Bailey will make his West Virginia debut after arriving from JUCO.
Cam Phillips had his best year working in the slot last season, showing he can be a star with 76 receptions for 983 yards and 5 touchdowns last season. Phillips made big strides over the course of the season and had at least 6 receptions in seven of his final eight games. Phillips had lots of momentum going into the offseason and now returns as one of the ACC's best receivers, earning Preseason All-ACC honors.
With Virginia Tech having lots of inexperience at wide receiver, West Virginia DC Tony Gibson will put a priority on trying to contain Cam Phillips and force the Hokies' younger receivers to beat them. You can expect that Gibson will try to give his inexperienced safety help at times, but these cornerbacks will also have to hold up sometimes in man coverage.
If these cornerbacks can step up, West Virginia's defense could surprise and make life more difficult for Josh Jackson. If not, Cam Phillips should have a strong game that could be one of the great performances by a WR in the history of this rivalry.
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Ricky Walker and Tim Settle vs. WVU Interior OL
This is a very interesting matchup as both Ricky Walker and Tim Settle showed as backups that they will be forces to be reckoned with. West Virginia's interior offensive line is a mixed bag led by veteran guard Kyle Bosch who was named to the 2016 All-Big 12 First Team by the AP and ESPN last year. However, Bosch is moving to left guard while WVU has two new starters in redshirt sophomore center Matt Jones and redshirt senior right guard Grant Lingafelter.
West Virginia will need these guys to step up and create space up the middle for Justin Crawford, but that will be a huge challenge against two massive DTs who were quite good last year especially as run defenders.
Walker has starting experience from his 4 starts last season, and had a productive season with 28 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks. Tim Settle didn't start a single game but was a playmaker when he rotated in with 17 tackles including 7 tackles for loss. Now, Walker and Settle will go from 20-25 snaps to 45-55 snaps per game. Combine that with another year to get stronger and be developed by Charley Wiles, and this duo has the potential to be one of America's best combination of DTs.
You can expect that WVU will look for Bosch to hold up one-on-one while trying to use Jones and Lingafelter to double team either Walker or Settle. However, Bud Foster will likely use plenty of linebacker blitzes that will force WVU's younger interior OL into one-on-one matchups along with having a linebacker or two crash the middle on run defense to create one-on-one matchups.
The question is can WVU's inexperienced linemen step up or will Settle and Walker give them some nightmares?
Andrew Motuapuaka vs. Will Grier
This isn't a direct man against man matchup, but the chess match between these two should be one to watch. Against a Virginia Tech defense that loves to be aggressive and blitz, Will Grier will look to make the right audibles to minimize those blitzes while Andrew Motuapuaka will look to read Grier and see whether WVU will go to the air or whether they'll hand it off to prolific tailback Justin Crawford.
West Virginia will use plenty of three and four receivers formations so the Hokies will have limited numbers in the box. In addition to that, WVU has one of America's top returning RBs in Justin Crawaford, and won't be afraid to use him in four-receiver sets. Motuapuaka will have to be ready for this and make sure his defense is in the best possible position to adapt to both the run and the pass no matter the play.
One thing that Motuapuaka will have to do well is organize his defense and make sure everyone is where they're supposed to be. Motuapuaka will also be critical in trying to catch any commonalities in WVU formations that may show a certain formation. While they're won't be a play as obvious as the formations Scot Loeffler used for jet sweeps a few years ago, there are still little details that can help make the difference especially against a wide-open offense with a dynamic tailback.
This is the player vs. player battle that represents this showdown between Dana Holgorsen and Bud Foster. Whoever wins this matchup should have a great chance at getting a big win to start their season.
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