Image Credit: Belk Bowl
2019 Belk Bowl Game Info
- Charlotte, NC
- 12:00 Eastern, ESPN
- Kentucky HC: Mark Stoops
- Virginia Tech HC: Justin Fuente
- Series History:
- Kentucky leads, 11-6-2
- Last Meeting: 1987
- Longest Streak: UK, 7 (1969-1978)
- Largest Margin of Victory: UK, 32-0 (1977)
Welcome to the 20th all-time meeting between the Virginia Tech Hokies and the University of Kentucky Wildcats. It has been an interesting year for both football teams. Let’s take a look at a year in review for both.
Kentucky season review:
The quarterback position has been a roller coaster this year for the Wildcats. They started the year with high hopes with Terry Wilson, Jr. under center and wins against Toledo and Eastern Michigan. Wilson, the transfer who led Kentucky to their first 10-win season since 1977, suffered a torn patellar tendon in his left knee against Eastern Michigan and missed the rest of the season. Kentucky then lost three straight to Florida, Mississippi State, and South Carolina.
Enter Sawyer Smith. Smith led the charge for the Florida game, in which Kentucky played one of their best games of the year. They only lost by 8 to a team that has been in the top 10 for most of the season. Then, against Mississippi State, Sawyer Smith took a hit right before half, played one series in the second half, and was shut down for 6 weeks.
Enter Lynn Bowden. Even before the injury to Sawyer Smith, Bowden was the do-it-all guy for the Wildcats. He would take “wildcat” snaps, return punts, and was a dynamic wide receiver.
Run the Ball
All that needs to be said to strike fear into the hearts of Hokie fans is one number – 460. That’s Kentucky’s team rushing average its last three games. Since their heartbreaking 17-13 loss to Tennessee, Kentucky’s rushing offense has hit its stride with Bowden at the helm. Their last three games have all been blowout wins at Vanderbilt (38-14), vs. UT Martin (50-7), and vs. Louisville (45-13). Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops has not been clear on if they will continue their triple-option attack, or if they will prepare for next year with a more traditional offense.
Virginia Tech Season review:
Though Kentucky has had plenty of story lines and ups and downs this year, the Hokies take the cake for the most wild, exciting, frustrating, amazing, awful, entertaining football season.
VT started the year with a seemingly easy game against Boston College. But QB Ryan Willis threw 4 interceptions and lost one fumble for a lackluster 35-28 loss. The next two games were both lackluster wins against inferior competition – a revenge game against Old Dominion and a cupcake game in Furman. At this point in the season, morale around the fan base was pretty low. There were some calls for Fuentes job after the awful 6-7 2018 season then this less than ideal start to 2019.
Not all hope was lost, though, as all the season’s goals were still within reach. If the Hokies could beat Duke, then win over Miami and their first-year HC, they’d return home against North Carolina at 5-1. But the Friday night game against Duke had to be played. By the time the dust settled, Tech had been run out of their own stadium after a 45-10 shellacking. Even the biggest Fuente supporters began to doubt weather or not he was the guy for Virginia Tech.
Then, something happened. Fuente brought in a Special Assistant coach – former Minnesota Head Coach and run game extraordinaire, Jerry Kill. No one really knows the influence that Kill has had on the program, but the timing is uncanny. The next week, the Hokies started QB Hendon Hooker instead of Ryan Willis. The Miami game had it all – a big Hokie lead early, Miami fought back to tie it with a few minutes left, then a brilliant game-winning drive. The Hokies had new life and have been playing great football ever since.
Even though they have suffered 2 heartbreaking losses, one at Notre Dame with their 3rd sting QB, and at Virginia where 15 years of frustration resulted in a 39-30 Hoos win. But even in those two losse,s you didn’t leave the stadium thinking “How in the world will this team ever win another football game?” Instead, you left thinking “Ok, we got beat. Let’s regroup and go get the next one.” The whole perception of the program had changed.
All of that is plenty of a story-line for an exciting football season, right? Wrong. Before the season, long time defensive coordinator Bud Foster announced his retirement at the end of the season. In his send-off game, the Hokies played a stellar defensive game against an explosive Wake Forest offense. After the Wake game, the Hokies shut out both Georgia Tech and Pitt for a great last game for Bud in Lane Stadium. The Belk Bowl will be Bud Foster’s last game for the Hokies.
The most interesting storyline for the game on the field will be how Kentucky coach Mark Stoops decides to run his offense. If he decides to just try to win the game and send Kentucky into the offseason with a hard-fought win, he may decide to stick with their ground. Kentucky does rank 4th nationally with 274.4 rush ypg. That strategy plays right into Virginia Tech’s defensive strength. The Hokies rank 27th nationally in rush defense, only allowing 123.3 ypg. Conversely, Stoops could choose to run a more traditional offense to get more practice for when their starting QB comes back.
The running game will be the deciding factor. Both teams have utilized a revitalized running game after their QB changes. As usual, this game will come down to who is able to control the line of scrimmage. Virginia Tech’s turnover problem has been well-documented. While it has improved, it’s still an abysmal -5. Kentucky is better in that field, but not by much – they’ve posted a 0 turnover margin. Whoever can take better care of the football will likely win the game.
This game is big for both programs’ momentum going into next year. Kentucky would love to get a win against a resurgent VT team and take an 8-5 record into the offseason. For Tech, this game would validate their “AD” turnaround. If they end the season with two straight losses, fans may begin to question just how good this team is, and the expectations for next year will be lessened.
Prediction: 31-28 Hokies