When Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster watches Virginia’s offense on film, he sees a dynamic set of tailbacks and a big offensive line that are thriving since the Cavaliers have settled on playing just one quarterback.
And now that Virginia has reeled off four-straight wins to set up a Commonwealth Cup matchup that will decide the ACC’s Coastal division champion, Foster doesn’t see a fluke, either.
“They’re just not where they are because they’ve got a horseshoe up their butt,” he said Tuesday. “They’ve earned it. We respect that.”
In fact, Foster and the rest of his staff have compared Virginia’s offense to the one they faced a week ago against North Carolina, and the coach’s lineup will reflect that.
After playing the entire second half against the Tar Heels, redshirt sophomore Jack Tyler (Oakton HS) will get the start at middle linebacker ahead of senior Barquell Rivers because “he gives us the best chance right now,” Foster said.
At whip linebacker, redshirt junior Alonzo Tweedy practiced Tuesday after missing the past three games because of a high ankle sprain, but Foster sounded skeptical about whether he would be able to return for Saturday’s contest. If Tweedy can’t play, cornerback Kyle Fuller will once again shift over to linebacker, and redshirt senior Cris Hill will take his place on the outside.
How Virginia Tech’s linebackers match up with Virginia’s tailbacks could ultimately decide this game. Cavaliers running back Perry Jones has 41 catches this year — offensive coordinator Bill Lazor also utilizes backups Kevin Parks and Clifton Richardson quite a bit, too — and it will be up to redshirt sophomore Tariq Edwards and Tyler to identify the 5-foot-8 Jones out of the backfield and cover him in space.
Foster is anticipating a chess match, wondering aloud Tuesday night: “Do they feel like that’s a matchup they want to exploit? I like our linebackers.”
In the secondary, senior Eddie Whitley said he will remain at free safety, and redshirt sophomore Antone Exum will play rover. Up until last week, the two were playing opposite positions but Virginia Tech defensive backs coach Torrian Gray switched them because he felt allowing Whitley to handle the coverage calls would free Exum up to just play.
The move worked out well against the Tar Heels as Gray said Exum had his best game since coming to Virginia Tech, finishing with 16 total tackles.
In the trenches, though, may be where Virginia is at its best. Led by 335-pound right tackle Morgon Moses, “I would think they want to hammer us,” Virginia Tech defensive line coach Charley Wiles said of the Cavaliers’ offensive line. “They’re nasty, to be honest with you, in a good way. If you were coaching them, they play to the whistle.”
But everyone at Virginia Tech seems to think the reason Virginia is on such a roll and find itself in such a high stakes game to end the regular season stems from Coach Mike London’s decision to hand the quarterback reins to sophomore Michael Rocco instead of having him split time with freshman David Watford.
Coach Frank Beamer talked this week about how the Hokies took “a long, long, hard look” at Rocco, a Lynchburg, Va. product, during the recruiting process a few years back. Ultimately, though, the Hokies decided to sign current back-up quarterback Mark Leal and former All Met Ricardo Young, who has since transferred to New Mexico.
Though Rocco hasn’t put up the prolific numbers Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas has in recent weeks, Hokies coaches have been impressed with his decision-making. Defensive end James Gayle described Rocco as a quarterback who is “gonna make time to make a play. He doesn’t panic.”
“The big thing there is he’s playing for them. He’s not playing for the opponent,” Wiles said. “Now you’ve got a guy that maybe has a knack, has good presence back there and he certainly hasn’t been turning the ball over. They’ve been beating people and that’s the reason why. They’ve got them a quarterback and they’ve got an experienced offensive line and they’re big and physical.”