The stakes haven't been this high in a while between Virginia Tech and Virginia with not only the Commonwealth Cup and bragging rights on the line, but also the Coastal title for the third time in this rivalry's history.
This week, we have Will Ojanen from ACC Nation joining us to break down Virginia ahead of the Black Friday showdown between the pair of Commonwealth rivals. We thank Will for joining us and encourage you to give him a follow @WillsWorldMN.
With that said, here's this week's Opposing 5.
1. How much pressure is on UVA and especially Bronco Mendenhall going into this game?
When you haven't beaten your chief rival since 2003, there is automatically going to be pressure to end the streak. And given a spot in the ACC Championship Game is at stake, it's magnified. This is the game the team has been waiting for all season. There is a countdown clock in the locker room until this game. This is everything to this team.
2. How has the Bryce Perkins offense changed in his second year at QB and who is his go-to guy if he has one?
For about half of the season, Perkins was wearing a brace on his knee, which limited his mobility, and he didn't run as much, or as well, as he did last season. Because the running game hasn't been as effective, the offense has been a little more pass friendly.
They don't have someone like Olamide Zaccheaus from last season who he targeted all the time, but they do have three different receivers who have over 50 receptions this season. Lately, his main target has been Terrell Jana. Over the last four weeks, Jana has 32 receptions, including 13 in the UNC game.
3. What are the strengths and weaknesses of UVA's defense?
The strength of the defense is the linebackers. There are some NFL caliber linebackers in this corps. Zane Zandier leads the team in the tackles, and he has been consistently getting between 7-9 tackles each game. Jordan Mack has been a good four year player for this team, and the leader of this corps. I think the two to really watch for are Charles Snowden and Noah Taylor. They're both long, athletic linebackers (Snowden is 6-7, Taylor is 6-5) who can both get to the quarterback, and be a factor against the pass.
The weakness is in the secondary, because they have been so decimated by injuries. Virginia has lost six members of the secondary to season ending injuries, including Bryce Hall, regarded as a first round pick. There is also a chance that a seventh could miss the game. Because of that, the pass defense isn't nearly as good as it was early in the season. Even Georgia Tech had success throwing against this secondary. Because Virginia Tech has a good wide receiving corps, this might be a spot where Hooker could attack this defense through the air.
4. Who is the x-factor for UVA in this game?
I'll give you one for both sides of the ball. On offense, I would say it's anyone besides Bryce Perkins who can run the ball with any sort of success. The likely person will be Wayne Taulapapa, but don't be surprised if you see P.K. Kier or Lamont Atkins get some run. I think it's important to take some of the load off of Perkins, and not make him have to try and do everything, and we know the Virginia Tech defense will be keyed in on him.
Defensively, I think it's the defensive line. We know Virginia Tech is going to run a lot, and it's important for the defensive line to stop the run, and make Hooker try and beat them through the air. It's also important for the line to try to confuse Hooker when it comes to the RPOs, and try to make him make bad decisions. And that's something he hasn't done much of.
5. What are the keys to the game for UVA?
I think it's really important for Virginia to score first in this game. Not only has it been a decade since Virginia scored first in this game, but it's important to just score on this Virginia Tech defense, who has pitched back-to-back shutouts. It might take a little bit of pressure off of the offense to score first. I think the biggest key is for everyone to keep their emotions in check, because of the way this rivalry has gone, and you know there is going to be a lot of trash talk in this game. Don't get sucked in to a personal foul penalty as a result.
Going back to 2012, Virginia has had a shot to win every game except for the 2016 game. For one reason or another, they just couldn't seal the deal. But I think this is finally the year. I think this defense is going to do just enough to make Hooker make some mistakes, and the offense, through the passing will keep things off balance for the Hokies defense. I'm going to take Virginia 21-20 in a game that comes down to the final play.