It’s GAMEDAY!!! It has been a month since Kentucky put the beatdown on Louisville, 45-13, at Kroger Field. Now, the Wildcats will have an opportunity to capture their eighth win of the season over the Hokies of Virginia Tech. Big Blue Nation was already excited for the game, but some of the off-field activities of the last couple of days has really locked in the fan base, and obviously the players too. While heading to their NASCAR experience at the Charlotte Motor Speedway on Sunday afternoon some Virginia Tech players decide to talk some smack to a group of ‘Cats including Lynn Bowden. The drama spilled over to Monday’s Media Day as Bowden refused to mention Virginia Tech by name and appeared to be a man on a mission to win the 2019 Belk Bowl. As always, Adam Luckett provided a great, in-depth breakdown of the Hokies so make sure to read his article as well as you prepare for the noon kickoff!
1. Hendon Hooker has Played Winning Football
Ater a 2-2 start to the season, Coach Justin Fuente turned to Sophomore Hendon Hooker and the Hokies have been a different team ever since. Since taking over, Hooker has won six games while leading Virginia Tech to their 27th consecutive bowl game. Hooker has found a lot of success throwing the deep ball, averaging over 10 yards per completion. At the same time as taking shots down the field though, the Sophomore has limited turnovers, throwing only 2 picks to 11 touchdown passes while connecting on 62.1 percent of his throws. Virginia Tech will utilize the play-action pass a lot with Hooker and move him around in the pocket. Kentucky’s secondary has been an extremely pleasant surprise this season, but they will need to be up to the task one more time out in Charlotte in order for the Wildcats to come away victorious.
2. Bud Foster’s Goodbye
After 32 seasons on staff for the Virginia Tech football team, Defensive Coordinator Bud Foster is finally calling it quits after the Belk Bowl. Frank Beamer, rightfully so, gets a lot of national recognition for turning the Hokies into a national powerhouse and beginning their amazing string of 27 consecutive bowl game appearances. However, Bud Foster has been around for all of those years as well and deserves just as much credit for building the program in Blacksburg. We will dive into the defensive unit a bit more in the paragraph below, but Foster’s success, and retirement, deserved special mention. While I wish Coach Foster a very happy retirement, I hope it is a tough day for the Virginia Tech defense tomorrow!
3. Stingy Defense Anchored by Rayshard Ashby
It isn’t all just about winning one for Coach Foster for Virginia Tech though. This defensive unit is very solid in their own right. The Hokies rank 32nd in the country in yards allowed per play and 31st in yards allowed per rushing attempt which bodes well for dealing with the run-heavy (to put it lightly) offense of Kentucky. Refer back to Luckett’s Scouting Report for a more in-depth look at their defense, but Virginia Tech will be in a 4-2-5 scheme lead by All-ACC performer Rayshard Ashby at Linebacker. Ashby has now collected over 100 tackles in consecutive seasons including 4.5 sacks and 10 non-sack tackles for loss. The 5’10” 237 pound bowling ball is an absolute ball hawk and will be called upon all afternoon to contain Lynn Bowden.
4. Inexperienced Offensive Line
The old cliche is that games are won or lost in the trenches, and that could turn out to the case this afternoon. The Big Blue Wall will obviously do their part on that side of the football, but the Wildcats should have a pretty big advantage on defense as well. While this O-Line unit will end up being solid for Virginia Tech, starting three sophomores and two true freshman has lead to some growing pains for the Hokies. Virginia Tech has allowed 37 sacks on the season, ranking 79th in the country, and has also allowed the 65th most tackles for loss. Also, the Hokies only gain 3.89 yards per rushing attempt which ranks them 92nd nationally in that category. The Kentucky defensive line, led by Calvin Taylor, should be able to wreak havoc in the backfield and disrupt the pocket today.
5. Emotional Battle
Bowl games are always emotional as you say goodbye to seniors playing in their final game, or in the case of Lynn Bowden, a generational talent that will take his talents to the National Football League. However, this game has really heated up since the video from Sunday afternoon surfaced of some Virginia Tech players hurling some trash talk towards Bowden and a group of Wildcats. This may seem like a small, somewhat insignificant thing besides giving fans something to tweet about, but it will be important for Kentucky to keep their heads this afternoon. The last thing we need is an early unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, or worse yet, an ejection, to kick off the Belk Bowl. The incident can certainly serve as some extra motivation, but the coaches and team leaders will need to make it a point to let their play do the majority of the talking.