Wednesday was the first real practice for Virginia Tech after a week off. Players and coaches agree that the break was sorely needed.
“I think it was well-deserved, as far as the break,” said Wide Receivers Coach Holmon Wiggins. “Kind of getting guys up to speed, give them a chance to catch up on some academic work, kind of take a break a little bit from football.”
“It was good having down time,” said Bucky Hodges. “Our bodies go through a lot and to have time to get extra treatment and get away from football a little bit, relax.”
Now, Virginia Tech must prepare for Arkansas, who finished 7-5 this season with all five losses against the SEC.
Defensive Coordinator praised the Razorback offense on Wednesday for their versatility and success against premier defenses.
“Alabama gave up 15 touchdowns in 13 games, which is phenomenal,” Foster said. “These guys scored four of them.”
Arkansas Head Coach Bret Bielema has been known for his power running offenses throughout his career. However, this season, Arkansas ranks 35th in FBS in passing but just 66th in the country is rushing.
Foster said their passing numbers are high this year because the Razorbacks have had great success with play action out of heavy formations.
“They like being able to create broad blocking surfaces and negate your edge pressure and pound the football a little bit,” Foster said. “They want to run the ball and by the time you think they’ll run it, they’ll take a shot.”
Foster also said that Arkansas’ offensive line could give the Hokies fits and is responsible for the Razorbacks being so good at controlling the ball with the run game. The Razorbacks are second in the country in time of possession and running back Rawleigh Williams III led the SEC in rushing with 1,326 yards and 12 touchdowns.
“They’ll probably be the largest group we’ve played up front,” Foster said.
Hokies getting younger players involved in practices
Virginia Tech is also using this time to get more reps for younger players, particularly those who don’t see the field throughout the season.
“That’s usually what you love to do, especially when you talk about bowl practices,” Wiggins said. “We’ve tried to make it a little less taxing for the older guys and also try to bring these younger guys up to speed, kind of refresh those guys’ memory on stuff we’ve been doing and making sure those guys have an idea of what they’ll be in for in the next semester.”
Wiggins named freshmen Phil Patterson and Samuel Denmark as young players who have taken big strides this season in practice.
“You watch him out there in practice, he moves the way you want him to,” Wiggins said of Patterson. “His redshirt year, getting in the weight room, he’s starting to change his body a little bit but he’s shown some flashes.”
Defensively, Virginia Tech hasn’t been able to get as much work in for the younger players. Foster said that the defense doesn’t have a lot of time for reps that aren’t going to the first or second team.
“We’re a little thin on defense right now, as far as the quality of guys that we have,” Foster said. “We’ve looked at moving a couple people around. Offensively, they’re a lot farther along than we are because they rep a lot of thirds. We don’t have enough time to rep thirds. We’re repping our first two groups and those thirds are usually servicing the offense.”
Foster did say that in the limited work they’ve had, Jarrod Hewitt, Emmanuel Belmart, Jovonn Quillen and Tyree Rodgers have made an impression.
Foster also told the media on Wednesday that defensive end Trevon Hill will likely have to have offseason surgery and will miss spring practice. Foster did not mention what kind of surgery he will have, but Hill is expected to play in the Belk Bowl.
Shibest to coach against alma mater for first time
One of the cool storylines to follow for the Belk Bowl is Tight Ends Coach/Special Teams Coordinator James Shibest, who played four seasons at Arkansas and coached there as an assistant from 2000-2007.
“I enjoyed my eight years coaching there and obviously playing there. It was a great experience and it adds a little extra for me,” Shibest said. “I’m excited for the game and I was excited to hear the matchup too.”
Shibest played wide receiver at Arkansas and left as the school’s all-time leading receiver with 1,920 career receiving yards. Those records have since been broken, but that number isn’t bad considering the fact that Arkansas ran the wishbone offense during Shibest’s career.
“I think it adds something for me,” Shibest said. “For our guys, it’s just another big game that we’ve got to go find a way to win.”
Despite Shibest’s storied career, it doesn’t seem like the players know too much about it. Running back Travon McMillian had no idea that Shibest played there, or that he held the receiving record.
“He had school records? Shibest? Hey, that’s pretty live,” McMillian said.