By HANK KURZ, JR.
BLACKSBURG, Va. —
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.