Virginia Tech Hokies vs. Kentucky Wildcats 12/31/19
Virginia Tech Hokies (8-4 SU, 6-6 ATS) vs. Kentucky Wildcats (7-5 SU, 9-3 ATS)
When: Tuesday, Dec. 31, Noon EST
Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.
Point Spread: VT -2.5/UK +2.5 (Intertops)
Total: O/U 47.5
OutlookKentucky is one of those teams that you look at and wonder how in the world they managed to get seven wins. But the Wildcats found the way, and their reward is to be the final offense to get a crack at a Bud Foster-led defense. The longtime Virginia Tech defensive coordinator has announced his retirement after this game, having spent 32 seasons at the school. It’s appropriate that his final match will be against Kentucky, as he’s a Kentucky native and started his career at Murray State in the Bluegrass State, bringing him full circle. Outside the narratives, we’ve got a defense that came on strong at the end of the season against an offense that figured out that its best option was to keep the ball in the hands of its best player as often as possible. However, it’s Kentucky that has the better defense statistically, and it’s Kentucky that played in the better conference, setting up an intriguing chess match.
How the Public is Betting the Virginia Tech/Kentucky GameThe line has moved down from 3.5 to 2.5 for the Hokies, with the total ticking up from 46.5.
More Bowl Picks: Sugar Bowl Predictions >>>
Virginia Tech: Running back Jalen Holston is probable with a knee injury.
Kentucky: Kentucky reports no injuries since quarterback Terry Wilson’s torn patellar tendon in September.
When Virginia Tech Has the Ball
It’s hard to judge Virginia Tech’s season accurately. The Hokies have played well in most of their games this season, other than an embarrassing home loss to Duke. Since that disaster, Virginia Tech has ripped off six wins in eight games, with the lone exceptions being a one-point loss at Notre Dame and a nine-point loss to Virginia that ended their 15-game winning streak in the Commonwealth Cup. But it’s tough to say whether Virginia Tech got better or the schedule got worse. The Hokies did win eight games, but they beat two FCS teams in Furman and Rhode Island, shut out a completely toothless Georgia Tech that was in a transition year, and gave up 35 points to a Miami squad that just became the first team ever to play in the Independence Bowl and fail to score a point. The only wins that could be called quality wins on Virginia Tech’s schedule — and this is being generous — were North Carolina, Wake Forest, and Pittsburgh, and all three of those games were at Lane Stadium. When the Hokies left Blacksburg, they were 2-3, and the two games they won were Georgia Tech and Miami, hardly impressive this season.
What you can say about the Hokies is that Hendon Hooker isn’t likely to turn the ball over. He’s tossed 11 touchdowns against two interceptions, and the Wildcats don’t have a secondary that forces a large number of turnovers. Damon Hazelton is the main man to watch for when Hooker throws. Hazelton only caught 30 passes this season, but seven of them ended up in the end zone.
When Kentucky Has the Ball
When I was in college, my friends and I had a saying whenever we’d watch Texas A&M play: Stephen McGee always has the ball. It was a reference to the fact that for all of the Aggies’ reads and misdirections, the ball always appeared to stay in McGee’s hands when all was said and done. Kentucky’s offense is a little bit above that, but not much. Lynn Bowden almost always has the ball. With Terry Wilson and Sawyer Smith, both lost to injuries, Kentucky had to remake its offense on the fly. It turned itself into a running attack based on misdirection that hardly ever passes. The Wildcats’ transformation has been so complete that they threw for 859 yards during the first month of the season and just 546 yards since then.
Bowden has been worth it. He’s averaged 8.2 yards per carry on his way to 11 touchdowns and 1,235 rushing yards for the year. Plus, he’s gotten some help from the likes of Chris Rodriguez, who burnt Louisville for 125 yards and a score in the Wildcats’ season finale. Kentucky comes in having scored 132 points in its past three games, not bad for an offense that finished with four passing yards against the Cardinals.
The good news with Virginia Tech is that the Hokies have been a reliable cover option in the second half of the season, going 5-1 ATS as the public mostly turned on them following the home disaster against Duke. But when they’re favored, they tend to struggle. Just three of the Hokies’ past 12 games as the favorite have produced an ATS victory, and they’re 2-5 ATS in their past seven against the SEC. Kentucky, on the other hand, has been an outstanding cover team when it leaves its league, perhaps freed by the fact that it’s no longer playing SEC competition. The Wildcats have covered six straight outside the league, and they have covered six of seven overall, showing that they can play with the big boys.
With how these teams play defense, the under might be the way to go. It’s 5-2 in the Hokies’ past seven games as a favorite and 4-0 in Kentucky’s past four December games.
Charlotte should be cool but sunny at kickoff, with temperatures expected to hit 56 degrees and no rain in the forecast.
Dan’s Pick to Cover the Spread
The narrative of Bud Foster coaching his last game is a nice story, but I’m not sure that will be enough. Virginia Tech played in a weak league and played a soft schedule even by ACC standards. Kentucky has challenged itself and changed itself into a completely different squad, which has made the Wildcats a tough opponent to prepare for because nobody does what they do on offense. Throw in a strong defense that has kept the Wildcats in nearly every game they have played, and there’s a lot to like about the Wildcats’ chances to ruin Foster’s farewell.
Kentucky hasn’t won back-to-back bowls since Rich Brooks’ days on the Wildcats’ sidelines, but I like what the Wildcats have done, and I’ll take a couple of free points to back Kentucky here.