Photo Credit: ACC Media
After losing their fourth-straight game of this season against Clemson last week, Virginia Tech is looking to end their regular season with a victory. More importantly, the Hokies want to reclaim the Commonwealth Cup from Virginia and build a new decade+ of dominance.
Meanwhile, Virginia enters this game as one of the hottest teams in the conference on a four-game winning streak including an upset of North Carolina and a win over Boston College last week.
So what will the Hokies need to do to take down UVA and bring the Commonwealth Cup back to Blacksburg? Here are our three keys to the game for the Hokies against Cavaliers.
Unleash The Vertical Passing Game
When Braxton Burmeister came in against Clemson, Virginia Tech's vertical passing game became almost non-existent and the Hokies' offense suffered. With Hendon Hooker appearing to be good to go for UVA, Tech has to make sure that they open up the field with their vertical passing game against a UVA defense who's secondary is their weak point.
Now there are questions about the status of Tre Turner which definitely does affect things with that part of Tech's offense, but even if the Hokies don't have Turner, they have to prioritize their vertical passing game to open up more space for Khalil Herbert and company.
This includes continuing to utilize Changa Hodge who finally started to have a significant offensive role and showed promise with 2 receptions against Clemson. Raheem Blackshear should also be a part of it working out of the slot in part to allow Tayvion Robinson and James Mitchell to work more as outside receivers to stretch the field especially if the Hokies don't have Tre Turner in this game.
If the Hokies want to bring the Cup back to Blacksburg, the offensive strategy has to emphasize the vertical passing game. If not, it could be a long night for the Hokies' offense that could see them have to play some catch up.
Contain Brennan Armstrong's Legs
Brennan Armstrong is one of the best runners among ACC quarterbacks leading Virginia in rushing so far this season and driving UVA's rushing attack in many regards. That includes some ability to scramble and make plays with his legs on broken pass plays, something that the Hokies have struggled against plenty.
Trevor Lawrence may not be known as a great running QB, but he can make plays with his legs and became the latest QB to do just that against the Hokies and the fourth in the past 5 games to have plenty of success running the football alongside Louisville's Malik Cunningham, Liberty's Malik Willis, and Miami's D'Eriq King. To think that UVA will overlook that and not focus on using Armstrong's running abilities would be lying to yourself and is something that Tech has to be ready for.
That may include the Hokies running more zone to keep more eyes on the QB though Tech's pass defense has had their struggles in zone compared to man coverage. Additionally, don't be surprised to see some LB blitzes with Rayshard Ashby and Dax Hollifield along with some spying by those 2 and Alan Tisdale to help with the work of monitoring Armstrong in and outside of the pocket.
Part of the emphasis will also be on defensive ends making sure that they at minimum, keep contain and if they get a chance to get a sack, they make sure they finish the job and don't open an escape path. Tech's defensive tackles will also have to be better at maintaining their gap discipline and not potentially opening up a hole. Even with adding in some LB blitzes, Tech will need their interior rushers to maintain their discipline.
If the Hokies can contain the legs of Armstrong, they can give themselves a much better chance of trying to contain an intriguing UVA defense full of bigger targets.
Win The Big Play Battle
Virginia Tech's defense has shown some signs of improvement in recent weeks, but their biggest issue over the past few weeks has been their inability to prevent a couple big plays from happening.
Clemson had a pair of long touchdowns against Tech's defense in the second half last week and Virginia has plenty of big plays guys in the passing game. That includes 6'7'' UVA WR Lavel Davis Jr who may only have 17 catches but is averaging over 25 yards per reception while Ra'Shaun Henry only has 6 catches but is averaging over 33 yards per reception with 4 touchdowns. While UVA has Billy Kemp, Tony Poljan, and Terrell Jana as their volume receivers; Davis and Henry are the type of big play guys that Tech has to be ready to contain.
Meanwhile, the Hokies have been able to pull off plenty of explosive plays of their own especially through Khalil Herbert who seems to have a knack for breaking off at least a couple 20+ yards runs every game. Tech is going to face one of the better rush defenses in the ACC, but the Hokies have one of America's best offensive lines and will need their rushing attack to create some big plays plus a couple deep balls from the passing attack.
There will likely only be a few explosive plays combined between these two teams that go for 20+ yards but whichever teams leads in that category will likely win the football game. For Tech, that means they need their defense to step up against a UVA passing attack that has a knack for finding some of those plays.