Two streaks on the line in Virginia vs. Virginia Tech rivalry

By Jerry Ratcliffe

football tech hokies mascots

Virginia Tech’s Gobbler mascot may have survived Thanksgiving, but was confronted Friday by UVA’s CavMan brandishing a plastic knife and fork (Photo by John Markon).

Underdog Virginia can end two significant streaks on Saturday night when the Cavaliers travel to Blacksburg to face rival Virginia Tech.

First, and most important to UVA, is stopping its losing streak in Blacksburg. The Cavaliers ended a 15-year overall losing streak to the Hokies last year in Charlottesville with a 39-30 win. However, Virginia hasn’t won at Tech since 1998.

Second, should UVA – a 2-½ point underdog – upset the Hokies this weekend, it would almost certainly end the longest bowl streak in the nation. Tech has been to a bowl every year season since 1992.

While the NCAA is allowing bowls to take teams without winning records during this pandemic-riddled season, the Hokies enter the weekend with a 4-6 record. Virginia is 5-4. UVA owns a four-game winning streak, while Tech is on a four-game losing streak (Liberty, Miami, Pitt, Clemson) and destined for its second losing season over the last three years.

Certainly, back-to-back wins would boost Bronco Mendenhall’s program, while back-to-back losses to rival Virginia would turn up the heat on Tech coach Justin Fuentes.

“It’s hard to gauge how big a difference [last year’s win impacted UVA’s program],” Mendenhall said this week when reminded of last year’s win. “But what is clear is not only that game but last season, which was a good season, which just continued to grow and build momentum.

“That was just one component. I would say the folks in-state are the ones that were most thrilled. From a broader perspective and a national perspective, it was more the continued growth and improvement, which I think has been the cumulative effect, not just necessarily that one game.”

A win would give Virginia a third consecutive winning season, with the possibility of a fourth straight bowl, although there is some question as to whether the Cavaliers would accept a bowl invitation.

“Everyone in college football has been on their campuses for a long time, and if you frankly think now about not just this game or the games that are coming up, postseason announcements won’t come until the 20th,” Mendenhall said. “Games will happen after that, and so players potentially have a chance to be on Grounds without school, without other students, and away from their families for Christmas, to avoid the quarantine when you have to come back for longer. I think everyone’s excited about playing football, but when you think about extending longer for any college team, that becomes a different challenge.”

At least one UVA senior, safety Joey Blount, isn’t excited about the possibility of playing in a bowl this season.

“It’s just my personal opinion, and I don’t want to speak for the team, but I would not mind spending Christmas with my family after the whole COVID pandemic that’s going on,” Blount said this week. “Being home for the holidays is something I’m definitely leaning more towards not taking a bowl game.”

Postseason is not what is on the minds of Virginia players this week. It’s about Virginia Tech and only Virginia Tech.

Asked questions about Mendenhall deciding not to entertain the ACC’s request about playing a make-up game with Florida State next week, and about postseason, Virginia offensive lineman Joe Bissinger, who replaced injured Dillon Reinkensmeyer in the starting lineup, offered up the identical answer to both ideas:

“We’re just focused on Tech this week.”

Meanwhile, in Blacksburg, there’s similar focus and that’s the way Fuentes wants things.

Many Hokies fans have expressed their displeasure with the direction the program is trending and many place the blame on Fuentes. Factions of the fan base are still greatly disturbed that Fuentes interviewed for the Baylor job after last season.

Some are in favor of a change.

During his virtual press conference this week, Fuentes was asked about whether the players might be playing for his job.

“I don’t want anybody to play for me,” Fuentes answered. “I want them to play for each other. We don’t talk about any of that. We don’t go down that road.”

While the game is the final regular season game for both teams, it’s not in the normal slot of Thanksgiving weekend. The game was originally scheduled to be the opener for both programs after Tech had its game with NC State moved back due to COVID issues with the Wolfpack, and both of Virginia’s potential openers with Georgia and VMI were cancelled.

So, there’s some normalcy in the pandemic-crazed football world?

“Yeah, it’s actually more normal than not normal,” Mendenhall said. “For the outside world it’s certainly not normal because it is the state rivalry game. In terms of the preparation model and the routines for coaches and staff, those are actually more normal than not.

“It doesn’t mean the game isn’t more important. It doesn’t mean the game doesn’t have significant value. But the preparation models, they’re designed to maximize performance every single week, so there is more routine than a typical routing I would say as a reference point.”

Fuentes saw it a little differently.

“No, it still doesn’t feel close to normal,” the Tech coach said. “Every day seems like a battle. There’s a myriad of reasons to play this game. There’s a financial component to all of this that impacts athletic programs.

“I’m all out of whack with the dates. It’s mid-December and we’re usually through, usually on the road recruiting by now.”

Still, there’s tremendous focus on this ancient rivalry, at least within the Commonwealth’s borders. The outside world couldn’t care less, but the two fan bases live for this game.

“People on both sides care about the outcome,” Fuentes said. “For us, it’s about competition. If you’re a true competitor, you’re not afraid to put yourself in the arena and lay it all on the line, put yourself our there for everyone to see. We love the passion from both fan bases.”

Mendenhall sees it similarly.

“I think mostly I feel a sense of responsibility to help our players reach their goals, reach their expectations and be prepared at the highest level. Very little is about me, very little about our staff. My focus is almost exclusively on our team and how to help them have the experience that they want,” the UVA coach said.

“I can’t speak for Virginia Tech, but I think one of the values of having a rivalry game at the end of the season is motivation. Regardless of how your season has gone, there’s always that game,” Mendenhall said. “This year, maybe more than any, as you look around college football, I think there’s some teams that are just treading water and trying to make it to the finish. Others have something to look forward to and are excited for another opportunity because of a specific opponent. I think that’s what this type of game does for th players involved in college football.”

Fuentes doesn’t believe the home winning streak against Virginia accounts for what could happen on Saturday any more than last year’s 15-year overall streak meant on game day.

“I believe previous outcomes have very little effect on future events,” the Tech coach said. “I don’t put much stock into that. I know both teams will be excited and ready to play.”

Comments

  1. Brandon says:

    You might want to do a little research about the Virginia Tech head coach. If you do, you might find that you misspelled his name numerous times in your article.

  2. Wahoo Wa says:

    Just shows the quality of this work. 😰

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