This Saturday at noon, the West Virginia Mountaineers host an old familiar rival, the Virginia Tech Hokies. It’s the first trip Virginia Tech has made to Morgantown since 2005 but has some recent history, meeting at a neutral in Landover, MD, at FedEx Field in 2017.
“I know our fanbase is excited about this game. Our players, we’re educating them this week about this rivalry. From a fanbase standpoint, the rivalry sticks out more than the players. Just because it has not been played on an annual basis since the early 2000s,” said West Virginia head coach Neal Brown. “For me personally, it’s been very interesting learning about it, and I’ve enjoyed it. Coach Casteel has been a really good point of contact for me as far as just learning about the emotions that go into the game and how both fanbases feel. So, we’re in the process of educating players about it.”
“It’s a trophy game - playing for the Black Diamond Trophy. I think anytime you play one of those games, it matters,” continued Brown. “By my calculation, Virginia Tech has had the Black Diamond Trophy for over 6,000 days now. That’s a long time.”
The Hokies were known for their special teams under former legendary coach Frank Beamer and, in their success, became the phrase “Beamer Ball.” Although they do not get to the punter at the rate they used to (last blocked punt on Nov. 23 vs. Virginia), the special teams units rank fifth in the nation from 2017-20, according to SportSource Analytics.
“They do a tremendous job there. Coach [James] Shibest, who is their special teams' coordinator, I think he does a great job with techniques. It’s important to them. They are very well-coached,” said Brown.
Keshawn King and Marco Lee are back to field kickoffs. Kings hit a career-high 56-yard return last week against Middle Tennessee State. He averaged 28.2 yards per return on 11 attempts, while Lee had his first career return go for 31 yards on Saturday.
Tayvion Robinson is entering his third season handling punt returns. As a freshman, he averaged 14.2 yards return in 2019. His numbers diminished last season, averaging just 2.1 YPR, but he has bounced back, recording a career-high 59-yard return last week.
The Hokie defense has only allowed 24 points through the first two games of the season.
“Defensively, they’re playing at a high level,” said Brown. I think it starts with the defensive line. They go two-deep across the board. They got several NFL players up there. They got length to the boundary. Two really good speed guys off the edge (TyJuan Garbutt, Amare Barno), and then, they rotate four guys at D-tackle (Mario Kendricks, Josh Fuga, Jordan Williams, Norell Pollard) that I think are all difference-makers, and they do a great job within their scheme.”
“(Chamarri) Connor and (Jermaine) Waller are great in coverage. I think they’ve played at a high level through two weeks. Waller may be playing as good as any corner in the country right now,” added Brown.
“Offensively, they want to run the ball. I don’t think they’re trying to hide that. They want to run the football. They want to hit big plays.”
Braxton Burmeister is a dual-threat quarterback and leads the team in rushing with 94 yards.
He’s really fast. That sticks out on film – he’s running away from people, you don’t see that a whole lot a quarterback,” said Brown before noting, “He’s got a big arm.”
Jalen Holston and Raheem Blackshear combine for 149 rushing yards and three touchdowns on the year. Blackshear is second on the team in receiving with 71 yards on four receptions.
“They’re talented at running backs – by committee. They got several kids that do a nice job,” said Brown.
Junior receiver Tre Turners has a team-leading eight receptions for 131 yards.
“He’s their big play threat, and he’s made some plays down the field.”
West Virginia is 28-23-1 all-time versus Virginia Tech.
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