West Virginia’s rivalry road tour continues (and ends) on Thursday when the Mountaineers (1-2, 0-1 Big 12) head to Lane Stadium to face Virginia Tech (2-1, 1-0 ACC). Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN.

WVU gears up for its second rivalry clash this season after a heartbreaking loss at Pitt to open the season. While it will wear the same shirts and helmets it wore at the Backyard Brawl, WVU hopes its trip home from Blacksburg will have a different mood.

The Black Diamond Trophy will be put on the line on Thursday, and for the first time since 2004, West Virginia will be its defender. WVU earned the hardware in 2021 when it held off the Hokies in a nail-biter at a sold-out Milan Puskar Stadium — a win that WVU head coach Neal Brown described as a “defining moment” for his program so far.

“The rivalry is definitely one that is very important to our fan base. The guys that played in the game last year felt that being here in our stadium,” Brown said on Monday. “This is the only game on our schedule in the regular season where we play for a trophy. So, the Black Diamond Trophy, I think that makes it even more special.”

Of course, Brown did add that last year’s result means next to nothing for this year’s clash.

WVU aims for its 30th win in history over the Hokies in a series that dates back to 1912. The Mountaineers hold the advantage in the series, falling to Virginia Tech 23 times with a pair of ties.

Here are the biggest storylines that could decide the next owner of the Black Diamond Trophy:

Prepping for a new Hokie squad

Brent Pry leads a nearly all-new Virginia Tech team in 2022 after the firing of Justin Fuente and his staff. The Hokies have a new quarterback, Marshall transfer Grant Wells, and new leaders at skill positions, like running back Keshawn King.

Pry’s tenure started with disappointment when Virginia Tech fell at Old Dominion to open the campaign. The Hokies bounced back to earn wins against Boston College and FCS squad Wofford, but it was clear that they had plenty of work to do if they wanted to compete in the ACC.

Still, Brown isn’t underestimating his upcoming opponent.

“They play hard. I think the thing that really jumps out to you when you turn on their film of their first three games…is man, they play really, really hard and they’re physical,” Brown said. “Coach Pry has a defensive background and you can see that the team is kind of buying into his mentality and they’re playing really hard.”

WVU’s impressive quarterback performance

JT Daniels has dazzled WVU’s fans in three games, and according to Graham Harrell, his offensive coordinator, he’s “exceeded expectations.”

Daniels has helped WVU’s offense explode from a season ago as it gains 140 more yards per game. He hopes the Mountaineers can keep that rolling into week four.

“I think we’ve played relatively clean, I think we can be a lot cleaner,” Daniels said. “But in general, I think we have a lot of great talent offensively. I think each week we execute better and better, and if we keep going on this pace I think we’ll be a really good offense.”

Much of their success has hinged on Daniels, who boasts a 139.63 quarterback rating in three games. His leadership has helped him build chemistry with his receivers and in turn it has made his teammates better around him — which is typical of a quarterback.

“If your quarterback plays well you’ve got a chance to win every week, and if he doesn’t play well, you don’t have much of a chance to win,” Harrell said. “For us to continue to be successful, he’s going to have to play well.”

Bracing for the quick turnaround

The Mountaineers are set to play its second Thursday game of the season, only this time, they’re doing it on a short week.

The Mountaineers had the luxury of a Thursday game to start the season against Pitt, so there was no need for recovery before kickoff. This week, both WVU and Virginia Tech have just four games in between weeks, and that always presents a problem.

“It’s one of those things, (the game is) on a short week, so everything is hurried,” Brown said. “Probably for coaches, as much as anything, you’d like to get in a routine. You’re out of routine (this week).”

That makes preparation difficult. Workloads have to be managed and schedules have to be condensed to make sure that players stay healthy while the proper preparation is done.

“You just have to be smart with what you’re trying to do, and still at the same time, game plan what you need to with what you need to stop,” said WVU defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley. “You just have to be smart about it.”

WVU football at Virginia Tech game information

West Virginia and Virginia Tech kick off at 7:30 p.m. ET at Lane Stadium, and the game will be shown on ESPN. Don’t miss Mountaineer GameDay at 4 p.m. ET, the most fun pregame show in West Virginia, on your West Virginia Nexstar Station. A second live hour of Mountaineer GameDay goes live at 5 p.m. ET on AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh.