How the Mountaineers Can Beat the Hokies
In just a few days, the West Virginia Mountaineers welcome the Virginia Tech Hokies to Milan Puskar. The game represents the 53rd contest between these teams. The Black Diamond Trophy is on the line in this battle of familiar foes. WVU will look to end its three-game losing streak to Virginia Tech, but a win will not come easily. Even though Las Vegas slightly favors West Virginia, plenty view WVU as an underdog. That said, we look at how the Mountaineers can beat the Hokies.
Win the Defensive Battle
Saturday’s game, which will be televised on Fox Sports 1 at 12:00 p.m., will feature two strong defensive units. The Hokies currently rank 22nd in the nation allowing just 12 points per game. The Mountaineers follow close behind at 35th and allow just 15 points per game.
The devil, as always, lies in the details here. Virginia Tech allows 106 rushing yards per game and has not yet yielded a rushing touchdown. Those numbers are buoyed a bit by the Hokies’ performance against Middle Tennessee State. Indeed, they surrendered just shy of five yards per carry against North Carolina. On the other hand, the Mountaineers’ run defense looks particularly stout. They gave up just three-and-a-half yards per carry against Maryland (and just one yard per carry against LIU).
Meanwhile, the Hokies’ passing defense looks more vulnerable (outside of the three interceptions they forced against North Carolina). In total, they surrender almost 250 passing yards per game. Like the Mountaineers, however, they rely on speed, in lieu of size, from the ends to create pressure. West Virginia also appears more balanced defending the pass, allowing just under 200 yards through the air per game.
In general, the Mountaineers have a slight edge defensively. They will need to take advantage of that to win.
Get Mean on the Offensive Line
As we wrote in our recap of the Mountaineers’ 66-0 win over LIU, the offensive line play has been, well, bad. The line let an undersized and outclassed defensive line from a recently-converted FCS school to push them around. Simply, they have to get better. To do so, they need to develop a mean streak and get the push they need when they need it.
This is particularly important against the Hokies. We started with defense because this should be a defensive battle that comes down to the last few possessions. Without establishing the run, the Mountaineers will have to rely on its defense staying fresh deep into the fourth quarter. As we saw against Maryland, if the offense can’t hang on to the ball long enough to keep the unit rested, the defense is going to give up yards.
Now, more than ever, the Mountaineers have to focus on a run-heavy approach, and, to do so, they need the offensive line to get a much better push. They should not have to rely solely on trick plays and outside runs to get this job done. Maybe the game film on Garrett Greene will force the Hokies to evaluate how they defend this West Virginia team, as Greene’s ability to adjust on the fly gives the offense a different look.
While we would anticipate Jarret Doege starting the game, we could see a halftime change if WVU cannot otherwise establish the run. They will, quite simply, need the infusion if they cannot get it elsewhere.
Play Clean Football
West Virginia turned the ball over four times against Maryland. Virginia Tech managed three takeaways against North Carolina. As a result, we see an offense that has shown, at least once, a penchant for being careless with the football facing a defense that has shown an opportunistic streak. This cannot happen against the Hokies. WVU must take better care of the football. Even if it means taking a loss on a play, a game that is nearly certain to come down to a single possession does not afford WVU an opportunity to make many mistakes.
Similarly, the Mountaineers cannot afford to lose yardage (or surrender yardage) to penalties. Last season, West Virginia lost the penalty battle more often than not. So far, they have cleaned this up substantially. WVU saw just four penalties called against them against Maryland. Those cost them just 20 yards. Against LIU, however, the Mountaineers reverted to old habits, losing 75 yards on six penalties. The Hokies have only had five total penalties called against them, so they are unlikely to give many free yards. West Virginia must play clean here.
How Will the Game Unfold?
We have outlined how the Mountaineers can beat the Hokies. We expect Head Coach Neal Brown has been preaching these same points to his team this week. In the end, it simply comes down to execution. If West Virginia limits big plays, adds an edge on the offensive line, and minimizes free possessions and yards, it can win this game.
We will go so far as predicting a single-possession victory on either side. We believe the game will be a relatively low-scoring affair. For that matter, so does Vegas, as it set the over/under at 50.5. We would be inclined to take the under. We do not feel confident, however, in making any solid prediction on the outcome. The Mountaineers could do some things (ahem, Greene) to improve its odds. But, absent a much-improved performance on the offensive line, we could also see the Hokies leaving Morgantown with a 10-point win.