Game Notes: Virginia Tech’s Win Over North Carolina Means More Than Most

Virginia Tech football
Virginia Tech’s win over North Carolina on Saturday meant a bit more to head coach Justin Fuente (right) than normal. (Photo by Ivan Morozov)

Before diving into my game notes from Saturday’s win over North Carolina, be sure to read the game recap itself. I believe you’ll enjoy it.

Also, Virginia Tech jumped one spot in the Amway Coaches Poll and the AP Top 25, moving from 14th to 13th in both. The Hokies are the third ACC team ranked in both polls, sitting behind Clemson (7th) and Miami (8th).

All right. Time for some extra notes.

Sometimes, it just means more

Saturday’s win over North Carolina counts the same in the win-loss column, but it means a bit more emotionally. Virginia Tech had hoped to win this game not only to pick up another ACC win, but to soothe some personal angst.

“Every player, every coach has a certain team that like, gets under their skin, like that they really want to beat more than anybody else. I know for Coach (Justin Fuente), this is probably that team,” said receiver Cam Phillips. “I say this is a close second for me, but just the preparation that we had and how we’re starting to gel as a team, the leadership, I mean it’s great to see. We still have some work to do, and it wasn’t a perfect game, we had a lot of penalties out there and stuff we’ve got to get cleaned up, but another win is great. Especially another win against these guys and another win in the ACC.”

Even a North Carolina beat writer has noticed that there is no love lost between the Virginia Tech coaching staff and North Carolina.

The reason for the perceived beef is unknown. Virginia Tech and North Carolina do recruit against one another rather consistently nowadays, and maybe some on the Hokies’ staff feel like their 34-3 beatdown of the Tar Heels in 2016 isn’t respected enough, given that the game was played in hurricane/tropical storm conditions.

That angst trickles down to the coordinators as well. Bud Foster, who’s faced and recruited against North Carolina plenty over the years, sure was happy to win this game, too.

“I know they’re banged up, and so are we at some spots, too,” Foster said. “You’ve got 85 scholarships, both teams, and you’re going to put your best 72 out there in ACC games. We can’t control the weather, we can’t control the injuries, the only thing we can control is our attitude and our work ethic, and our commitment to one another, and I thought our kids exemplified that. We really worked hard in the off week, and it showed in our performance today.”

Virginia Tech football
Not only did Ricky Walker (8) register 1.5 sacks vs. North Carolina, he returned a fumble for a touchdown. (Photo by Ivan Morozov)

Defensive line answers the challenge

Defensive coordinator Bud Foster and defensive line coach Charley Wiles issued a challenge to their defensive line prior to Saturday’s game — get to the quarterback and finish the play.

“I talked to Charley and we talked to the defensive guys, and I looked at our stats,” Foster said. “We had 12 sacks through the first six games, and only four coming from our defensive line. I really challenged those guys the last couple days about getting some pressure on the quarterback. We felt like we could read some stances to play anticipating football. It didn’t always mean they were going to throw, but our guys are working too hard on pass rush fundamentals and techniques not for us to be able to get pressure on the quarterback or finish plays.”

It seems like the defensive line got the message. Virginia Tech’s defense registered six sacks, with five of them coming from defensive linemen. Ricky Walker led the way with 1.5 sacks.

“Pressure is not enough,” Walker said. “We talked about it at the meeting last night. We took it personal. We came out, I think I came out and got the first one, and I just set the tone. As a defensive line, it’s very exciting to get the quarterback on the ground. Just a hit or a hurry is not good enough.”

Saturday was about more than just sacking the quarterback. It was about making plays in the backfield, something Virginia Tech did a lot of. The Hokies finished with 13 tackles for loss as a team, with Walker’s battery mate Tim Settle earning 3.5 tackles for loss on his own.

Phillips breaks Ford’s career receptions record

When Cam Phillips decided to stick around in Blacksburg for his senior season, it was evident that he had a great chance to break some of his friend and former teammate Isaiah Ford’s career receiving records. Phillips broke a big one on Saturday, moving past Ford’s 210 career receptions. Phillips now has 212, after five catches vs. North Carolina.

“It seemed like it took forever for it to come, but I mean it’s an honor to have the record,” Phillips said. “I put in a lot of hard work to get that. I’m just grateful for it.”

Phillips did so while battling through an ankle injury. He missed most of the Boston College game after spraining his ankle early in the first quarter, but was able to heal enough in the bye week to play on Saturday.

“It was okay today,” Phillips said of his injury. “Playing football and going through a season, you’re never going to be 100 percent. You’ve just got to learn to take the bumps and bruises and pains, and just keep fighting through it. I had to do a little bit of that today.”

Virginia Tech football
Cam Phillips (5) is one of the most prolific wide receivers in school history. (Photo by Ivan Morozov)

Savoy returns to the field, thankful for support

Saturday was an attempt to return to normalcy for wide receiver Sean Savoy. The freshman from Washington D.C. returned to the field for the first time since losing his brother, Omar Rogers, in a tragic shooting two weeks ago. Savoy left Virginia Tech to be with his family during the bye week, and returned for this week’s practices before North Carolina.

“All week, I’ve been getting a lot of texts on social media, text messages to my phone, phone calls,” Savoy said. “Through the whole journey, through the whole week, a lot of my teammates have been hitting me up and texting me and telling me to keep my head up, along with the coaching staff and the Hokie nation. I really appreciate everybody being so supporting at the time.”

“Well, he’s handled everything about as well as can be expected,” Fuente said of Savoy. “Certainly, football is not the most important thing in anybody’s life. It’s important and it’s a big part of many of our lives, but I think out of that, and these are some things I’ve shared with Sean, out of a tragedy came some good. There’s probably more people in his life that he knows now love and care about him than he may have ever thought before.”

For Savoy, Saturday was tough. Savoy’s brother, Omar, has been a fixture at Virginia Tech home games this season, often sitting right behind Tech’s bench.

Sean Savoy (left) and his brother Omar Rogers, before a recent Virginia Tech game (photo via Sean Savoy’s Twitter, @AllMet_Boogie)

“It kind of helped me a little bit, to ease the pain,” Savoy said. “But when I go out there and I don’t see him out there, it touched me a little bit. I know he’s with me, but I’m used to seeing him right there, right behind the bench.”

Savoy only made one reception on Saturday, but nearly broke it for a touchdown. On the first play of the game for Virginia Tech’s offense, Savoy ran the slant and took it 23 yards before being tackled. Fuente said after the game that the play wasn’t called specifically for Savoy, but that he was happy to see him get acclimated to the game quickly.

“I mean, we liked the play. We certainly knew there was a chance for the ball to go to Sean,” Fuente said. “I mean, we weren’t trying to make a statement about Sean or give him anything. We just wanted to get him in the game and playing at a high level.”