For the inside part, Virginia Tech (8-3, 5-2 ACC) and Virginia (8-3, 5-2) will scrap for the de facto state title, the ACC Coastal Division championship and a title-game berth opposite that noted T-Rex Clemson next week in Charlotte. Matters seem to hinge on how Virginia Tech’s masterful defense with its consecutive shutouts might handle Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins with his various threats.
“I’d say the closest guy, maybe, reminds me a little bit of Donovan McNabb,” Bud Foster, Virginia Tech’s retiring defensive coordinator, told reporters in Blacksburg this week. “Just with his ability, his strength when he runs, his ability to throw on the run, his ability to create plays that aren’t there and become a big-time running back. You know, they design quarterback runs like they did with Donovan back in the day” at Syracuse in the late 1990s.
Mindful that Perkins leads Virginia in rushing with 523 yards (even factoring in the NCAA’s lousy stat-keeping method that saddles such a number with sack yardage), while also throwing for 2,638, Foster soon added: “Kind of the same thing, with Donovan: If we could stop him, we could win the football game. That’s where it probably kind of reminds me of him, in that aspect. We’re going to have to do an awesome job of keeping him leveraged, keeping rush lanes tight, being able to come off blocks . . .”
To simulate, Virginia Tech makes practice use of Braxton Burmeister, the athletic Californian who transferred last winter from Oregon. “It’s always going to be difficult to simulate what a mobile quarterback does,” Virginia Tech linebacker extraordinaire Rayshard Ashby said. “But Braxton is probably as good as a mobile quarterback. We have to tell him to stay in the pocket for [preparing for] guys who don’t scramble like that, ’cause he’s fast, he’s quick, he can outrun a lot of us. So it’s like, he will definitely help us this week.”
To illustrate the outside part, the 16 years, one might look at Kevin Jones, the former Virginia Tech running back who gained 75 yards in that ancient defeat. Since then, Jones has found time to play five NFL seasons for two teams and reap 3,176 rushing yards; return to Virginia Tech; pursue and attain a degree in industrial design; and, per Mike Barber of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, work an internship in furniture design in Switzerland; join a sailing team there as a grinder on a racing yacht; return to serve for a while as a special assistant to the athletic director at Virginia Tech.
And then found a design firm in Blacksburg.
That’s a big while, and whether it becomes still bigger Friday will depend largely on Ashby, as things tend to do these days in Blacksburg. The 5-foot-10, 237-pound junior from Chesterfield, Va., near Richmond, has won the ACC’s linebacker-of-the-week distinction five times this season, his excellent mind racking up raves.
“He mentioned something the other day about being a G.A. [graduate assistant], and I just grabbed him and said, ‘Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, when you’re done playing,’ ” Virginia Tech Coach Justin Fuente said.
Having noted that Ashby “doesn’t waste a lot of steps,” Foster said: “I liken him to a coach on the field. I mean, he makes so much connection,” including “just letting everybody know what’s going on.”
“I think it was the way I could process things on the move since I was younger, playing the game,” Ashby told reporters at the Monday news conference in Blacksburg. “Just playing the game, everything clicked fast to me when I was playing football [while] younger, and it’s still doing that.”
To illustrate the 16 years, one might note (and wince) that the former Cavalier Schaub, still in the NFL with the Atlanta Falcons, is 38. DeAngelo Hall, who had eight tackles for the Hokies that day, played and finished 14 NFL seasons, nearly a decade of those as a Redskins mainstay. Wali Lundy, who gained 89 rushing yards and scored four of Virginia’s five touchdowns, is 36. Former wideout Marques Hagans coaches Virginia’s receivers. Back then, it had been so very long — five years and four games! — since Virginia had beaten Virginia Tech that third-year Virginia Coach Al Groh said that day of the Commonwealth Cup trophy: “I didn’t know what it looked like. Seeing it in the locker room, I didn’t know what that thing was.”
Now it has resided in Blacksburg for 16 years, almost as much a part of Virginia Tech decor as Hokie Stone. It even refused to budge last year, when Virginia had a 28-24 lead and the ball at the Virginia Tech 11-yard line with 3:38 left yet still could not dislodge the Blacksburg-loving trinket.
Now comes another year and a fourth-year Virginia coach hoping to attempt to recognize it upon sight.
“It’s a delicate balance,” Bronco Mendenhall told reporters in Charlottesville, “because the reality is that the University of Virginia has not had much success in that game. Managing that could certainly be a contributing factor. However, we’re talking now about an opponent that has qualified for  straight bowl games and has made a commitment to football that has lasted for a long time.
“We are making that commitment and resurgent. The reality is that we have the Coastal Division championship and basically the state championship and a lot to play for. Now that we’ve said all that, it becomes interference. It’s playing the game, preparing for the schemes, strategies and matchups, and anything that allows us to drift outside of that really runs counter to our preparations. It really is all about the game within the lines, not anything else.”
Last fall, Pearman tweeted a photo of his son in jacket and tie at picture day at elementary school, noting, “He said he looks like a president.” Friday will help determine whether Virginia might win this game before the lad becomes president.