Virginia Tech has turned their season around following a 1-3 non-conference start by opening ACC play at 3-1 with wins over Pittsburgh, Wake Forest, and Syracuse. That's put them in third place in the ACC as one of only two teams behind Florida State that only has one conference loss.
Saturday will see that group slimmed to one when the Hokies take on #13 Louisville in a game that will decide second place in the ACC for the time being, creating a clear path for one of these two to reach Charlotte.
Here's a look at some of our other stories leading up to VT-Louisville.
- Four Things to Watch for VT Against Louisville
- VT Preparing for Tough Challenge at Louisville
- Grading VT's 2023 Transfer Class Through Eight Games
- Tucker Holloway Emerging as One of the Best Punt Returners in America in 2023
So with that said, here are our predictions for the Hokies against the Cardinals.
The Hokies will not face a tougher test the rest of the regular season than the one they'll face taking on Louisville on the road.
The Cardinals have been mostly dominant this season led by a stout defense, a strong rushing attack with standout RB Jawhar Jordan, and a solid passing attack that features the prolific WR Jamari Thrash. Even Tech's strengths will be seriously tested in this matchup with a Cardinals' team that has made big strides in year 1 under Jeff Brohm.
If the Hokies want to pull off the upset, they have to be able to score touchdowns and not field goals in the red zone. They will not be able to dominate this game at all like they did the past couple weeks which made their red zone issues not matter. If anything, Tech has to be more efficient in the red zone as the weaker team in this matchup.
Additionally, Tech needs their run defense to step their game up again against Jawhar Jordan and the impressive Louisville run game. There's no doubt that Tech has made major improvements, with the Syracuse game being a great sign of it. However, Jordan may give Tech their toughest test of the year and containing him will require the Hokies' run defense to have their best game of the season.
In the end, I think this proves to be a competitive, four-quarter game where the Hokies hang around. But Louisville is the more talented team and this is not exactly a "get right" game for the Hokies' red zone offense against a stout Cardinals' defense.
In the end, the Cardinals will pull away in the fourth quarter after a competitive fight from VT to take down the Hokies and clear their path to Charlotte.
Pick: #13 Louisville 27, Virginia Tech 16
Virginia Tech has really struggled on the road this season with losses to Rutgers, Marshall, and Florida State. While a single bad quarter really doomed the Hokies in Tallahassee, it’s no secret that they’re a different team away from Blacksburg. Although Louisville isn’t the toughest place to play, this will certainly be another challenge for a Tech team that’s looking to continue taking leaps in the second half of the season.
I outlined Louisville’s strengths in my article from yesterday, so I’ll use this space to talk about Tech. In my view, there are two key paths to victory for the Hokies in this game: sustaining drives – and finishing them off with touchdowns – and limiting the big plays on the ground. That might seem like a very shallow assessment, but it’s just basic, winning football. And although that’s what Tech has been able to do in recent weeks, it hasn’t done that on the road, and the red zone struggles have followed the Hokies no matter where they play. Brent Pry has said it all week long: Tech needs touchdowns instead of field goals to win this game.
If the Hokies can protect the football, convert third downs, and finish off drives, they can certainly hang around in this game. And I think they will, but I don’t know how long they can keep it up. This is arguably the best defense they’ll face all season long, and considering the Cardinals lead the ACC in turnovers, I think there’s a real chance that Kyron Drones’ program record of completions without an interceptions comes to an end on Saturday.
Tech’s defense will also need to continue its blazing hot form in this one, especially when it comes to stopping the run. Jawhar Jordan is the best running back the Hokies will see in 2023, and he’s almost guaranteed to put up good numbers. The important thing is limiting his effectiveness. Sure, he’ll get 20 carries or so, but if he’s only limited to 80 or 90 yards, then Tech’s defense will have done its job. They need to keep everything in front of them and not let him run wild like FSU’s Trey Benson did earlier in the season.
If the Hokies can force the Cardinals into passing situations, they should be able to get after quarterback Jack Plummer and throw Louisville’s offense out of sorts. If they can force a turnover or two, they can certainly set up the offense in a position to win. If not, it could be a long day for a unit that has dominated in the last month or so.
There is no doubt that Tech is making strides right now. But this might be too tall of a task. While the path to victory is certainly clear, it won’t be an easy one. I just feel like the Cardinals are far more equipped to handle this test and win this game, asserting themselves as the clear second-best team in the ACC and inch closer to punching their ticket to Charlotte.
Pick: #13 Louisville 27, Virginia Tech 20
Virginia Tech football is on a roll to say the least, having compiled ACC wins in three of its last four games - scoring 30+ points in each of those wins. And now, thanks to a few wacky results in conference play, the Hokies and the No. 13 Louisville Cardinals, two teams projected to end up in the bottom half of the conference preseason, have a showdown for the number two spot in the conference, with the winner controlling their destiny for a spot in the ACC Championship.
While I would love to have Virginia Tech coming out on top in this one, the Hokies have simply been a different team on the road than at home. All four Tech wins in 2023 have come at home, while the Brent Pry-led Hokies have three of their four losses away from Lane Stadium.
Louisville has also been a very good football team in Jeff Brohm’s first season at the helm, taking down two ranked teams in Notre Dame and Duke. The one outlier in the Cardinals season was their stunning road loss at Pitt, but outside of the loss, Louisville has had a strong defense that allows just 18 points a game.
This week's game should be a slugfest, but if the Hokies want to come out on top, and solidify themselves as a tough football team entering a new era, they will have to do what they have done the past couple weeks. Sack the quarterback, let the key transfers control the game, and allow Kyron Drones to take shots down the field.
Tech holds an all-time record of 6-2 against the Cardinals, and I can’t wait to see these two teams duke it out for a ninth time on Saturday.