The Commonwealth Clash between Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia renewed an ongoing rivalry in which the Hokies looked to continue their 14-game win streak against the Cavaliers. Everything came down to this game and all prior disappointment from the season was ignored, as the only matter at hand was defeating UVA. Ryan Willis started the game slow but eventually put the team on his back when they needed it most. Throwing for 199 yards while completing 14 of 33 attempts, Willis also threw for one touchdown and two interceptions. The redshirt junior was up and down throughout the game as evident by his beautiful back-shoulder touchdown pass to Tre Turner followed by a horrendous interception that almost resulted in a UVA pick-six. Despite this inconsistency, Willis would recover to lead the Hokies down the field in the final minutes of regulation completing a 45-yard pass to tight end Dalton Keene, which was ultimately capped off by a game-saving touchdown.
Running back: A-
Steven Peoples stopped every Hokie fan’s heart when he fumbled the critical rush in the end zone, which would eventually tie the game at 21 apiece. Luckily, fellow teammate Hezekiah Grimsley picked up his slack, recovering the fumble for a Virginia Tech touchdown. Despite this terrifying mishap, the Hokie running back committee consisting of Peoples and Deshawn McClease showed out Friday night, averaging an impressive 5.7 yards per carry on 26 attempts and one touchdown along with 254 yards. Excluding Peoples’ almost-turnover, the Hokie running attack made a monumental impact as Virginia’s defensive effort became exhausted and beaten down. Based off of Peoples’ 19 rushing attempts, it appears as though Justin Fuente has faith in his attack moving forward.
Offensive line: A
A monumental piece of Virginia Tech’s success Friday night in throwing 34 points on the scoreboard was the dominance of the offensive line in providing holes for the running backs to take advantage of, as well as the time given to Willis in going through his progressions without disturbance. The Hokie line was the unsung hero in a contest centered around offensive play in which each opponent traded touchdowns throughout much of the game. Furthermore, it was blatant that Willis had more time than he knew what to do with on a number of occasions when standing in the pocket for an extended period of time. It is vital to give credit where credit is due especially when picking apart the success of Virginia Tech’s running attack in comparison to prior performances.
Wide receivers: A
The touchdown reception by freshman Tre Turner had the jaws of fans dropped wide open as he was virtually smothered by the defender yet managed to snag the ball out of mid-air with his one free hand. To add on to this extraordinary play, Turner would set the tone by making an immediate impact on special teams by blocking a UVA punt in the second quarter. He would also pace the team in receptions and yardage with 69 yards on four catches, contributing to Virginia Tech’s 199 receiving yards. The Hokie air attack was critical in remaining at the heels of the Cavaliers and could be referred to as old reliable. Tight end Dalton Keene would also impress with a 45-yard reception to place the Hokies within striking distance as he fought for the ball with a Cavalier defender who was in position to make the catch. The Virginia Tech receiving corps appeared to save the day when it was needed most in a match of high leverage.
When you look at the Hokie defense from this game, they were outstanding in the first half, as they shut down the Hoos’ offense and didn’t let them put up any points. They were selling out to stop the run and it worked as the Hoos’ offense couldn’t get anything going in the passing game either. They did let up in the second half though as they let Virginia back into the game with allowing big plays. At the end though, the defense won the game as they held the Cavaliers to a field goal after a Ryan Willis interception and then forced a fumble in overtime to win the game and extend the streak.
Defensive line: A-
This was one of the defensive line’s best performances of the entire season. Ricky Walker led the way with three tackles as they allowed just 164 yards rushing to the Wahoos and 4.3 yards per carry. They were dominating the line of scrimmage and didn’t allow too many holes to open up for big runs. They were also especially good at keeping Cavaliers’ quarterback Bryce Perkins in the pocket while getting pressure and not letting him scramble for long runs. Perkins overall averaged 4.7 yards per carry on 24 rushes for 112 yards. Outside of Perkins, the rest of the team had a combined 53 yards rushing. You can’t fault the defensive line for the big pass plays that were given up in the second half, but they did clinch the game at the end when Emmanuel Belmar jumped on a fumble in overtime after the fumble by Perkins.
The linebackers also rebounded this week, led by Rayshard Ashby who was all over the field. He had eight tackles for the game and was great stopping the run, especially Perkins. Dax Hollifield also had one of his best games of the season, racking up two tackles and four assists on tackles. One main thing that’s haunted the Hokie defense this season has been letting runners get to the second and third level on missed tackles and breaking free. That didn’t happen against Virginia and even though Virginia had a lot of QB runs off pass plays with Perkins, the linebackers did a good job of getting to him. They helped hold UVA to just 5–13 on third downs, which was enormous, especially in the latter stages of the second half when the defense kept them in it to allow the offense to tie the game and send it to overtime.
It was a bit of a mixed bag for the secondary in this game. They played a great first half as Perkins couldn’t get anything going in the passing game, but things changed in the second half. Despite only completing less than 50 percent of his passes, Perkins started to pick on cornerback Bryce Watts, who has been dealing with a broken forearm. He got called for numerous holding and pass interference calls and gave up a touchdown to Joe Reed in the third quarter. Divine Deablo also had a game to forget as he missed a tackle on a 75 yard touchdown pass which was originally a five-yard route. He also got lucky that Perkins missed a wide open receiver for what should’ve been a big play that was dropped. He wasn’t seeing the field well at all during the game but he should’ve been able to rebound, as he was one of their best players back there. The secondary did do well with allowing only four receptions for 55 yards to Olamide Zaccheaus, who’s the Wahoo’s best playmaker outside of Perkins. Coming into the game, he had 78 receptions for 923 yards and six touchdowns on the season, so this was a job well done.
Special teams: A
The return of Beamer Ball came and at a great time too. Toward the end of the first half, Tre Turner blocked a punt on special teams and the Hokies recovered it in the end zone to take a 14–0 lead into halftime. It was the Hokies’ first blocked punt since the Florida State game from opening week, so it’s definitely been a while. Kicker Brian Johnson made two field goals, which had to be a big confidence boost for him with his recent struggles. One of them of course ended up being the game-winner in overtime.