Virginia Tech and West Virginia will renew their regional and one-time conference rivalry when they battle Thursday night for the Black Diamond Trophy on a national stage in Blacksburg, Virginia. The two schools played every year from 1975 until 2005, including a run from 1991-2003 as members of the Big East. With the Mountaineers now in the Big 12 and the Hokies in the ACC, it’s taken some effort to keep this fierce rivalry going in the modern era.
Thursday night’s matchup is the second leg of a home-and-home agreement that already provided thrills with West Virginia beating Virginia Tech 27-21 in Morgantown last season, increasing the Mountaineers’ all-time series lead to 29-23-1. Though a lot has changed since that game, most notably a coaching change for the Hokies and new starting quarterbacks for both teams, the passion felt up and down both rosters to win this rivalry game has not lessened. Plus, considering how the season has started for both teams, there should be plenty of urgency to snag a victory in one of the true toss-up games on the schedule.
So while coaches Neal Brown and Brent Pry have just one combined appearance in the battle for the Black Diamond Trophy, there will be plenty of players and fans with intimate awareness of what’s at stake. Let’s get into the keys to the game and our official prediction.
West Virginia vs. Virginia Tech: Need to know
JT Daniels leads the West Virginia offense: The 2017 Max Preps National Player of the Year is on his third college stop, having started and won games at USC, Georgia and now West Virginia. Daniels has six touchdowns and two interceptions through three games, and it hasn’t taken long for him to identify junior Bryce Ford-Wheaton as the most dynamic option in the passing attack. Ford-Wheaton is one of just two wide receivers in the Big 12 to have four touchdown receptions already this season, and his 6-foot-3, 224-pound frame allows Daniels to take some chances in one-on-one situations knowing the wideout has the better chance of winning 50-50 balls.
The Lunch Pail Defense is back: Pry got his start in coaching as a graduate assistant working under legendary Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster. In his return to Blacksburg, Pry has brought back the famous lunch pail that represents the group’s blue-collar approach. That defense is the strength of this team so far; the Hokies rank third in the country in rushing defense (42 yards per game), fifth in total defense (201 yards per game) and in the top 20 in scoring defense, allowing just 12.33 points per game. That rushing defense will be a key for Virginia Tech in this game as West Virginia freshman CJ Donaldson currently leads the Big 12 with six rushing touchdowns on the season.
Increased pressure on West Virginia after 1-2 start: While Virginia Tech is still very much laying the foundation of the Brent Pry era, things are much different for Brown and the Mountaineers in Year 4. The fact that this is a rivalry game adds extra pressure from the fans, especially in the wake of the heartbreaking loss to Pitt in the renewal of the Backyard Brawl. A loss here to Virginia Tech would drop West Virginia to 1-3, with two ranked opponents coming up next on the schedule in No. 22 Texas and No. 17 Baylor. Brown has led West Virginia to a bowl game in each of the past two seasons, and there are enough winnable games left on the schedule to think he can do it again in 2022. A loss here, though, makes that margin for error razor thin and cranks up the pressure from fans as the calendar flips to October.
How to watch West Virginia vs. Virginia Tech live
Date: Thursday, Sept. 22 | Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
Location: Lane Stadium — Blacksburg, Virginia
TV: ESPN | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
West Virginia vs. Virginia Tech prediction, picks
Virginia Tech has been somewhat of a fixture on Thursday night football, and the Hokies have had more success than not in these nationally televised opportunities, going 23-10 overall and 13-5 at home. Pry understands the value of these regional rivalries well, and while ACC Championship contention may be a few years away, this is one trophy that he can bring home to Hokie Nation right now. Virginia Tech gets it done, covering the spread in the process. Prediction: Virginia Tech +1.5
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