With the Commonwealth Clash right around the corner, the sports staffs of The Cavalier Daily and The Collegiate Times came together to give readers a look at some of the biggest storylines in the matchup. What seniors will have big games, can Virginia’s offense be contained and most importantly, who’s going to win? Let’s find out.
Who will be the most impactful senior for each team?
Jacob Knapp, Cavalier Daily Sports Columnist: When Virginia senior football player Keytaon Thompson steps on the field, defenses must watch out for the big play. That’s not a typo — the roster simply lists Thompson as “football player.” As a quarterback transfer to Virginia in 2020 who, paradoxically, is second on the team in receiving yards and third in rushing yards, the listing fits Thompson perfectly. Standing at 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighing 210 pounds, Thompson is almost built more like a linebacker, presenting a nightmare to tacklers in the open field. Thompson’s collegiate football career has been far from typical to say the least. As the No. 1 quarterback prospect in Louisiana, Thompson committed to Mississippi State but failed to carve out a starting spot. After transferring to Virginia, he also lost the starting job to junior quarterback Brennan Armstrong. What might’ve been disheartening for most was motivation for Thompson, and he opted to stay with the Cavaliers and now serves as one of our primary offensive weapons.
On the other side of the ball, the Hokies only have four seniors, all of whom are previous transfers. Of them, the only current starter is senior placekicker John Parker Romo. While not the flashiest pick for this answer, Romo has made 100 percent of his extra point attempts and hit a 52-yard field goal, tied for the 19th longest in the nation this season. However, the Cavaliers have had a knack for throwing opposing kickers off their game. Whether through dumb luck or a genious scheme, opposing kickers have missed field goals in four of Virginia’s last five games, starting with a game-losing doink in Virginia’s win over Miami.
Devin Shepard, Collegiate Times Sports Editor: One of the most underrated stories of the Hokies’ season has been the play of senior center Johnny Jordan when he’s on the field. The Maryland transfer has been a brick wall as a pass blocker and a solid run blocker, upgrading an already very solid offensive line. Though he’s only really received starting snaps in two games this year, Jordan looks like he’s going to start for the rest of the season due to junior offensive lineman Brock Hoffman’s injury. He will be keeping the Hokie offense rolling in Charlottesville.
For the Cavaliers, graduate student tight end Jelani Woods is a dangerous mismatch against Virginia Tech. The 6-foot-7, 265-pound tight end has been an impactful player all season and should be a handful for the Hokie defense. Between strong sophomore safety Nasir Peoples and the Virginia Tech linebackers, the Hokies really don’t have a good matchup for Woods. The huge tight end is likely to have a big game for Virginia, and he may be the reason the Cavaliers take the Commonwealth Cup back to Charlottesville this year.
Will a strong Virginia Tech defense be able to contain an electric Cavalier offense?
Connor Lothrop, Cavalier Daily Associate Writer: As explosive as the Cavalier offense has been, it’s possible the Hokies can keep it under 30 points. By Football Outsiders OFEI metric, Virginia has the eighth-most efficient offense in the country — Virginia Tech’s defense is ranked 55th in DFEI, the defensive version of the same metric. The Cavaliers have also posted ridiculous traditional numbers — first in the country in total yards, second in passing yards and 12th in scoring. But those numbers have come against a lot of bad defenses. Of the teams Virginia has played in 2021, only Wake Forest and Miami have comparably ranked defenses, and these two held Virginia’s offense to 17 and 30 points, respectively. If Virginia Tech’s secondary can match up with Thompson and junior receiver Dontayvion Wicks, Virginia’s explosive passing game would be kneecapped. Very few teams have managed this effectively, but never count out a motivated Virginia Tech defense.
Claire Castagno, Collegiate Times Sports Editor: Virginia Tech has shown this season that its defense is capable of making big plays and can play at a very high level. Opponents playing the Hokies have averaged 21.3 points, and as such, their defense ranks No. 4 in the ACC. Against Notre Dame, Virginia was only able to put up three points in its 25-point loss. Junior defensive back Jermaine Waller has picked off quarterbacks four times this season, and if Virginia’s quarterback is not extremely accurate with his throws, it’s likely that Waller can find himself catching the ball again. Additionally, Virginia Tech’s defensive line has recorded 23 sacks on the season, and the Cavalier’s offense must make sure they can execute plays quickly because the Hokie defensive line has no problem breaking into the pocket and stirring up trouble.
Who will win and why?
Andrew Cho, Cavalier Daily Associate Writer: While the Cavalier defense may not be able to stop anybody, their offense with a strong quarterback running the show will carry the team to victory. Virginia Tech has struggled on both sides of the ball, and with Virginia’s “Fourth Side” in place rocking Scott Stadium, the Cavaliers will find a way to finish near the top of the ACC Coastal Division, pending the results of the conference game against Pittsburgh the week before. The Cavaliers have too many playmakers on offense for the Hokies to keep up and will be fighting for the Coastal Division title come Thanksgiving weekend. Virginia will not only take the win but will also lock up its division in the process.
Margaret Allocca, Collegiate Times Sports Staff Writer: Strong and consistent defense is arguably more meaningful in the long run. The Hokies will put up a fight against the Cavaliers, taking home the win to Blacksburg on Thanksgiving weekend. Virginia Tech leading as a team in rushing yards is a key advantage that will help carry over the win at Scott Stadium. While the Cavaliers have had more success overall offensively, their tactics will be no match-up against Virginia Tech’s defensive play. Junior quarterback Braxton Burmeister throwing for 215 yards and three touchdowns against Duke this past weekend is the momentum the Hokies need to maintain heading into their matchup against the Cavaliers.