The Virginia Cavaliers lost to the Virginia Tech Hokies on Saturday by a final score of 10-0. The Cavalier defense played well, but the offense was never able to get rolling. It was Virginia Tech’s 14th consecutive year winning the Commonwealth Cup. Below are the keys to the game, as well as a look ahead to bowl season.
Keys to the Game:
The Hokies’ Defense: Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster is one of the best in the business, and his defense put on a show against the ‘Hoos. Virginia was only able to muster 191 yards of total offense, and converted just four of their 15 3rd-down opportunities. The inability to keep the chains moving resulted in a striking time of possession disparity – the Hokies had the ball for over 37 minutes, and ran 20 more plays than UVa. The Tech defensive line did a nice job creating pressure, sacking Virginia quarterback Kurt Benkert four times and affecting multiple other throws. Benkert completed just 17 of his 34 passing attempts for a measly 186 yards and no touchdowns.
Running the Ball: Although the Cavaliers have had a difficult time running the ball the entire season, Saturday was a new low. They ran the ball 20 times for just five yards (not a typo), their lowest number this season was 55 yards. Running back Jordan Ellis led the team with 10 rushing yards. The Hokies had no such trouble, totaling 202 rushing yards on 53 carries by eight different players. Excluding a poor snap that resulted in a 16-yard loss and the kneel-downs at the end of the game, Virginia Tech averaged 4.3 yards per carry, which helped them rack up 20 first downs. Virginia’s inability to run put tremendous pressure on the passing attack and made the offense completely one-dimensional, which simplified Tech’s defensive approach and allowed them to bring even more pressure. It’s always tough to score against Foster’s teams, but it’s nearly impossible without running the ball.
Missed Opportunities: Despite the struggles on offense, the UVa defense played well. The final yardage numbers weren’t pretty, but the Hokies had five different drives into Virginia territory that resulted in no points. But Virginia was unable to capitalize on the strong play of the defense, as well as their only turnover. Cornerback Juan Thornhill stepped in front of a pass from Tech quarterback Josh Jackson with 43 seconds left in the second quarter and might have returned it for a touchdown, but his feet slipped on the turf. Virginia was able to quickly move into field goal range, but kicker AJ Mejia missed the 41-yard kick as time expired on the half. It would have made the score 3-3 entering intermission. Then running back Chris Sharp fumbled on the first drive of the second half. Virginia Tech recovered, and four plays later they scored their only touchdown to go up 10-0, which proved to be enough for the win. The opportunities were few and far between, but there were chances for the Cavaliers to put points on the board.
Players of the Game: LB Micah Kiser and S Quin Blanding
In the last home game of their careers, senior defensive leaders Micah Kiser and Quin Blanding fittingly balled out. Kiser had 19 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss, and Blanding added 17 tackles and another 0.5 tackle for loss. Both players, who were named to the All-ACC first team for the third time, had a team-high five solo tackles. They were instrumental in the Cavaliers holding Virginia Tech to just 10 points, which kept UVa in the game until the final whistle. Kiser and Blanding, who chose to forgo the NFL draft last spring and return for a final year, are two of the best defenders in the country, and they put on a show for Virginia fans one last time in Scott Stadium.
Up Next: Bowl Game TBD
Despite a tough ending to the season (UVa started the season 5-1, only to lose five of their final six games), the Cavaliers will be going bowling for the first time since 2011. Bowl bids have yet to be announced, but the Military Bowl in Annapolis seems like a good bet.