November 27, 2014

Two teams, and one bowl berth.

Those are the stakes when Virginia and Virginia Tech meet Friday night at Lane Stadium.

The Cavaliers (5-6, 3-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) have plenty to overcome. They have lost 10 straight, and 14 of 15, against the Hokies. They've lost nine consecutive road games dating to November 2012, and ending those streaks would land them in a bowl game for the first time since after the 2011 season.

Virginia Tech (5-6, 2-5) is reeling. Like the Cavaliers, the Hokies have dropped four of their last five, and their most recent - a 6-3 double overtime loss at Wake Forest - was the worst of them all.

They, too, have a streak, but the good kind. Coach Frank Beamer's team has played in a bowl game after each of the past 21 seasons, the second-longest run in the country behind Florida State's 32.

There was additional intrigue surrounding the game during the week, but Virginia removed that Wednesday with the announcement that Mike London will return as coach in 2015.

The Cavaliers hope to build off their best performance of the season, last week's must-win 30-13 victory against Miami. It ended a four-game losing streak and came after a bye week.

''Miami might have been our only game where we played 60 minutes of football: offensively, defensively and on special teams,'' said linebacker Henry Coley, one of 34 seniors playing their last regular-season game. ''We have to put together the same type of game this week, because I know the Virginia Tech guys. They're going to come into the game with the mindset that they can't lose.''

The Hokies had this experience two years ago, needing to win their last two games to qualify for a bowl, and got there with a 17-14 victory against Virginia on a field goal on the final play.

Wide receiver Willie Byrn, one of 10 seniors who could be playing their final game with the Hokies, said the Cavaliers might be the best they've been in his career.

''It's probably the most balanced game it's been since I've been here, in terms of opponents,'' he said. ''So I guess, naturally, we'd be our most vulnerable. But we're not looking in the mirror saying we're like a wounded dog. We've got to feel as strong as ever. We've got to prove people wrong.''

Here are some things to watch when Virginia plays at Virginia Tech:

QUARTERBACK PLAY: Inconsistency at quarterback has dogged both teams this season. Virginia starter Greyson Lambert has thrown 10 interceptions and nine touchdown passes, and the Hokies' Michael Brewer has thrown 13 interceptions and 15 scoring passes. Both teams also hit the QB a lot (Virginia Tech has 42 sacks, Virginia 31), and forcing mistakes and cashing them in could well be a determining factor.

PRESSURE: The Cavaliers were expected to be playing for London's job until the school announced this week that he will be back next year. That takes some pressure off Virginia, but with each team trying to win and qualify for a bowl game, there's plenty of pressure left for both.

TRICKERATION: Trick plays are always on the table when rivals meet, especially when the stakes are high, and even more so when both teams have stout defenses. Finding a situation that allows for a trick play, and pulling it off, can go a long way toward turning the tables in a game quickly.

RUNNING GAME: Struggling offenses never look better than when they succeed in running the ball. It keeps the pass rush away from the quarterback and the chains moving. Kevin Park is expected back for Virginia after getting dinged against Miami. The Hokies hope for another big game from J.C. Coleman.

WILD CARDS: Big games often yield unexpected stars. What do the Hokies have planned for backup QB Brenden Mosley, who is more of a dual threat than Brewer? Does David Watford, more of a dual threat than Greyson Lambert, get a role for the Cavaliers? Who throws the option pass? Who catches it?

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