Towards the end of fall camp, Virginia Tech’s coaching staff tried their best to educate the players on the Hokies-Mountaineers rivalry. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster and defensive line coach Charley Wiles, as well as strength and conditioning assistant and former player Ryan Shuman, addressed the team, talking about the history between Virginia Tech and West Virginia.
The players might be educated on the rivalry now, but don’t expect fire and brimstone.
“Yeah, we’ve been told a lot about it,” said Josh Jackson. “They don’t like us, we don’t like them is I guess pretty much how it goes.”
It’s understandable that very few people around the offices in Blacksburg are riled up. Virginia Tech and West Virginia haven’t suited up against each other since 2005, when the Hokies came away with a 34-17 win in Morgantown. Most of the current players on both teams were in elementary school at that time, and very few coaches remain from that season. Foster and Wiles are the only coaches left from the 2005 season at Virginia Tech, while West Virginia’s Tony Gibson and Bruce Tall are the only coaches left on that side.
Even cornerbacks coach Brian Mitchell is downplaying the rivalry. Mitchell coached at West Virginia from 2013-2015, but still has a limited knowledge of the Hokies and Moutaineers’ history. Mitchell doesn’t want his players getting too caught up in the drama, and thinks that head coach Justin Fuente is preaching the right message.
“Like Coach Fuente has said, let’s do whatever it takes to get out of there with a one-point victory, and that’s good enough,” Mitchell said. “I don’t think our kids are too into the rivalry other than, they’re next on the schedule. Let’s go 1-0 this week.”
If anyone on the Virginia Tech roster has a bone to pick with West Virginia, it would be Cam Phillips. As a 3-star recruit from DeMatha Catholic High School in Maryland, Phillips held an offer from West Virginia. Phillips was slated to visit Morgantown, but was later asked not to come. Phillips ended up never visiting.
“They came up with some excuse, like the coach had something,” Phillips said. “It was whatever.”
Still, Phillips is keeping things in perspective.
“I think this rivalry is different from UVa.,” Phillips said. “Only because I think this one is more for the fans, since we haven’t played them and we haven’t really paid much attention to it, since we haven’t played in 12 or 13 years. For me, I think the rivalry game counts as a regular game.”
Despite limited film, Hokies’ defense confident in preparation
West Virginia’s offense is a bit of an unknown. The Mountaineers are led by a new offensive coordinator in Jake Spavital, who previously coached at California. West Virginia’s starting quarterback, Will Grier, played six games as a freshman for Florida in 2015. Grier ended up sitting out the 2016 season due to a suspension for a performance-enhancing substance. The NCAA ruled Grier eligible for the 2017 season this summer, and Grier’s only football action since 2015 was West Virginia’s spring game in April.
Even though there is limited film on Grier, especially film that is recent, Virginia Tech’s coaches are doing their best to get a gauge of what he can do.
“I mean, there is film,” Mitchell said. “You watch his mechanics. Can he make all of the throws? Yes he can. Is he mobile, yes he is. Those are probably the first things you start looking at. Then, we were lucky enough to look at the spring game. The kid is pretty accurate.”
Foster sees Grier as an “outstanding football player.”
“He’s a talented guy,” Foster said. “You’re not a quarterback at this level, you’re talking at the University of Florida and then now here at West Virginia, if you’re not a quality athlete and a quality competitor. He’s got a live arm, he’s consistent. He’s had enough practice time, I think, to knock the rust off, but there’s a difference in practicing and all of a sudden, playing in front of 90,000 people.”
As far as West Virginia’s offensive scheme, it sounds like Foster and Co. have a good understanding of what to expect on Sunday night. Foster said that a lot of West Virginia’s concepts resemble Virginia Tech’s concepts, and that the Moutaineers boast a lot of talented running backs.
“Well, we haven’t seen all of them. We’ve only seen a couple,” Foster said. “They’ve got guys who’ve redshirted, guys that they brought in, that type of thing. The thing we’ve got to see, I think they’re down as receivers go, and that’s maybe where you’re going to see a lot more running backs. What role will those running backs play?
“They’re not a multiple-back team,” Foster said. “They’re a one-back offense. Occasionally, they will get into some multiple backs and if they do, we’ve got a plan for that.”