Virginia Tech just finished the most grueling stretch of their schedule for the 2016 season.
The Hokies have played their final road ACC game, and have completed a stretch of games where four of five were on the road, while also playing three games in 13 days. Now, Virginia Tech can settle into the final part of their schedule. Georgia Tech (5-4) is the only team with a winning record left on the schedule, and the Hokies get to play a struggling Notre Dame team in two weeks, as well as Virginia to close the season.
“Obviously, we feel like we’ve got some momentum now,” said Sam Rogers. “We feel like we’re doing well game-to-game, but we have to remember to approach it the same exact way — take it one game at a time. We’ve seen it earlier in the year what it’s like to get too high on ourselves, and we just got to make sure we just keep taking it one game at a time and remember the preparation it takes each week to keep plugging along.”
These last few games have not been kind to the Hokies on the injury front. Defensive ends Ken Ekanem and Vinny Mihota have both been banged up, while defensive tackle Nigel Williams hasn’t played since Virginia Tech’s loss to Syracuse. Quarterback Jerod Evans tweaked his ankle vs. Pittsburgh and cornerback Greg Stroman injured his ankle vs. Duke on a punt return.
“Yeah, it’s been pretty hard, hard on all of our bodies” said Andrew Motuapuaka. “The coaches try to help us out during the week and try to take it off us, physically. It’s been helping us a lot throughout the weeks.”
“Football, no matter what stretch you have, is physically taxing,” Rogers said. “It’s a violent game, and you’re going to be sore, but at the end of the day, every team is sore at this point in the season.”
Along with injuries, Virginia Tech must manage high expectations. The Hokies are in good position to win the ACC Coastal Division and are ranked in the College Football Playoff rankings, the AP Top 25 and the Amway Coaches’ Poll.
Head Coach Justin Fuente said on Monday that the senior leadership has helped nurse the team along through both high expectations and nagging injuries.
“Our entire senior class has done a great job since we’ve walked in the door of listening, taking the message and spreading it,” Fuente said. “Really all of those guys have done a great job. Whether it’s Chuck (Clark), Sam (Rogers, or Jon McLaughlin, or Augie (Conte), Woody (Baron), Nigel (Williams), they’ve all done a great job. They’re all high-character guys that really want what’s best for Virginia Tech. They’ll do whatever it takes and they’re good listeners.”
“We just get the message from Coach and we try to instill that in the young guys and let them know that we have to take it one game at a time,” McLaughlin said.
“I know it sounds cliché, but we can’t think about that when you have a game right in front of you,” Rogers said. “If you look too far ahead, you’re going to trip on something right in front of you, and I honestly believe that.”
Fortunately for the Hokies, they’ve been able to win games, despite not playing their best. Virginia Tech’s defense got bailed out vs. Pittsburgh in the 39-36 shootout, while neither side of the ball did a lot vs. Duke. However, the Hokies did just enough in both games to win. Rogers sees that as a positive, not a negative.
“I honestly think that’s really important,” Rogers said. “Like you said, when things are sloppy, just find a way to win. At the end of the day, it doesn’t say if it was a sloppy win or a very good loss, it just says win or loss. We have to find a way to win those games that don’t always look the prettiest. I think it shows what kind of team we have and the character we have on our team and what kind of guys we have.”