It has been 24 years since both Virginia Tech and Virginia went into a Commonwealth Cup matchup with losing records, so it’s no secret there’s less buzz around this game than, say, last year’s battle that decided the Coastal Division.
But for Virginia Tech, there’s still plenty to play for. First, a win gets the Hokies to a bowl game for a 20th straight year. Second, it keeps the team’s winning streak against its state rival going.
“I think of it all the time,” freshman running back J.C. Coleman said. “I don’t want to be part of the team that loses to UVa after we beat them, what, eight times in a row? I don’t want to be part of that team or part of the team that doesn’t go to the bowl. … It’s a lot of pressure.”
The Hokies have won eight straight games in the series and 12 of the last 13. According to Virginia’s sports information department, coming into the year, Virginia was one of four schools that has beaten its rival only once in the last 13 years, joining Army, Vanderbilt and UCLA (the Commodores and Bruins, it should be noted, won their rivalry games against Tennessee and USC this year).
“It’s huge,” linebacker Jack Tyler said. “Just growing up with half their team, played against them in youth league, high school, there’s a lot of comparisons between the two. Realistically we’ve been compared to UVa way before we even came to Tech, just being compared to their recruits. It’s a big game for this program.”
As for recruiting purposes, head coach Frank Beamer doesn’t think this one game has a big impact one way or another.
“Basically I think kids grow up in this state and they either grow up a Virginia guy or grow up a Virginia Tech guy, for the most part,” Beamer said. “I think there are a few exceptions to that. People choose a program on not particularly one game, but on a season, or seasons or overall history. I think that’s more it.
“It’s two programs — I’ve always said this, and I believe it — two programs that do it the right way and compete very hard.”
Still, Beamer didn’t understate the importance of this game for what it could mean for the team this year.
“I’ve never been to a bad bowl game,” he said. “I mean, they’re all good. I think it’s Virginia, your guys grow up with a lot of kids from up there. They played against them and with them. It’s just natural that this game means a little bit more than your average game.”
Here are some more notes and quotes from the press conference …
- Everybody seemed to be regurgitating the “there’s no such thing as a bad bowl” comment today. (Twitter followers of mine immediately said they’ve obviously never been to Shreveport.) Defensive tackle Derrick Hopkins summed up wanting to keep the season going, even if it means going to a lower-tiered bowl, like this. “As a football player, you just want to play games,” he said. “There’s a lot of people out here who can’t play football like we have the opportunity to play, so we just go out there and just thank the Lord for the opportunity to actually get to play. It doesn’t matter where we go to as long as we’re playing and game and we strive to win the game.”
- Coleman said the backs never quite know how many carries they’ll get going into a game, but he thinks he and Tony Gregory have established themselves. “I think for the last couple weeks, me and T.G. have pretty much separated ourselves from the two,” he said. He noted that after what Martin Scales did last week, especially in short-yardage situations, “he’d probably be in the mix a little bit more too. So we’ll just see what happens this week and from that we’ll go on.”
- Oscar Smith High will be well-represented this weekend. Coleman graduated from there last year. On UVa’s side, quarterback Phillip Sims, running back Perry Jones and receiver Tim Smith are all Oscar Smith products. Coleman was a sophomore on the Tigers team that went to the state semifinals during Sims’ senior year. He said Jones, a senior, taught him a lot during the recruiting process. “I definitely would want to get the last laugh on those guys and be able to win so I can talk trash on those guys for the next year,” Coleman said.
- Coleman said he’s learning from quarterback Logan Thomas not to let what outsiders are saying affect him. “After games, we all go and we read what people say on Twitter and he sees it as well, but he doesn’t let it affect him at all,” Coleman said. “He just kind of shrugs it off and comes out and does it again next week. He’s a very mentally strong guy. That’s something that you have to have as a leadership role. And that’s something he does well. That’s something that I’m picking up as well, learning it from him. Don’t worry what everybody else has said. Just do your job and whatever happens happens.”
- Tech has upped its pass rush the last couple weeks, with 22 sacks in the last five games (something I’m writing about this week). The Hokies have done part of it by blitzing a lot. How much? “A ton,” Tyler said. “I couldn’t put a percentage on it. … Coach Foster is a blitzing defensive coordinator, that’s kind of his M.O.” Tyler thinks the d-line’s depth has helped keep it fresh, too. “It’s kind of pushing those starters to play even better,” he said. “Because of that our pass rush has been great.”