No. 23 Hokies, Cavaliers vie for ACC Coastal Division title

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              Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente and defensive coordinator Bud Foster take the field after shutting out Pittsburgh 28-0 after an NCAA college football game in Blacksburg, Va., Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019. (AP Photo/Matt Bell)
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — Virginia is hoping the third time is the charm they face No. 23 Virginia Tech.

The Cavaliers (8-3, 5-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) have twice previously played the Hokies with the ACC’s Coastal Division title on the line, and neither went well. They lost 33-21 in 2007 and 38-0 in 2011, with both games at Scott Stadium. Virginia will be home again on Friday with the Coastal Division title on the line.

After a slow start to the season, the Hokies (8-3, 5-2) are the ACC’s hottest team besides No. 3 Clemson, having won six of seven. The change started when they switched to Hendon Hooker at quarterback — he’s 6-0 as the starter — and includes back-to-back shutouts against bowl-bound Wake Forest (45-0) and Pittsburgh (28-0) in the past two weeks.

The Hokies have also won the last 15 in the series, including a heartbreaker for the Cavaliers a year ago in Blacksburg, so their surge this season is attention-getting.

“I think Virginia Tech’s brand has become stronger this year as they played, and their identity has become clearer of how their offense, defense and special teams fit together,” said Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall, who has identified beating Virginia Tech as a top priority since his arrival four years ago. “I think their defense is gaining momentum, doing a nice job over the last three weeks especially. Again, clarity on who they are, how they’re going to play.”

The Cavaliers’ loss last season came after they settled for a field goal to go ahead 31-25 with 2:41 to play. The Hokies’ Hezekiah Grimsley recovered a fumble in the end zone to tie the game with 1:51 to play. The Cavaliers limited Virginia Tech to a field goal in overtime, but were unable to score themselves in the Hokies’ 34-31 victory.

While he’d like to keep Virginia Tech’s winning streak going, Hokies coach Justin Fuente knows the competitiveness in the series is a positive.

“I do think it’s good that there is a lot at stake no matter what,” Fuente said. “We understand that, but it’s good for the commonwealth that the teams are fairly successful. The thing about competition and rivalries and all that sort of stuff is when you are in it, it still comes down to execution.”

Some other things to watch when Virginia Tech and Virginia meet Friday for the Commonwealth Cup:

SIGNAL CALLERS

Quarterback play is critical in every game, but it’s magnified in this one. Hooker is not only unbeaten as a starter, but he’s thrown for 10 touchdowns without an interception. Virginia’s Bryce Perkins leads the ACC with 3,161 yards of total offense, but also was charged with the fumble that ended last year’s game in overtime.

SACK EXCHANGE

Both defenses rank among the nation’s top 20 in sacks per game. Virginia is tied for eighth with 3.36 per game, and the Hokies are 12th with 3.18 per game. While Perkins is more dangerous when he tucks the ball to run, Hooker has also had success running and similar success would free things up for their other offensive weapons.

EMOTIONS

It will be senior day for Virginia with all fourth- and fifth-year player introduced along with their families before the game. It also will be the last matchup with Virginia for Hokies longtime defensive coordinator Bud Foster, who is retiring at season’s end. Virginia Tech has a 21-3 record against Virginia with Foster as coordinator.

FANDOM

The crowd for these matchups at Scott Stadium has often featured a sizable Virginia Tech contingent decked out in maroon. Virginia’s attendance and fan involvement have improved greatly this season, so even the players and coaches are likely to take note is they are greeted by a sea of maroon before kickoff.

FACTS AND STATS

Retiring Hokies defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s defense has registered 36 shutouts in his 33 years at Virginia Tech. … Virginia Tech is averaging 197 rushing yards and has 14 rushing touchdowns during its five-game ACC winning streak. … The Hokies have outscored Virginia 436-180 during their streak. … Virginia’s Joe Reed needs 11 kickoff return yards to reach 3,000 for his career. … Virginia has never won the Coastal Division and, with a win, would give each of the seven teams in the division one title in the last seven years.