Virginia Tech’s bye week is officially over, as the Hokies can now look towards their first game of the season vs. an ACC Coastal team. Tech’s break surely wasn’t an off week, even though several players took the time to heal up.
Virginia Tech is dealing with several key injuries right now at running back and wide receiver, two positions the Hokies could least afford to have health problems. Receivers Cam Phillips, James Clark and CJ Carroll are all dealing with things, as is running back Steven Peoples. As helpful as the bye week might have been towards getting those players healthy, their status moving forward is still uncertain.
“Well, the thing I would tell you is yeah, it did come at a good time,” said head coach Justin Fuente on the bye week. “We’re still working through a decent number of guys that are, I guess day-to-day is the best way to say it, particularly at our offensive skill positions. I’m not sure who is going to play on Saturday, quite honestly. None of them are major things, we usually kind of tell you guys when we have big, huge, season-ending injuries or things like that. None of them are like that, but we’re just dealing with a bunch of those right now.”
Also included in that group is receiver Phil Patterson, a redshirt-freshman who’s yet to play this season. Patterson had knee surgery early in the season, and the coaching staff was optimistic that he would return to practice around the bye. He has indeed returned, although Virginia Tech isn’t sure how close he is to playing.
“I put him in that group of guys,” Fuente said of Patterson. “It’s important to Phil for him to make it back. He wants to go play and play at a high level, and wants to do it as quickly as possible. We’ve been pleased with him and his progress, or his urgency to get back.”
Hokies focusing on the little things, taking care of the ball
Outside of healing, Virginia Tech also did their best to self-scout and take inventory of the first six games of the season.
“We kind of set out objectives to accomplish during the week. One of them was to take a good look at ourselves in all three phases of the game,” Fuente said. “What we’re doing well, what we’re not doing well, if there is anything we can do to help those things, tendencies, so on and so forth. We take some good time there, along with focusing on some key teaching or scheme points to make through the week, and also a little bit of preparing for the next opponent.”
One key focus was to continue hammering home the message that Virginia Tech cannot afford to beat themselves. Fuente has preached all season that the Hokies’ margin of error is too small to overcome silly mistakes, and that Virginia Tech must excel at the little things to win games.
“In my mind, just looking at our team at the midway point, for us to give ourselves a chance to win, we are going to have to do all of those little things, as we continue through the season, in terms of winning the field position battle,” Fuente said. “We won a game or two in our first six games not only because of the field position battle, but it played a huge role in us being able to win. Particularly the first game.”
Winning the turnover margin is almost as important as winning the field position battle, if not more so. Virginia Tech has once again prioritized taking care of the football, and is seeing progress from last season. In 2016, the Hokies finished with a turnover margin of minus-1. Through six games in 2017, Tech is plus-1. The margin is skewed due to a fewer amount of takeaways, but Tech is currently on pace to turn the ball over just 12 times during the regular season, 14 fewer times than they did in 14 games in 2016.
“I think guys know that it’s tied to playing time,” Fuente said. “I think guys know that for us to have a chance to win, this has to happen. If you want to stay on the field, you certainly need to take care of the ball.”
Fuente said that Virginia Tech has also started teaching players a slightly different technique, in terms of holding onto the football. The change is paying off.
“We’ve made a huge point of emphasis, not just in our drill work, but in our team settings,” Fuente said. “I think the guys have kind of embraced that part of it. I think maybe we’ve done a little better job as coaches drilling it into them, not just during drill work but during big team settings.”
Impact of Saturday’s game on recruiting
Saturday’s game vs. North Carolina will undoubtedly have an impact on the two programs outside of just this season. The Hokies and Tar Heels often go up against one another when recruiting players, and each side wins their fair share. Saturday’s game might influence recruits one way or the other, but Fuente downplayed the game’s impact on recruiting.
“To me, if I was advising an 18-year-old on deciding where to go to school, I don’t know that I would stake a large portion of that on one football game,” Fuente said. “I think there are a lot of other factors that are much more important to their happiness and their day-to-day life that don’t have to do with what happens on one particular Saturday for four hours. I’m sure, in their minds, there’s an element of that, but ultimately, making a decision on where you’re going to go to school and who you’re going to play for, the program you’re going to represent, to me, one game shouldn’t define that one way or the other.”
In the Class of 2018, Virginia Tech and North Carolina have gone up against each other on a few occasions. Virginia Tech has beaten North Carolina for commitments from 2017 recruits like Tre Turner, Alan Tisdale and DJ Crossen, all of whom are recruits from North Carolina. However, the Tar Heels have earned commitments from Payton Wilson, Jordyn Adams and Dyami Brown. North Carolina also recruited Blacksburg running back Cole Beck, but Beck ended up committing to the Hokies. Both Virginia Tech and North Carolina are still recruiting linebacker Dax Hollifield as well.
Savoy returns to Virginia Tech
Fuente confirmed to the media on Monday that freshman receiver Sean Savoy has returned to the team and will practice this week. Savoy’s brother, Omar Rogers, died on Oct. 8 in Washington D.C. in a shooting. Savoy left the team to be with his family, but has since returned.
Savoy is understandably still grieving, but Fuente said that Savoy is doing the best he can.
“I would say as well as can be expected,” Fuente said of Savoy. “I do think, and I don’t want to put words in Sean’s mouth, but I do think it’s somewhat therapeutic to get back around his friends and his teammates.”
This season, Savoy has been Virginia Tech’s second-best receiver. The freshman has 27 receptions for 337 yards and three touchdowns, and is the team’s second-leading receiver behind Cam Phillips in each of those three categories.