Now that Virginia Tech has got their first game under their belt, the Hokies must now turn their attention to the biggest game of the year on the schedule — the Battle at Bristol this Saturday vs. No. 9 Tennessee.
It’s certainly going to be a spectacle. The game is expected to shatter the attendance record for any college football game in history. Bristol Motor Speedway normally can hold 160,000 people, which would be by far the most for any college football game.
Preparing for such an important game at such an abnormal venue is certainly different in some ways, but not many for Virginia Tech. Head Coach Justin Fuente said that his team will travel to Bristol on Friday and hold a walkthrough and workout on the field to get the players prepared for Saturday’s game.
“The stage shouldn’t determine the way we prepare or the way we perform,” Fuente said. “We should prepare in the same manner that we prepared last week and do the same things, we should act the same way. It’s still one football game and the stage shouldn’t determine our behavior. That being said, obviously it’s going to be pretty cool.”
Players watched film of Tennessee this morning, specifically the Volunteers’ Thursday night win vs. Appalachian State, which came down to the wire.
“I saw two really good teams play each other on film earlier this morning,” said Woody Baron. “I watched it live on Thursday when they played. I’m just approaching it the same way I do every weekend.”
Baron, who is from Nashville, TN., said that he has several friends and former teammates on Tennessee’s roster, including defensive back Rashaan Gaulden and defensive end Derek Barnett.
“You know, I’ve been doing this thing for a long time. I try to put as much significance as I can myself, being from Tennessee. I know a lot of people on the sidelines for the Vols,” Baron said. “At the end of the day, when this game ends, it’s just going to count as another game, whether it’s in the win column or the loss column for us. It’s going to be just as significant as any other game on the schedule.”
Baron said that he was in Bristol this past spring and walked into the track one day to see what the venue was like.
“I went by one time, when the gates were unlocked, so I just kind of invited myself in,” Baron said. “I just saw a huge stadium. It was unfathomably huge.”
Isaiah Ford, who had himself quite the day against Liberty, said that he looks forward to facing a talented Tennessee defense, including preseason All-American Cameron Sutton.
“Your competitive nature wants you to play against the best because it brings out the best in you,” Ford said. “I’ve watched the whole secondary to look for any small details or advantages I can take away from it.”
“They’re talented on defense,” Ford said. “They fly around and they are physical. They do a number of different things on defense, as far as showing their looks and disguising things like that, so we’ll have to be ready for that.”
Fuente praised Appalachian State’s performance defensively, but he expects Tennessee to get things righted on offense.
“Appalachian State did a great job defensively,” Fuente said. “They played a 50-defense and they’ve got some really good football players over there. I’m sure it wasn’t the performance Tennessee wanted to have offensively. They’ll get those things corrected and be ready to go on Saturday. It’s up to us to worry about ourselves and make sure we’re ready to play. They’ve got fine coaches out there and some fine athletes. I’m sure that they’ll get the corrections they need to make corrected.”
Even though Virginia Tech wants to prepare the same way for Tennessee as they did for Liberty, the talent level on the other sideline will be completely different on Saturday and Fuente knows that.
“You could improve a lot and not really be able to tell when you take a step up like we’re going to take,” Fuente said. “That’s just the facts of it. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Liberty and what they’ve done and their program, but the team we’re going to play Saturday is much more talented. The challenge for us is still to continue to improve and for us to measure those things internally and see if we get those things. We have another level that we can reach and I don’t know whether it’s the first game or what. I think it’s still figuring out who can do what. We played a bunch of guys and part of that is an evaluation game too, in terms of how many guys can we play.”
“I think it was nice, being able to come out here against Liberty and get our feet wet, just understand what we need to work on. It was a great starting point. We can’t make some of the same mistakes we did this past weekend against Tennessee. They’re going to take advantage of those,” Rogers said.
No matter what, Rogers believes Tech will be ready come Saturday night.
“Coach Fuente will have us prepared, I’m confident in that,” Rogers said. “He’s big on details in everything. I’m confident that we’ll be ready to go.”
Alexander Listed as a Starter, Teller Still Second String
Virginia Tech’s updated depth chart didn’t include many changes, except that Adonis Alexander was listed as the starter at right cornerback, while also being the backup to Brandon Facyson at left corner.
Fuente, however, was noncommittal to Alexander starting vs. Tennessee on Saturday. Greg Stroman, who started in place of Alexander vs. Liberty, recorded two interceptions and looked good in coverage.
“I’m not positive he’s going to start. We haven’t had our staff meeting today, we just wanted to make sure we got him on there, so nobody thought he was going to be out,” Fuente said. “He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do. He had a good camp. He did well in summer school and those sorts of things to earn another shot back.”
Also, Colt Pettit is still listed as the starter at left guard for the Hokies, with Wyatt Teller on the bench. Teller, who is one of Virginia Tech’s best and most experienced offensive lineman, has been the backup since the end of fall camp. Teller did play with the starters in certain situations vs. Liberty, and his presence seemed to improve Tech’s success in the running game.