By HANK KURZ Jr., AP Sports Writer
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. —
Virginia Tech has dominated its rivalry against Virginia and the Hokies don’t want it to end Saturday.
The Hokies (7-4, 4-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) have won nine straight meetings with their in-state rival, and another victory on Saturday in Charlottesville, Va., could put them in the ACC championship game.
Virginia Tech offensive lineman Andrew Miller doesn’t want to hear the streak or title hopes, saying the Hokies have shown they can’t afford to look ahead.
“You can never overlook a program, as you’ve seen this year. I think we’ve been better than some of the teams we lost to and we beat ourselves a few times,” the Bassett native said, speaking of losses to No. 24 Duke, Boston College and Maryland, all of which have come in Virginia Tech’s past four games.
Besides, Miller said, this is Virginia the Hokies are playing this week.
“This is a whole different feeling when you’re playing them” because of the rivalry, said Miller, adding that the need to win is “just something that’s embedded in your heart.”
The Hokies last season finished just 7-6, becoming the first Virginia Tech team in nine years not to win 10 games. Quarterback Logan Thomas doesn’t want to be a member of the team that also let Virginia finally win.
“We’ve always got accustomed to beating UVa, but it’s something that we can’t just fall back on and expect it to happen,” the redshirt senior said this week. “We’ve got to go make it happen.”
The Cavaliers (2-9, 0-7), meantime, have lost eight games in a row, and 13 of 14 against the Hokies.
In a season where little has gone right, they will play the first half without strong safety Anthony Harris, who leads the nation with eight interceptions. Harris was called for targeting last week against Miami and per NCAA rules has to sit. He will be able to play in the second half.
Besides ending the losing streaks, Virginia would also like to make Kevin Parks the first running back in the program to reach 1,000 yards in a season since Alvin Pearman in 2004. Parks needs 74 yards.
Senior Jake Snyder just doesn’t like the idea of moving without ever beating the Hokies.
“It’s all I’ve thought about for a long time,” said Snyder, a native of suburban Richmond. “Five years here now, so it’s a big thing. It’s always been in the back of my mind and I know my teammates feel the same way. It’s something we think about all year long, and we haven’t had a win here in a long time.”
Here are five things to watch when Virginia Tech plays at Virginia:
THE CROWD: Discontent among Virginia fans who have seen their team lose 17 of its last 21 games has grown like wildfire this season. Hokies fans, who revel in the opportunity to create a sea of maroon inside the stadium of the rival most of them want to beat more than anyone, will be taking up seats abandoned by Cavalier fans.
MISTAKES: Hokies QB Logan Thomas recently had back-to-back games with four turnovers each, and Cavaliers quarterback David Watford has thrown 15 interceptions, including one that was returned for a touchdown on the first play last week at Miami. With both teams running offenses that would best be described as inconsistent, anything either defense can do to put points on the board would be huge.
KICKING GAMES: Virginia Tech started the season with a reliable kicker in Cody Journell, but coach Frank Beamer dismissed him from the team a few weeks ago. In the Hokies’ overtime loss to Maryland, freshman walk-on Eric Kristensen handled kicking duties, and missed one of two field goal attempts. Beamer was working this week to find a kicker he felt comfortable with to play. The Cavaliers have used punter Alec Vozenilek for field goals since regular kicker Ian Frye was injured in the fourth game. Vozenilek is 10 for 13.
DISTRACTION: Virginia Tech will likely know if the ACC title game is within reach since No. 24 Duke and North Carolina kick off at noon. If the Blue Devils lose, the Coastal Division title will be there for the taking, but the Hokies thought that two weeks ago, too, and fell flat in an overtime loss to Maryland.
SHARPNESS: Virginia Tech is coming off a bye, which allowed injuries to heal and ostensibly allowed for mega preparation for Virginia, but the Hokies also had a bye before playing Duke, and lost 13-10.