Fresh off of a disappointing and deflating loss to Georgia Tech, the Hokies now have a trip to Notre Dame on the schedule in a non-conference game that has zero effect on Tech’s chances to win the ACC Coastal Division.
This is the first time Virginia Tech has played a non-conference game in November since 2009, when the Hokies defeated East Carolina 16-3.
“It certainly is a dynamic,” said Virginia Tech Head Coach Justin Fuente. “I don’t know how odd it is. For us, our message is that we’ve got to go improve. We haven’t played, certainly last week, this is an ongoing process and it’s not always a straight ascension. This is a great opportunity. I think this game comes at a great time for us to go on the road and play a very talented team in what I’m sure will be a hostile environment.”
Players said on Monday that the game comes at a great time.
“I think it falls at a perfect time for us,” said Sam Rogers. “It falls at a time where we can just focus on getting better right now. We know we didn’t play well last week. We didn’t deserve to win the Coastal championship last week, but we still have that opportunity.”
“Our focus is always going 1-0 no matter what, no matter who we’re playing against,” said Isaiah Ford. “Whether that’s Notre Dame, UVa. or the Pittsburgh Steelers. No matter who we’re playing, we’re going to prepare the same way and we’re going to try and go 1-0.”
Saturday will provide an opportunity for Virginia Tech’s offense to get going. The Hokies scored just 17 points on offense vs. Duke two weeks ago, and scored 20 points vs. Georgia Tech on Saturday, with most of those coming in garbage time.
Fuente said that teams have started to play Virginia Tech differently. He said teams have sat back in coverage more and tried to keep the ball in front of them.
“We hit a span there, I can’t remember exactly the order of the games, but we hit a span there where people were playing us pretty tight and we had a couple weeks there where we had some big plays,” Fuente said. “Seems to me, just in general terms, that people are trying to keep the ball in front of them a little more and we’re not executing as consistently.”
Ford said if teams are going to give them shorter throws, it’s up to the receiving corps to create big plays.
“As the season went on, we knew that teams would try not to let us take the roof off the defense,” Ford said. “We’re just going to have to get more plays with yards after the catch. That starts in our room with me, Cam (Phillips), CJ (Carroll) and Bucky (Hodges). We have to accept that challenge and start making more plays when we get the ball in our hands.”
In regards to execution, Fuente expanded on his view that the offense is starting to get away from the fundamentals.
“The thing, just talking to the offensive staff that maybe they were most disappointed in, and I’m not taking away from what other people are doing, I think they’re doing a good job of making adjustments and that sort of stuff, some of our execution on some very fundamental things that don’t show up in the stat line,” Fuente said. “Not talking about interceptions or drops or rushing yards, I’m talking about blocking the most dangerous man at wide receiver, a couple things in pass protection, a couple things technique-wise, it just hasn’t been as sharp as it needs to be.”
Notre Dame’s defense struggled to start the year, but has picked it up as of late. Since firing Brian VanGorder as defensive coordinator and promoting Greg Hudson to the position, the Fighting Irish have allowed 30 or more points just once.
Fuente said on Monday that Notre Dame has played better on defense since Hudson took over the job, but that it’s been hard to figure out exactly what the differences are. Since Hudson was promoted, Notre Dame has played the likes of Syracuse, Stanford, Navy and Army, none of which play a normal style of offense at the college level. Notre Dame also played NC State in the middle of Hurricane Matthew, which changed the complexion of that game.
“We’re still in the process right now of discerning the noticeable differences,” Fuente said. “You don’t have quite as much film as think you do when you realize it’s been six weeks. We’re still working on all that. The kids, just from reading comments, watching some film, the kids are playing hard, not that they weren’t playing hard before. Just reading between the lines a little bit, there seems to be some passion out there.”