For the last three years, the annual rivalry game between Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia has been a tune-up for the Hokies heading into postseason play. This time around, the battle in Blacksburg has enormous implications riding on the result.
Virginia Tech must win in order to play in a bowl- if not- it will be the first time since 1992 that the Hokies will fail to accomplish the feat. Numerous coaches are fighting for their jobs. A recruiting advantage is available for the taking if UVA is able to keep Virginia Tech out of the postseason, creating even more motivation.
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It seems as good of a time as any for the Cavaliers to win the in-state rivalry game for the first time since 2003, and the first in Blacksburg since 1998.
There are plenty of players that could have a big impact on the game; I wouldn't expect this one to be a blowout like recent years although the Hokies are currently 11-point favorites. Heading into the contest, here's whose stock is on the rise and whose is on the decline.
LB Bruce Taylor, senior, Virginia Tech
It took a few games to get adjusted to his new position at backer (he played at mike linebacker previous two seasons), but Taylor has certainly brought his game to a new level as of late. The senior produced his best performance of the season against Boston College: a season-high eight solo tackles (nine total), three tackles for loss, two sacks, one breakup, one pass defended, and two quarterback hurries. Now that's doing it all.
Taylor has registered a sack in two straight, and has a total of four over the last four games. Between Taylor, leading-tackler junior Jack Tyler, and the on-fire senior Alonzo Tweedy, the linebacker trio has to be the best strength for the Hokies right now. Let it also be noted that I wouldn't be surprised if Taylor gets some looks in next April's draft
WR Marcus Davis, senior, Virginia Tech
Davis was placed in the stock down column last week thanks to a viral YouTube video, and appeared to be in the doghouse. However, the senior wide receiver showed excellent character and responded by playing undoubtedly his best half of the season (after being benched in the first half).
Quarterback Logan Thomas found Davis five times for 104 yards and one touchdown against Boston College, marking his fourth 100-yard game of the season. It was also the first time he'd scored since Duke.
Perhaps even bigger of a story: With 858 yards, Davis is now just 105 away from setting the Virginia Tech season-record for receiving yards. (Andre Davis had 962 yards in 1998) Virginia has allowed a 100-yard receiver in each of the past two weeks. Will Davis eclipse the record this week?
WR, Dominique Terrell, sophomore, Virginia
The young speedster is listed at just 5-foot-11 (maybe in heels) and 170 pounds, and was recruited as a cornerback. But the former Osbourn standout has found his niche at wide receiver, and has caught fire in the past two weeks.
Terrell recorded his first 100-yard game (127) in a win over Miami two weeks ago on nine catches, and followed that up with four catches for 79 yards (including a 51-yard catch) against UNC last week. After stepping up in a big way against Boston College's Alex Amidon, Hokie cornerbacks will need to produce a similar performance against Terrell.
WR Dyrell Roberts, senior, Virginia Tech
Roberts was also benched in favor of Demitri Knowles in the first half last week, and played sparingly in the second half. He managed two catches for 11 yards after recording just one catch for 11 yards against Florida State.
Roberts has shown flashes of his pre-injury form, but this season hasn't gone exactly as the senior would have hoped. His season-high in receiving yards is 63 (way back against Bowling Green), and has caught more than three passes just three times this year. That's not even including his blocking performance, which could be a close comparison to Davis.
Given his superb kickoff return skills, you have to wonder why he hasn't at least gotten a chance to make something happen back there. It will be interesting to see how Roberts is used in his final game at Lane Stadium, but there are plenty of receivers ahead of him in the pecking order.
OL Michael Via, senior, Virginia Tech
After starting the first eight games of the season at guard, Via has seen his playing time decline each contest since. He played every play against Clemson, but played just 55 against Miami, 49 against Florida State, and even fewer against Boston College.
I'm not one for calling out individual players too often, but the ineffectiveness of the Hokies offensive line has been well documented this year. It would appear Via isn't one of the five guys that coaches thought was playing well, especially recently. Being a senior like Roberts, I would still expect Via to receive some action in his final game in Blacksburg.
RB Kevin Parks, sophomore, Virginia
Although he isn't the starter (Perry Jones), Parks leads the team with 743 yards on just 153 carries (4.7 yards per carry) and has added 185 yards receiving. But he's been ice-cold as of late. Parks has recorded rushing performances of 28, 42, and 53 yards in three of the past four weeks. (He got at least 10 carries in each game)
The sophomore did have a 115-yard day three weeks ago, so he is certainly capable of a breakout day. The Hokies need to make sure that doesn't happen, as they are 1-3 when allowing a 100-yard rusher.