1. Eliminate Turnovers
Through its first six games of the season, which included consecutive victories over ranked opponents Louisiana State, Marshall and Texas A&M, the Hokies committed just five turnovers. In the five games since, three of which were losses, that total has jumped to 17. Those 17 turnovers have been evenly split, with nine fumbles and eight interceptions.
2. Stop the Run
When Virginia Tech was reeling off its eight consecutive victories, its run defense was rated the nation's best. Through the first eight games of the season, the Hokies were giving up a mere 41.0 yards rushing per game.
Only LSU and Boston College had managed more than 39 yards, and neither of them reached the 100-yard mark.
Subsequent injuries at linebacker and defensive tackle devastated the unit. In its three losses to Pittsburgh, Syracuse and West Virginia, Virginia Tech's defense was shredded for 275, 201 and 263 yards rushing, respectively.
If they are to get back on track this week, the Hokies will have to do so without starting defensive tackles Jason Lallis (dislocated shoulder) and Kevin Lewis (torn muscle in chest), who were lost for the season last week.
3. Utilize Ernest Wilford
Everyone knows about Virginia Tech's standout tailbacks. Senior Lee Suggs, who has scored a touchdown in an NCAA-record 24 straight outings, has rushed for 1,092 yards and 15 touchdowns this year. Sophomore Kevin Jones, who missed two games because of a pulled hamstring, has added 744 yards and nine scores.
With defenses almost always stacking eight or more men in the box to slow the run, that leaves 6-foot-4 junior WR Ernest Wilford one-on-one against smaller defensive backs. When they've gotten Wilford the ball, it has proven effective. Wilford has caught 38 passes this season for 774 yards and six touchdowns.
-- Angela Watts
1. Make Them 'Touchable'
Virginia's defense, much improved over the past two games, has its hands full with Lee Suggs, who dominated the Cavaliers two years ago, when he rushed for 116 yards and four touchdowns.
The unknown factor here is Kevin Jones, who rushed nine times for 36 yards 10 days ago against West Virginia, his first game back after straining his left hamstring early against Pittsburgh on Nov. 2. If a healthy Jones joins Suggs in the backfield, it could be a long afternoon for Virginia's young defense, which has yielded 201 rushing yards per game and 20 touchdown runs this season.
2. Take to the Air
Virginia offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave excels at keeping quarterback Matt Schaub from having to make difficult throws. But Schaub, the newly crowned ACC player of the year, will need to make Tech's sometimes-shaky secondary look bad if the Cavaliers are going to move the ball well. Tech's defense has given up just 97 yards per game on the ground, but 232 in the air.
Tech's pass rush, which traditionally has given Virginia and everyone else fits, has 39 sacks thus far, but starting tackles Jason Lallis and Kevin Lewis have gone down in consecutive weeks.
3. Get Their Kicks . . . and Returns
Tech has blocked four punts this season and Virginia freshman punter Tom Hagan has been blocked twice. If Hagan is able to get off his punts, good results can be expected. Although he averages just 37.1 yards per punt, he rarely outkicks his coverage.
Opponents have averaged just 7.2 yards per return. The coverage unit has not given up any touchdowns and no returns longer than 26 yards. Maryland's Steve Suter, the best in the ACC, returned two punts for eight yards last week.
Hokies returner DeAngelo Hall averages 13.8 yards per punt return, and has brought back two for touchdowns.
-- Steve Argeris