Notebook: Virginia Tech Improves on the Ground, Backups and Adonis Alexander

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Steven Peoples
Steven Peoples ran for 26 yards and a touchdown vs. East Carolina. (Photo by Ivan Morozov)

Before we jump into my notes, the newest TSL Podcast is online and available for download. You can listen here on TSL, on Soundcloud or on Apple iTunes. Also, subscribers can read Chris Coleman’s Sunday column here.

Virginia Tech rushing attack wears down Pirates

Virginia Tech’s rushing attack made big strides on Saturday vs. East Carolina. After a paltry performance vs. Delaware two weeks ago, the Hokies controlled the entire game thanks to efficient passing and a consistent running game. Virginia Tech averaged 4.6 yards per carry on Saturday vs. the Pirates, after averaging just 2.9 yards per rush vs. the Blue Hens.

Running backs coach Zohn Burden praised his running backs’ performance on Monday at the Hokies’ press conference, but also praised the offensive line’s blocking.

“Movement on the line of scrimmage,” Burden said. “And, the running backs actually hitting the right holes and finding seams in there was very critical. We just wanted to be better than we were in the Delaware game, and those guys answered the challenge.”

The Hokies offense also wore down East Carolina physically. Virginia Tech dominated the time of possession battle, 39:13 to 20:47. The time of possession difference in the second quarter was particularly staggering, as the Hokies held onto the ball for 11:57 of the 15-minute quarter. In the first half alone, Virginia Tech ran 54 offensive plays.

“I thought we wore them down too,” said head coach Justin Fuente. “I don’t know how many snaps it was in the first half, I think it was over 50, it was like 20 minutes they were on the field. I think that played a pretty big role. If you think back on the game, in the first half, they either scored really quickly or they were forced to punt really quickly. In the first couple drives, they scored pretty quick and the rest of the half, they didn’t really mount much, which in turn put the defense on the field. I really felt like at halftime, that we were really going to be able to make a concerted effort to really run the ball, because they had played so many snaps.”

Fuente pleased with backups’ mindset vs. East Carolina

Virginia Tech’s dominating performance allowed the Hokies to play their backups at every position. The entire second team played on both sides of the ball, and even some third-teamers saw time in the fourth quarter. Quarterback AJ Bush, wide receivers Hezekiah Grimsley and Eric Kumah, the entire backup defensive line, cornerbacks Tyree Rodgers and Bryce Watts and safety Devon Hunter were among those who saw playing time.

“Some good, some bad,” Fuente said. “I liked the way they competed. They competed like they valued playing time, like they were hungry to get out there and play, not like they were anxious to get the game over with. And that’s a good thing. I do believe in playing people that deserve to be played.”

One of the backups who stood out to Fuente was rover Khalil Ladler, who forced a fumble in the fourth quarter. Ladler, a redshirt-freshman, is the third rover for the Hokies behind Reggie Floyd and Devon Hunter, but could play a significant role on the team in future seasons.

“I thought it was really neat,” Fuente said of Ladler’s play. “Not just the play, and the emotion from the players on the field, but the emotion of the players on the sideline. I think you could tell that the kids really like (Ladler), and really responded to him making a big play.”

Khalil Ladler
Khalil Ladler (9) got mobbed by teammates after forcing a fumble in the fourth quarter vs. East Carolina. (Photo by Ivan Morozov)

Hokies focused on Old Dominion, not Clemson

Virginia Tech takes on Old Dominion this weekend, a program that has made significant strides since being rebooted in 2009. The Monarchs made the jump from FCS to FBS in the 2014 season, after spending a few years in the Colonial Athletic Conference (CAA). Head coach Bobby Wilder has been there since the program’s fresh start, and has successfully helped settle Old Dominion into Conference USA. The Monarchs made their first bowl appearance in 2016, beating Eastern Michigan in the Bahamas Bowl.

“Probably people in this state give Bobby credit. I’m not sure he gets enough credit on a national level for the job that he’s done at ODU,” Fuente said. “To really, literally, build that thing from scratch is really a fantastic job. I’ve had the chance to meet him a couple of times, when we were out and about. Just a really, really good football coach, and has a good football team.”

For Burden, this game could hold some personal significance. Burden served at Old Dominion in two different stints, once from 2007-2010 and from 2012-2014. Burden was there for the restart of the program, and has respect for the entire program.

“I would say it’s extremely impressive. It still is, it shows to this day,” Burden said. “For them to actually win a bowl game last year, I think that speaks volumes from where the program started, to where it was when I was there back in 2007. They’ve come a long way. The good thing about it is that they’re still successful and (Wilder) has done a heck of a job.

“I think at the end of the day, it’s a great game for the state, a great game for the kids in that area, that either played against some of those kids or played with them in the same high school,” Burden said. “But, once the ball is kicked off, it’s just another game.”

Virginia Tech has to keep their focus on Old Dominion this week, instead of wondering about Clemson. The Hokies will host the 2nd-ranked Tigers next week at 8 p.m. on ABC, and the game is drawing plenty of hype. Clemson defeated Virginia Tech in last season’s ACC Championship 42-35, and both teams sit inside the top-15 in the AP Top 25 and Coaches’ Poll.

Fuente said that he isn’t worried about his team overlooking Saturday’s game vs. Old Dominion, mostly because the coaching staff has instilled the Hokies “1-0” culture from the very beginning.

“The key to that is… we don’t wait until the fall to start talking about that mindset,” Fuente said. “I mean as soon as they come back from Christmas Break, we start talking about it in our winter workouts, our offseason program through our summer, through two-a-days and obviously into the season, that’s all training for that mindset of not getting ahead of ourselves, not looking forward, not looking backwards, just literally focusing on the next step that’s in front of us.”

Adonis Alexander
Adonis Alexander’s status for Saturday vs. Old Dominion is uncertain. (Photo by Don Montague)

Alexander’s status still uncertain

Fuente said on Monday that no decision has been made on cornerback Adonis Alexander, and whether or not he will be available for Virginia Tech’s game vs. the Monarchs. Alexander was held back from the trip to East Carolina last weekend. In a written statement last Friday, Fuente said Alexander had “not lived up to our expectations at Virginia Tech.”

“We will continue to evaluate that throughout the week, and see kind of how it goes,” Fuente said. “I would stand by my statement, just in terms of our expectations for Adonis. He knows them, and needs to meet them, and we’ll evaluate it as we go through the week.”

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