Football, Sports, WVU Sports

WVU’s high-powered offense to go head-to-head with vaunted Virginia Tech defense

MORGANTOWN — Virginia Tech head coach Brent Pry, in his first year after spending the last eight seasons as the defensive coordinator and as a position coach at Penn State, knows a bit about West Virginia.

“I still have friends in West Virginia, I grew up most of my life there,” Pry said. “My dad had three or four coaching stops in the state before coming to Lexington (Va.). Personally, my first football game was West Virginia and Penn State at WVU.”

Pry’s father, Jim, worked at Marshall, West Liberty, WVU Tech and was also the head coach at Lewis County High.

Pry will meet the Mountaineers again Thursday, when his Hokies host WVU at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN, with the Black Diamond Trophy on the line.

The trophy currently resides in Morgantown after the Mountaineers won 27-21 last season in Morgantown. At the time, VT was ranked in the top 15, but floundered to a 6-7 record and fired head coach Justin Fuente.

In comes Pry, who has the Hokies off to a 2-1 (1-0 ACC) start with a season-opening loss at Old Dominion, followed by wins against Boston College and Wofford.

Meanwhile, the Mountaineers (1-2, 0-1 Big 12) lost their first two games to Pitt and Kansas, but throttled FCS Towson 65-7 last week.

“They’ve got multiple threats,” Pry said. “They’ve got a solid veteran offensive line — four or five starters back — good size. They’ve got two talented backs, three talented receivers, got a solid tight [end] and now they’ve got a quarterback that can run the show, run the offense and make the throws. So, I think they’re very well-balanced and there’s really not a weakness in their offensive unit.”

WVU’s offense ranks 13th nationally in yards per game at 513, including 28th in rushing (217.3) and 29th in passing (292.3). The Mountaineers are also 11th in scoring offense, averaging 46 points per game.

As worried as Pry is about WVU’s offense, though, Mountaineers head coach Neal Brown is just as worried about the Hokies’ defense.

“Coach Pry has a defensive background and you can see the team is kind of buying into his mentality and they’re playing really hard,” he said.

VT is only allowing 42 rushing yards per game, good for third in the nation, and it is 15th in pass defense (159 yards allowed) and fifth in total defense (201).

Third-down defense has also been the Hokies’ specialty with an 17% conversion rate, third nationally.

The Mountaineers, on the other hand, are converting 44% of their third downs, 28th in the country.

“They’ve been very good on third down, and the best way for a defense to be good on third down is to put you in third-and-long, and the best way for an offense to be good on third down is to stay out of third-and-long,” WVU quarterback JT Daniels said. “The national average on third-and-8-plus was 18% two years ago. That’s tough living, no matter who you are or how good your team is. If you’re in third-and-long, you’re not going to be very successful on third down. They do a good job putting you behind the chains and then they make it hard to convert.”

VT won its last two games at Lane Stadium and will look to defend its home field. The Mountaineers haven’t played in Blacksburg since 2004 and haven’t won since 2002.

“They play really well at home and that’s something they’ve done traditionally as a program,” Brown said. “Against Boston College, that was one of the more physical, highest level of strains that I’ve seen on tape. Credit to Coach Pry and that staff. Those kids flew around. They had great energy and played really hard.”

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