Cavaliers look to end long drought against Hokies

The bowl season is starting – and ending – early for
Virginia.

The Cavaliers (4-7, 2-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) lack the
required number of victories to qualify for postseason play, but
are treating their game at Virginia Tech on Saturday as their bowl
game.

There’s no team in the country they would like to beat more.

The Hokies (5-6, 3-4) have won eight straight games in the
series, and 12 of 13. Most of the games have been lopsided,
especially recently. Tech won 42-13 in 2009, 37-7 in 2010 and 38-0
last season.

Virginia Tech also needs to win to extend its streak of seasons
ending in a bowl game to 20.

Five consecutive classes of recruits at Virginia has finished
their four- or five-year careers winless against the Hokies, and
junior defensive end Jake Snyder would love to ensure that it
doesn’t become six.

”I hear about it a lot,” Snyder said, speaking of the
offseason and when he goes home to Glen Allen in suburban Richmond.
”As far as people talking college football at home, that’s what
they’re talking about, the UVa-Tech game. And so it’s a big deal to
me. It’s a big deal to all of us on the team.”

The meeting a year ago was perhaps the biggest in series history
with the winner advancing to the ACC championship. The resurgent
Cavaliers were at home, but were no match for the Hokies on the
field.

The stakes are just as high for Virginia this season,
quarterback Michael Rocco said, and depriving the Hokies of a bowl
berth isn’t the motivator. It’s all about ending the losing streak,
he said.

”It’s a big rivalry, and we’ve lost a lot in a row to them,”
he said.

Rocco has been sharing the quarterback job with Phillip Sims,
and he is among the few Cavaliers that will trot into Lane Stadium
with fond memories. Sims was the quarterback at Oscar Smith High
School in Chesapeake when he and Cavaliers teammates Perry Jones
and Tim Smith won a state championship there.

”Pretty good memories about playing there,” Sims said of his
last visit to Virginia Tech.

The Hokies don’t anticipate Sims feeling the same on the bus
ride back to Charlottesville.

While the Hokies’ offense has been spotty all season, their
defense has rounded into form, averaging 4 1/2 sacks over the past
five games. A steady onslaught of blitzes has benefitted the whole
unit.

”It’s huge,” linebacker and leading tackler Jack Tyler said.
”Whenever you can get a good pass rush it obviously helps. Your
coverage responsibilities are a lot better, and you don’t have to
cover as long. It’s a lot for your mental part of your game to know
you’re only going to have to cover somebody for three seconds
instead of 10. That goes a long way because you know you can match
things up a little better.”

Tyler played in high school at Oakton in northern Virginia, so
understanding the importance of the rivalry with Virginia came
naturally. Fellow linebacker Bruce Taylor grew up in Georgia, but
understands and bristles at the notion that a loss to Virginia in
his final game could keep the Hokies at home.

”It’s always a must-win, but there’s a little more riding on
this one because if we win, we’re in, if we don’t, we go home, so
it’s very exciting,” Taylor said. ”It’s probably the most
interesting UVA game I’ve been a part of. We’re playing for life
this year, and sometimes that’s how it goes, that’s how the ball
rolls. You have a tough year. Luckily, we’re in position to still
make something out of this season.”

While the Cavaliers trip to the Chick-fil-A Bowl last season was
their first postseason game since 2007, it’s a habit at Virginia
Tech. The streak of 19 straight seasons ending at a bowl game is
the third-longest in the nation, trailing only Florida State (30)
and Florida (22).

Taylor doesn’t want to be remembered as one of the leaders on
the team that ended the streak.

”You don’t want to go out not going to a bowl game,” he
said.

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