Virginia Tech Prepared for Final Test vs. Arkansas in Belk Bowl

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Jerod Evans Virginia Tech
Jerod Evans knows the importance of Thursday night’s Belk Bowl against Arkansas (photo: Ivan Morozov)

Charlotte, NC — Virginia Tech has a chance to make history on Thursday night.

A win vs. Arkansas in the Belk Bowl would give Virginia Tech three straight bowl victories, making this year’s senior class the first to accomplish such a feat in the history of Virginia Tech football. The Hokies won the 2014 Military Bowl 33-17 over Cincinnati and the 2015 Independence Bowl 55-52 over Tulsa.

A win over the Razorbacks would mean something more too.

“We just want to show everybody that Virginia Tech is back,” Virginia Tech quarterback Jerod Evans said on Wednesday. “That’s pretty much the whole thing. We want to go 1-0 everyday, but it’s pretty much to show Virginia Tech is back to where it used to be.”

The Hokies have definitely righted the ship. Virginia Tech is on the verge of winning 10 games for the first time since the 2011 season. Virginia Tech’s success can be partially traced back to one week.

After losing in embarrassing fashion to Tennessee in the Battle at Bristol, Virginia Tech said in the post game their performance could be traced back to a poor week of practice.

“We didn’t lose tonight,” said defensive end Ken Ekanem after the game. “We lost Tuesday, Wednesday and Monday during practice. Me, as a senior and all of the other seniors on the team, we have to hold ourselves accountable to get this team going and actually be productive and make better practice habits.”

“We didn’t have a great week of practice for whatever reason. I don’t know,” said Sam Rogers. “I don’t know how we didn’t, but we didn’t and we have to fix that. Senior leaders got to step up and be more vocal on those days and make sure we get it right because no one likes this feeling. No one likes the feeling of just giving away games like this.”

That week, that loss has now turned into a lesson that’s propelled Virginia Tech to heights they haven’t seen in the last few seasons.

“I think it was a blessing in disguise,” said Jerod Evans. “It showed us what we really had. The leadership on this team understood that. We picked up where we knew we were slacking. I think it was very important, especially that early in the season, that we understood that.”

“Coach Fuente has actually brought that up,” Rogers said. “He’s gone through each week and shown us, ‘These are the lessons we’ve learned throughout the year, this is what we’ve done.’ You kind of forget about them as you’re going week to week, you forget everything you’ve been through. This team has been through a lot. We’ve had a lot of ups and downs and I think we’ve really matured throughout the year.”

The players made it a point that for the rest of the season, they’d hold themselves to a higher standard.

“That kind of drew the line with us,” Ekanem said. “We can’t just have a bad practice. We know what a bad practice looks like. Once you start seeing that, people start correcting themselves. Nobody wanted a loss as bad as Tennessee. We made sure we prepared and the leaders had to keep people in check… It was kind of a big teaching moment and I hope going forward, the younger guys learn from that and it sticks with them going forward.”

Virginia Tech has all the motivation in the world as well to ensure a good week of preparation.

2016.12.28. Virginia Tech (Hokies) vs University of Arkansas (Razorbacks). Bank Of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC. Belk Bowl. Media Day.
Justin Fuente has a chance to cap an already resurgent season with a 10th win.

“The people out there that say these games are meaningless are wrong. They’re not,” said Justin Fuente. “It’ll mean a lot to our kids. That’s why they’ve worked so hard to get here, that’s why they work so hard in preparation.

“There is a strong desire among our players to send the seniors out the right way,” Fuente said. “Our group of seniors mean something special to the younger players.”

The Hokies have been busy this week, but they’ve been able to have enough downtime to heal up from a rough season.

“Healing up was pretty big for us,” Ekanem said. “We really took this time to get into the training room and get all the nicks and bruises out. I think a lot of guys took advantage of the time and used it efficiently.”

“It’s been huge,” Rogers said. “Football is a very physical game so you’re going to have bumps and bruises throughout the year and you’re going to get beat up, so having these couple weeks to get healthy, it’ll feel good going into the game being refreshed again.”

Unfortunately for Tech, there hasn’t been enough time for Vinny Mihota’s shoulder to heal. Mihota has been bothered by the injury since the Hokies’ win over Miami. Mihota dislocated his shoulder and has been able to play since then, but has been limited. Mihota will miss Thursday’s Belk Bowl.

“It just kept coming out of place and he couldn’t help it,” Ekanem said. “I respect him for being team-first and putting himself in harm’s way to give us the best chance to win. I’m very proud of him.”

Filling in for Mihota is redshirt-freshman Trevon Hill, who’s dealing with a shoulder injury of his own. In limited snaps, Hill has registered 1.5 sacks, five tackles for loss and 33 total tackles.

“He came in, improved from game to game,” Ekanem said. “He has a lot of potential going into next year. He has to get surgery going into the offseason too and it all depends on how he rehabs and attacks it. He’s really improving game to game and especially in the latter half of the season. He’s been coming in and making a difference.”

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3 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Not at all a dig at Coach Beamer but if you go back to players’ comments over the spring and summer camp, Coach Fuente’s practices are at a much different temp and pace than prior years. I suspect even the veterans had some adjustments toward being consistently crisp and bring your A-game mentally every day.

    But you last line in spot on. The ability to stay consistently disciplined is a life-long lesson for most of us.

  2. One thought that i had regarding the seniors acknowledging they needed to be accountable to hold practices and such to a higher standard. Some of these seniors have been starting or playing alot for a long time. You would have thought they would have learned these things before now. Last year trying to get Beamer and the team to a bowl required a level of intensity and pressure that meant they had to win several of their remaining games. They have been through situations where they had to win, they had to prepare better, they had bad days and had to learn from them. Rogers is right in that people forget what they went through, they forget about practices that went south. I have had those practices where you walk out thinking we “got nothing done” or didn’t get better, where you stopped practice multiple times to get the players going right, to make them aware of their lack of focus, their goofiness, their sloppiness and you do things to penalize or motivate. And then when you think they “got it”, some time later, you are doing the same thing over. But you would think that Rogers, Ekanem, Baron, McLaughlin, and even the WRs who have started since their freshman year (Ford, Phillips, etc.) would have learned these lessons. The classic phrase “we dont want to have this feeling again” seems to be repeated alot in sports (and life!) 🙂

    1. A very good point, with the key phrase being “you would think”. You mention roughly 10 upperclassmen who (you would think) should have learned the lessons and not allow them to occur again. However, they are a small portion of a much larger family that all have to learn the lesson because you just can’t have 22 guys (starters) buy in, have learned the lessons, and be expected to win every game. I think that’s the biggest difference between the twilight Beamer years and this first Fuente year. I have no doubt we had a contingency of players in those last Beamer years fully buying in, knowing what it takes to win week to week, and knowing how any lapse in preparation will be costly. But we also probably had quite a few players (many backups) and even some coaches/assistants who were in a bit of cruise control from the amazing success the program had had through 2010/11.

      Ever since Fuente landed in Blacksburg, I think he and his assistants have made sure that everyone is buying in, preparing the best they can, and taking away everything they can from the lessons that they learn (ahem, Bristol).

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