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USA Today
Game Preview:
Virginia Tech at Virginia
by Will Stewart,, 11/15/01

Saturday, November 17th, 2001, 3:30
Click here for Charlottesville Weather
Saturday forecast (as of 9:00 am, 11/15/01):
Partly cloudy and 68 degrees

This Saturday's game will go a long way towards determining how each team's season is viewed. If the Cavaliers win to go to 5-6 on the year, they'll enter their game with Penn State with some positive momentum and two straight wins over ranked teams. If the Hokies win, they'll feel better about a season that feels as if it has gone awry in the last month.

If the Cavaliers lose, they'll drop to 4-7 with a 1-6 stretch heading into the season-ending game, and no chance at a winning record. If the Hokies lose and go to 7-3, they'll enter their game with #1 Miami on a downward spiral, likely falling out of the rankings after losing 3 out of 4 on the heels of a 6-0 start.

Some Tech/UVa games have a lot riding on them. Last year's game was very forgettable, a Tech romp that altered neither team's bowl destination and which was overshadowed by the Frank-Beamer-to-UNC drama.

This game, on the other hand, feels very important, for various reasons. Tech wants to regain momentum heading into the end of the season, and UVa wants to keep it as they get ready for the offseason.

Virginia Fast Facts

Virginia is 4-6, 3-5 in the ACC. After opening with a close loss to Wisconsin on the road, the Hoos raised eyebrows with a narrow home victory over 1-AA Richmond ... and then raised those eyebrows even higher by beating Clemson on the road. After an easy win over Duke at home, the Cavaliers went on a five-game skid that included their first loss to Wake Forest in 18 years. They rebounded with a thrilling home win over nationally-ranked Georgia Tech last weekend. Here's a look at their season thus far:

Date Venue Result (4-6, 3-5 ACC)
Aug. 25 away Wisconsin 26, Virginia 17
Sept. 1 home Virginia 17, Richmond 16
Sept. 22 away Virginia 26, Clemson 24
Sept. 29 home Virginia 31, Duke 10
Oct. 6 away Maryland 41, Virginia 21
Oct. 13 away North Carolina 30, Virginia 24
Oct. 20 home Florida State 43, Virginia 7
Oct. 27 away NC State 24, Virginia 0
Nov. 3 home Wake Forest 34, Virginia 30
Nov. 10 home Virginia 39, Georgia Tech 38

Last season, Virginia was 6-5 in the regular season and went to the Jeep O'ahu Bowl, where they were soundly thrashed by Georgia 37-14 and finished 6-6. They were ranked preseason #55 by Athlon Magazine this year.

Head Coach: Al Groh is in his first year as head coach at Virginia and his seventh season as a college head coach. His overall college head coaching record is 30-46. He was the head coach at Wake Forest from 1981-1986 and has spent time in the collegiate ranks and in the NFL since then. Groh had been coaching in various capacities in the NFL since 1989 and was most recently head coach of the New York Jets last season, where he went 9-7.

The Last Time: The Hokies beat Virginia 41-21 in Blacksburg last November. UVa got off to a good start, taking a 14-7 lead at the end of the first quarter, but a 21-0 burst in the second quarter put the Hokies on their way to the win. Lee Suggs led the Hokies with 4 TD's (3 rushing, 1 receiving), and Michael Vick was 16-23 for 202 yards and a touchdown in his last regular-season game for the Hokies. Antwoine Womack had 134 yards rushing on 20 carries for Virginia, but most of his success came early in the game.

Depth Chart: Virginia currently starts 5 players on defense and 3 players on offense who started last year. Both specialists (punting and placekicking) are seniors and returning starters. The Cavaliers were expected to be strongest on the offensive line this year (The Sporting News ranked their o-line 9th best in the country in the preseason), but they recently shifted them around and demoted two senior starters (Josh Lawson and Jared Woodson) and replaced them with a freshman (Elton Brown) and a junior (Mike Mullins). On the defensive line, all three linemen are seniors and returning starters, and the other starters returning on defense are in the defensive backfield (safeties Shernard Newby and Jerton Evans).

Best Offensive Players: There is no question that wide receiver Billy McMullen is the bell cow here. McMullen has 73 receptions for 889 yards and 12 TD's. All three marks are tops in the ACC, and the receptions and TD's are both second in the country. With ten catches against Georgia Tech last week, he became #1 on Virginia's season and career reception list records. And get this: the 6-4, 205 McMullen is just a junior.

QB Bryson Spinner (114-190, 1260 yards, 14 TDs, 5 INTs) has taken over as the starting quarterback. He split time with Matt Schaub (113-198, 1206 yards, 9 TDs, 7 INTs) for a while, but Spinner's higher TD/INT ratio, among other things, eventually landed him the starting job.

Among the tailbacks, Antwoine Womack has returned from an early-season injury. Womack only has 20 carries for 74 yards this year, but he's a better back than freshman Alvin Pearman (77 carries, 324 yards, no TD's) and junior Arlen Harris (92 carries, 368 yards, 1 TD).

Best Defensive Players: As is customary, Virginia's top tacklers are linebackers. Leading tackler Angelo Crowell (125 tackles) is also tied for the team lead with 4 sacks, and he has 8 QB hurries. Second-leading tackler John Duckett, also a linebacker, has 96 tackles.

Defensive end Darryl Sanders is tied with Crowell with 4 sacks, and he adds 9 QB hurries. Linebacker Raymond Mann only has 2 sacks, but he leads the team with 12 QB hurries, meaning that he brings the heat.

In the defensive backfield, safety Shernard Newby has 5 interceptions, leading the ACC in that category. The team as a whole has 13 in 10 games (compared to 17 for the Hokies in 9 games).

Special Teams: Senior punter Mike Abrams averages 42.1 yards per kick, and senior placekicker David Greene is 9-16 on field goals with a long of 48 yards (7-9 inside 40 yards, but just 2-7 from 40 yards and beyond).

Offensive Philosophy: Somewhere along the line, George Welsh's ground-oriented offense has turned into Air Groh. The Cavaliers have thrown 392 passes in ten games, already 20 more than the school single-season record and 76 more than any other ACC team (no, that is not a mistake, typo, or misprint -- in the ACC, which boasts pass-happy offenses like GT, FSU, and Maryland, the Hoos throw the most). Their 229 completions are a UVa record, and their 23 passing TD's are one behind the school mark of 24 in a season.

UVa has spread the field with multiple receiver sets, will throw in the red zone, and has used a variety of trick plays so far this year. Virginia is 36th in the country in passing with 247.6 yards per game.

With Womack back, it will be interesting to see if the Cavaliers rely on the run a little more.

The Cavaliers only have 3 rushing TD's and are #102 in the country in rushing with just 107.6 yards per game. With the poor rushing statistics, Virginia is just 91st in the country in scoring offense with 21.2 points per game, and 77th in the country in total offense at 355.2 yards per game.

The Hokies are 2nd in rushing defense (70.1 ypg), 4th in pass defense (148.1 ypg), 1st in total defense (218.2 ypg), and 3rd in scoring defense (11.6 ppg).

Defensive Philosophy: Virginia runs the 3-4, with three down lineman and four linebackers. The system is used by very few college teams, and the Virginia starting defensive linemen, despite being seniors, presently lack the strength, size, and most importantly speed, to run it effectively.

The book on the Cavaliers is that they're weak in run defense on the perimeter, and that their cornerbacks aren't very good in coverage. The defensive statistics would support this: Virginia gives up 202.8 yards per game on the ground, #93 in the country, and 240.8 yards per game through the air, #85 in the country. Overall, they surrender 443.6 yards per game and rank #100 in the country in total defense. Their scoring defense is 80th in the country at 28.6 points per game.

The Hokies are 27th in rushing offense (192.7 ypg), 78th in passing offense (189.1 ypg), 58th in total offense (381.8 ypg), and 25th in scoring offense (33.8 ppg).

The Lowdown

If all those statistical comparisons have you thinking the Hokies are going to win by a wide margin, then you need a big, fat, "Not so fast, my friend." This game is more about matchups, momentum, and emotion.

First, matchups. Each team has some matchup advantages, and the key is to capitalize on those advantages. Virginia's McMullen, while not particularly fleet of foot, towers 7 inches over Tech cornerbacks Ronyell Whitaker and Larry Austin, and 4 inches over DeAngelo Hall. Virginia will get the ball to McMullen, and he will get his catches. The key for the Hokies is to minimize the damage he does.

No problem -- just pressure Bryson Spinner, right? That's not so easy. Despite throwing nearly 40 passes a game, the much-maligned Wahoo offensive line has only given up 16 sacks, or just 1.6 per game. Unless the Hokies bring the heat on the blitz, it's not likely that they'll consistently pressure the Virginia quarterback.

Hmm, a QB without much pressure, throwing to a tall, talented receiver. Tech has seen that formula before, at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.

The Hokies' matchup advantage is their rush offense against Virginia's rush defense. But again, Tech has to capitalize on that advantage, and if the Virginia defense is weak at the corners, running up the gut over and over will just play to their relative strengths.

When an offense is as one-dimensional as the Hokie offense has become, it makes it a lot easier for a poor defense like UVa's to play much better than it really is. So don't assume the Hokies are going to run all over the Hoos. With proper play-calling, which would include some perimeter passing, option and toss-sweep, they can, but don't think that Tech will just naturally line up and run it down UVa's throat.

Second, momentum. UVa's got it, at least a little bit of it, and no one's sure that Tech does. We've seen the scenario in this series of team-on-the-way-up meets team-on-the-way down before, in both directions (the 1990 and 1997 games are prime examples). Despite all the brash talk and bluster after the Temple win, no one knows if Tech has recovered from the Syracuse and Pitt losses. UVa, meanwhile, has nothing to lose.

Lastly, emotion, which is closely tied to momentum. The Hokies need more emotion than they have shown recently, and they need to go into the Cavaliers' house and rip the game from them without giving them a chance to get their bearings. Virginia has struggled at times this year, but at other times, they have shown remarkable resiliency in wins over Clemson and GT. If the Hokies get them down, they need to keep them down.

From the other side of the fence, if the Hoos get the Hokies down, the concern for the Hokie faithful is that the Hokies will stay down and not be able to come back.


The betting line on this game has the Hokies favored about about 14 points, and I think that's waaaaay too many points. This game could be as hard fought as the Tech/UVa games of the late 80's and early-to-mid 90's, and I don't think the Hokies will win in a romp.

I do, however, think they'll win. But I'm calling it oh-so-close.

Virginia Tech 24, Virginia 20.


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