Before diving into today’s notebook, be sure to ready not only the game recap from Saturday’s win over North Carolina, but also my game notes from Sunday. Tons of good information and quotes to peruse.
Fuente backtracks on Phillips’ comments on North Carolina
Wide receiver Cam Phillips was very open about how he perceived the coaching staff, particularly head coach Justin Fuente, felt about North Carolina. Here’s what Phillips said after the Hokies’ 59-7 blowout of the Tar Heels.
“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.”
On Monday, Fuente told the media that Phillips’ statement is not indicative of how he feels about North Carolina and head coach Larry Fedora.
“Cam speaks for Cam. Cam does not speak for me. Ok? I want to win every game that we play,“ Fuente said. “No one game is more important than another one. I wish Cam had not said that, quite honestly, because he does not speak for me. We try and get our guys ready to play every single week. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Larry Fedora and the job he’s done at North Carolina. I know they’re going through hard times. They have a whole rash full of injuries and those sorts of things, but that is not indicative of my feelings from week-to-week. Do we want to absolutely win every time we take the field? You bet.”
Even if the game doesn’t mean more than any other, it still might, in terms of recruiting. Virginia Tech and North Carolina often recruit against one another for high-end talent, and winning head-to-head games can sway a recruit one way or the other. On Saturday, Virginia Tech hosted all five of their commitments from the state of North Carolina, as well as blue-chip recruits KJ Henry and Dax Hollifield, both of whom hail from the Tar Heel State. So winning does matter.
“Well, I mean it certainly doesn’t hurt,” Fuente said. “It’s like we talked about — winning helps. I know we talked a little about this last week, and I walked out of the room and I kind of caught myself, because I felt like I didn’t do a good job of articulating the value of winning. I mean certainly, that is always a good thing, in terms of helping you sell your program. It’s tangible evidence that what you’re doing is working. When you’re not winning, you have to take stock in other things to measure your success. So, those things are good. I still stand by a little bit of what we alluded to that day as well. I mean, there are a lot of other things that go into it, but having success certainly helps.”
Stroman continues to make a difference
Special teams has been a hallmark at Virginia Tech for decades, and the emphasis on special teams has been amped up even more in 2017. With an admittedly smaller margin of error, Virginia Tech’s coaches have ingrained into the team the importance of special teams, and making big plays. As close as the Duke series has been over the last few years, it could come into play again on Saturday.
“I think if you look at the last four games that these two teams have played, they’ve split 2-2 and I think there’s one point differential between the two teams in the last four games,” Fuente said. “So we had to block a field goal and hang on to win by three. We’ve had four-overtime games and so on and so forth, you all know as well as I do. But it’s going to be a tough, hard-fought football game and we’ll need to have a great week of practice.”
Fortunately for Virginia Tech, they’ve got one of the best special teams playmakers in college football. Greg Stroman flashed his ability again vs. North Carolina, returning his second punt for a touchdown this season. Stroman is 12th in the country in average yards per punt return, and is one of six returners in FBS with multiple return touchdowns.
“Well, I just think he’s a gamer,” Fuente said. “When I say that, I don’t mean he takes days off in practice. He shows up every single day and works hard. But what he may lack in terms of size and stature, he makes up for in intelligence and competitiveness.”
Other coaches have noticed how good Stroman is. In fact, last season, Duke head coach David Cutcliffe talked to Justin Fuente about it after the game, in which Stroman was injured.
“I remember vividly after the game last year, David telling me, ‘I hope Greg’s okay. That’s a really good kid.’ And I don’t know if they had been in touch through recruiting or what, because as you guys remember Greg got banged up on the punt return last year in the game,” Fuente said. “So I think it’s more than just myself that realizes what a special youngster he is.”
Fox making the most of opportunity
Virginia Tech’s running back corps has been in flux all season long, and Saturday was no different. The Hokies were down to three healthy running backs — Travon McMillian, Jalen Holston and Coleman Fox — and Steven Peoples was available in an emergency-only basis. With the extra opportunity, Fox took advantage of the situation and led the Hokies in rushing with 58 yards.
Fox is an intriguing player. The redshirt sophomore didn’t play at all his first two seasons on campus, but has been rather efficient in his third season at Virginia Tech. Fox has received 36 carries and rushed for 211 yards, which averages to be 5.9 yards per rush. Fox is second on the team in rushing, and leads all running backs in yards per carry.
With the Hokies lacking a true workhorse at running back, is there a chance that Fox could see the field more than he has, and in situations outside of garbage time?
“I have been pleased with Coleman, what he’s done when he’s been in the game and how he’s worked,” Fuente said. “We’ll continue to push and bring him along. I’m not going to discredit what he’s done because it was late in the game. When he’s had his opportunity, he has done well.”