Virginia Tech isn’t resting on its laurels this week after trouncing Boston College 49-0. In fact, they might be working even harder, given their opponent this Saturday — East Carolina.
The Hokies will host East Carolina at 12:30 p.m. at Lane Stadium on Saturday, looking to sustain the success they enjoyed last week, while also trying to even the score with the Pirates. East Carolina has knocked off Virginia Tech in the last two meetings, including a 28-21 loss in 2014 at Lane Stadium and 35-28 loss on the road last season.
“They know about that,” said Head Coach Justin Fuente on Monday. “I can assure you East Carolina has the full respect of all our players.”
Despite Tech’s recent struggles against East Carolina, the team is trying to treat it like any other week.
“Honestly, we’re just looking forward to this year,” said Tremaine Edmunds. “We know we’ve put the game behind us last year and we have to go out there and do this year. Right now, we’re worried about this week and preparing for the team we’re going to play this year.”
“We know what they did, the past two years beating us, but we just have to approach it like it’s any other game,” Carroll said.
The last two losses to East Carolina have both come off of big victories. In 2014, Virginia Tech’s loss came directly after the Hokies upset No. 8 Ohio State in Columbus. In 2015, the loss came directly after Virginia Tech’s 51-24 blowout of Purdue.
Fuente said performing on a consistent basis isn’t easy, and it’s part of building a culture.
“It’s an incredibly difficult thing to do,” Fuente said. “That’s why you see upsets every week or you see disappointing performances. These kids have other things in their lives they’re going through as well. They have exams, girlfriends, family members, a bunch of things. Maintaining your focus week in and week out, handling the emotions of the ups and downs.”
Fuente’s other point of emphasis this week is keeping his players from getting too high and mighty after shutting out a conference rival.
“We talked about that, about how everybody is going to tell you how great you are, until this Saturday. Then you have to prove it,” Fuente said. “We try to address those things. I know those external factors are things that we have to mature and understand how to handle. I try to explain to them, we live in an overreaction society, and I’m not pointing the fingers at anybody, but I’m saying everything is either the best thing ever or the worst thing ever. There’s never any in between. It’s up to us to mediate that and make sure that we understand it’s a process and day by day we approach it, and try to block out those external factors and focus on the task at hand.”
Players and coaches said after Saturday’s win vs. Boston College that the week of practice was much better than the week before, when the Hokies lost at the Battle at Bristol. Edmunds said that the team has learned their lesson.
“I think we pretty much know what we’re going to get Tuesday,” Edmunds said. “I think coming out Tuesday, we’ll see a lot of guys coming out with attitude, a lot eager to get on the field and get ready to practice and get ready for a big time ballgame.”
Marshawn Williams happy to be back on the field for Virginia Tech
One player who will certainly be motivated this week is running back Marshawn Williams, who saw his first game action since 2014 last Saturday. Williams carried the ball 15 times, mostly in the second half, for 81 yards.
“I was blessed to be out there,” Williams said. “Happy, more than anything. It’s been almost two years. Been a tough road to get back here. I was just happy to be out there really.”
“I thought it was good that we got him a lot of work there at the end with the second group, because he needed to shake that rust off,” Fuente said. “I didn’t see any rust, but it’s not just the first game of the year for him, it was his first in game in some time.”
Williams said that it didn’t take him long to find a rhythm.
“Maybe my first two carries, I was a little timid, but then after that I realized my knee worked, so I was out there grinding after that,” Williams said.
It’s been a long road back for Williams. After tearing his ACL in 2014 vs. Duke, Williams rehabbed the entire offseason to get ready for 2015. However, he injured his knee again, sidelining him again for the season.
“I was making a cut and it was just like a strong cut, like a jump cut, and it just didn’t hang with me I guess,” Williams said. “The ACL wasn’t right. It was just the same injury again.”
Williams said that reinjuring his knee was a real low-point during his rehab process. He wasn’t sure if he would ever be able to play football again.
“When you’re not doing what you love, there’s always that thought,” Williams said. “I was able to get back, that’s the only good thing about it. The lowest low and the highest high.”
During his neat two-year long rehab, Williams said he relied heavily on his family, as well as his teammates, to keep up his morale and self-confidence.
“It was a lot of early mornings involved, a lot of being with my team, just talking to them and talking to my family, just to keep me into it because it’s a point where you came to college to go to school and play football, and when one of those are taken away, it’s kind of hard to just keep it all together,” Williams said. “There were low points, there were high points. That’s with anything. Rehab was hard, it was really hard, but I got through it and I’m blessed to be able to still play.”
When rehabbing a knee injury, it’s hard to keep from gaining weight. Williams wasn’t allowed to run much, if at all, and he said at one point he was up to 250 pounds. Now that he’s healthy, Williams is back to 227 pounds.
“I got pretty high,” Williams said. “It was up there, and that was a lot with not being able to run. As soon as I started to be able to run around, it got right back down. Now, I’m lower than I was playing freshman year. I feel a lot better. My weight went up and down.”
Even after seemingly getting past rehab, Williams wasn’t available for Virginia Tech’s first two games due to an academic issue. Williams said that his rehab conflicted with his class schedule, causing him to miss some classes.
Now, with rehab behind him, Williams can focus solely on football. Virginia Tech’s running back rotation has been somewhat in flux this season, with the number of carries fluctuating for players. There very well could be a chance for Williams, who at one point was the featured back for Virginia Tech, to earn significant playing time.
“Travon (McMillian) is really good, Sam (Rogers) is really good, Shai (McKenzie) is really good. We just compete in practice. I have no idea, that’s something that would happen in practice,” Williams said. “All of us are really good, we just compete every week and we have fun doing it.”
“We’ll continue to see how that rotation goes,” Fuente said. “I know you guys are awfully interested in who gets the carries and all that stuff, but it’s not really a central focus for us. We’ll continue to teach the gameplan and see how those guys practice. How they practice usually dictates how we feel about them in terms of playing them in the game.”
Fuente says targeting penalty on Gaines was “right call”
Fuente addressed Houshun Gaines’ ejection on Saturday again on Monday. Gaines, who is suspended for the first half of the East Carolina game, was ejected after being flagged for a targeting penalty on a block on a punt return in the fourth quarter.
“There’s no recourse for those things,” Fuente said. “It’s a good call. It was the right call. I don’t think it was malicious in any way by (Gaines). That’s a very tough play to coach because he’s not allowed to block low. As a result of us legislating safety, which I fully agree with, there are going to be some plays like that where guys lose opportunities to play. That’s just kind of the way it is. He could have lowered his target a little bit, but we showed it to the whole team and talked about it. You don’t like it but there’s not much you can do about it.”