After losing nine fumbles in their first two games of the season, it’s no surprise that ball security has been a point of emphasis so far in practice.
“Huge. Huge emphasis,” said Isaiah Ford. “Everyone is running around, even Coach Fuente is running around, trying to knock the ball out of your hands.”
Coaches aren’t the only ones trying to knock the ball out in practice.
“If you run by the waterboy or one of the coaches, they might try to knock the ball out,” Ford said.
Winning the turnover battle is a hallmark of good teams, but the Hokies haven’t been effective in retaining possession. Virginia Tech is -4 in turnover margin in their first two games. Virginia Tech turned the ball over five times vs. Tennessee, while the Volunteers had just one turnover.
“If you turn the ball over that many times, you’re not going to have a chance to win a ballgame,” said Travon McMillian. “If we eliminate those turnovers, we’re probably in the ballgame still.”
McMillian said that one focus for ball carriers is to “double” the ball, covering it up with both arms, instead of just using one arm to carry.
The scout team defense has made an extra effort to force fumbles in practice, which should help get the Hokies ready for Boston College on Saturday, who’s ranked third in total defense.
If guys fumble in practice, they hear about it from the coaching staff and fellow players.
“Then you get ripped,” Ford said. “Coach Fuente is getting on to you, the leaders on the team are getting on to you. We’re just holding each other accountable.”
Another point of emphasis for Virginia Tech’s skill players is blocking in the run game. Ford said that the backs, tight ends and receivers blocked better vs. Tennessee than they did against Liberty.
“I think so and he kind of told us that in the meeting Sunday,” Ford said. “(Fuente) said we’re making strides. We’re still not where we want to be yet, but we’re making strides and going in the right direction.”
McMillian said he’s really focused on becoming a better blocker in practice.
“It takes hard work, trying to figure out what angle to take on certain blocks and what guy to pick up and stuff like that,” McMillian said. “We’re coming along and we’re definitely improving in that area as a team.”
Ford said that Virginia Tech’s offense can only run at full speed if the players on the outside are blocking effectively.
“When you can run the ball, it opens us up on the perimeter, so now we can play action pass, we can go over the top and things like that. We know that us blocking is just as important as us running routes and catching the ball and things like that.”
Offensive line still searching for consistency
The skill players aren’t the only ones trying to block better. Virginia Tech’s offensive line, which has been shuffling players in and out due to ineffectiveness or fatigue, allowed three sacks vs. Tennessee.
Offensive Line Coach Vance Vice said on Tuesday that shuffling guys in and out of the lineup creates competition at those spots, as well as keep the players fresh.
“I’d love to have five guys, 10 guys, 15 guys, because with the tempo and everything, we’re going to have to play more than five,” Vice said. “I’ve made the mistake before of five guys playing 102 snaps. I’d be kidding myself if I told you they were as good in the fourth quarter as they were in the first. Competition is always healthy.”
After starting Eric Gallo at center vs. Liberty, the Hokies decided to start Kyle Chung, who has dealt with multiple injuries during his career and missed Virginia Tech’s spring camp.
“(Chung) has worked his tail off,” Vice said. “He came off of an injury in the spring and worked all summer, he’s had some great practices here, and the thing I appreciate about (Gallo) is that he comes here every day and shows up. We talked to him, he’s going to alternate snaps there.”
Colt Pettit continues to be listed ahead of Wyatt Teller at left guard, though the word “or” is listed between their names, meaning that either guy could potentially start.
“Wyatt’s day to day,” Vice said. “And I love Wyatt. I really do, and he knows it, he’ll be the first one to tell you. He’ll have a day where he’s focused and on point and he’ll have a day where he’s not. He is gradually getting better every day right now.”
Vice said that Virginia Tech can’t afford penalties like the ones Teller was called for against Tennessee. Both were illegal block calls.
“One of them was… I ran him for one of them,” Vice said, meaning that he agreed with one of the calls and disagreed with the other.
Jonathan McLaughlin and Yosuah Nijman have seemed to hold onto their jobs at right and left tackle, respectively.
“I hate putting guys in cold,” Vice said. “The last team we played, they had some talented guys on the edge and I’d hate to put a guy in cold unless I had to. Jon (McLaughlin) and Nijman, they’ve rated highest on everything we’ve done so far.”
One guy who can help provide depth on both the interior and exterior of the line is Parker Osterloh, who Vice said can play all five offensive line positions. However, Osterloh is currently out with a leg or ankle injury.
“He’s ahead of schedule because he works like crazy to get back out there,” Vice said.
Moss to leave program, still enrolled at Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech announced on Tuesday that linebacker Jamieon Moss, a redshirt-junior, had left the team. Moss is still enrolled at Virginia Tech.
Defensive Coordinator Bud Foster said that Moss is dealing with private issues, and that he wishes Moss the best.
Moss is the second linebacker to leave the program in the last few months. Carson Lydon left the team in June with plans to transfer, while Raymon Minor left the program planning to transfer, only to rejoin the team just 12 days later as a walk-on.
Foster said that attrition is part of life in college football.
“We lost a couple guys. We’ve got several committed, which they can’t get here soon enough,” Foster said. “We’re in a new group, a new era. What happens with some guys is, they get caught up in playing time, they got to understand you earn your playing time. It’s not ordained to you or given to you. You’ve got to earn that. There’s a lot of different roles on this team. To be a good football team, it takes everybody to buy into that role, and I don’t think all these guys, and I’m not saying this about Jamieon, he’s a total different situation, but I think some other guys that left, that was kind of their mindset. I think it’s a little selfish, because they aren’t looking at the big picture. They’re looking more at themselves, rather than, ‘How can I really help this football team and this program to be an elite program?’”
In regards to the current team, Moss had been the backup Backer to Tremaine Edmunds. With Moss now gone, Foster said that true freshman Tavante Beckett would now back up Edmunds.
“He was working his way into the two-deep anyway,” Foster said. “The kid has a nose for the football. He’s not experienced at all. He got a couple snaps the other day, about seven, and looked like a freshman, had big eyes and all that, but I think he’s going to continue to get better as he moves forward.”
Foster said that Sean Huelskamp, who has been the backup at Mike linebacker for Andrew Motuapuaka, can also slide over to the Backer position. Foster also said that Anthony Shegog is another option for the Hokies, should the need arise.