West Virginia rekindles one of its biggest rivalries with Virginia Tech on Saturday as the 15th-ranked Hokies bring the Black Diamond Trophy to Morgantown for the first time since 2005. The contest is set to kick off at noon ET on FS1.
The Mountaineers (1-1) are hoping that piece of hardware stays in Morgantown after its extended vacation in Blacksburg. When they kick off against the Hokies (2-0), it will have been 6,195 days since the trophy called the Mountain State home, as Virginia Tech has won all three meetings since 2004.
Of course, the rivalry extends way beyond the Black Diamond Trophy’s introduction in 1997 — 85 years beyond, to be exact. West Virginia and Virginia Tech have squared off 52 times since the first meeting in 1912, with the Mountaineers holding the all-time advantage with 28 wins. The Hokies have taken 23, with the lone tie occurring in the first clash at Lane Stadium in 1966.
Most of the sell-out crowd at Milan Puskar Stadium will likely have lived through much of that history, and will be excited to watch another chapter of it play out in front of them on Saturday. Things are a little different for those coaches and players who will write that chapter, however, as the overwhelming majority weren’t even in their respective programs for the last meeting in 2017 — let alone the decades of heated contests that preceded it. For that reason, the week leading up to the game has been a learning experience for everyone from Coach Neal Brown on down to his players.
There is more on the line besides bragging rights and the Black Diamond Trophy — here are some of the other storylines ahead of this game:
Mountaineers building confidence off of first win
WVU’s week one loss to Maryland was disappointing to everyone in Old Gold and Blue, both on and off the field. Following that up with a 66-0 rout of LIU, an FCS opponent, was a sure confidence-booster for all levels of the depth chart.
Still, Brown is clear in saying there is still plenty to improve on.
“It’s gonna be a challenge for us, without a doubt, and we’ve got to get better,” Brown said. “[Virginia Tech’s players] are really good players, they do a really good job within their scheme, but we’ve got to get better fundamentally and we’ve got to get more physical up front, and that’s the challenge for us this week.”
There were plenty of positives against LIU. For one, starting quarterback Jarret Doege had a relatively flawless performance, throwing 14-of-22 for 259 yards and three touchdowns without a turnover. The offense as a whole also showed improvement, keeping punter Tyler Sumpter on the sideline for the entire game.
WVU’s offensive line still showed some holes against the Sharks, however, and it will be tested against Virginia Tech’s stout defensive line unit. Doege was still sacked twice against LIU, while Leddie Brown — WVU’s 1,000-yard rusher from 2020 — was held to just 31 yards on 15 touches.
Virginia Tech comes to Morgantown a man down
The Hokies will bring quite the dynamic offense to Milan Puskar Stadium — so dynamic, in fact, that their quarterback Braxton Burmeister leads the team in rushing, and their running back Raheem Blackshear leads the team in receiving.
The team was dealt a blow ahead of this matchup, though, when Coach Justin Fuente announced that star tight end James Mitchell will be receiving season-ending surgery. Mitchell, a surefire NFL Draft pick who spurned the league in 2020, was the third-leading receiver last season, and was a key piece to the team’s run scheme as a blocker.
“He’s what you want in a tight end….I hate it for the kid,” Brown said. “…Any time you lose a player of that caliber, I would think it would hurt you, but they do have depth at that position.”
Two other Hokies, Kaleb Smith and Nick Gallo, have also lined up at tight end this season, but only Smith has contributed to the air attack thus far.
Burmeister will still be with his top weapons in Blackshear and receiver Tre Turner, both of whom average over 16 yards per catch through two games this year.
Kickoff between West Virginia and No. 15 Virginia Tech is set for noon ET on FS1. Before the teams hit the field, start your game day off at 9 a.m. ET with a fresh, new episode of The Neal Brown Show on your local Nexstar station in West Virginia, followed by a live edition of Mountaineer GameDay on both Nexstar stations and AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh– be sure to check your local listings.