Before diving into today’s material, let’s address some housekeeping items.
First, if you’re a TSL Pass Subscriber, be sure to read Chris Coleman’s Sunday column on the Hokies’ victory over Duke. It wasn’t pretty, but now the Hokies can focus on Miami.
Virginia Tech and Miami will play at 8 p.m on ABC this Saturday. The next week’s game vs. Georgia Tech on Nov. 11 has been placed on a six-day hold by ESPN. We should know the game time for that contest following the Miami game.
Finally, Virginia Tech safety Terrell Edmunds was named ACC Defensive Back of the Week. The redshirt-junior recorded his sixth career interception on Saturday vs. Duke, and also registered eight tackles and a quarterback hurry.
Now, the notebook.
Peoples and Nijman ‘day-to-day’
As we talked about on Sunday, Virginia Tech suffered two key injuries on Saturday that could impact the Hokies this weekend. Both running back Steven Peoples and left tackle Yosuah Nijman went out in the first half vs. the Blue Devils, and did not return. Given the injury history the two have just this season alone, it’s certainly reason to worry.
At his weekly Monday press conference, Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente said that both are “day-to-day” at this point.
“I would say that it’s kind of like Steven,” Fuente said of Nijman’s injury. “It’s just going to be a day-to-day thing. We’re hopeful that he’ll be able to go, kind of like Steve. They’ll probably work out some and rest some, workout some and rest some, and see how it goes.”
In Nijman’s absence, redshirt-senior Parker Osterloh stepped in and played admirably. Osterloh has dealt with his share of injuries throughout his career, including this season. Fortunately for Virginia Tech, he’s healthy right now and would likely be the first offensive lineman off the bench, if Nijman is available.
“I was proud of him,” Fuente said of Osterloh’s performance. “It’s nice to have him back. We haven’t talked much about him, just all the things he’s been through to try and get back this season. It’s been a long journey for him. It was nice, obviously that he’s back and secondly, when called upon, he was ready to play. I’m awfully happy. Obviously, he’s a guy we trust.”
Fuente challenging backs to make big plays
With Peoples injured once again, Virginia Tech’s offense stepped up and answered the call. With the rain pouring down on Saturday night, the Hokies ran the ball 48 times for 187 yards and two touchdowns. Redshirt-sophomore Deshawn McClease led the way with 15 carries for 75 yards and a score, while Travon McMillian, Jalen Holston and Coleman Fox added 59 yards combined.
Fuente said on Monday that the running game is still a work in progress, but it sounds like the offensive line is starting to generate more push up front. Now, Fuente is challenging his running backs to generate bigger plays.
“I’d like to make the safety in the hole miss a few more times, if we could,” Fuente said. “We’ve been able to get the ball to the unblocked hat, at times, and at times on Saturday. Eventually, you’re going to run into somebody that we can’t block, and we were able to get the ball to that person on a little bit more consistent basis last week. I’d like to see us make some bigger plays out of those.”
Virginia Tech will have an opportunity on Saturday to face a Miami defense that has struggled to stop the run. Miami is 83rd in the country in rush defense, allowing just over 179 rushing yards per contest. The Hurricanes also allow a lot of big plays on the ground, allowing 49 rushing plays that gained 10 or more yards. That ranks just 98th in FBS.
Fourth down aggressiveness, and the kicking game
Another storyline from Saturday’s win over Duke was Virginia Tech’s aggressiveness on fourth down. The Hokies passed up three potential field goal situations for fourth down attempts, all of which failed. One pass was batted down, while Josh Jackson sailed another over a receiver’s head.
“Yeah, we had a decent look there,” Fuente said. “I think Josh was being kind of careful with the football, which I’m ok with, but if the ball was just in a little bit different spot, we had a shot.”
The aggressiveness raised questions regarding Virginia Tech’s confidence in their kicking game. Redshirt-senior Joey Slye has been inconsistent from all distances this season, missing three field goals from inside 40 yards. Prior to 2017, Slye had missed only four such attempts in three full years as a starter.
Slye has also struggled from long distance, which has been a continual struggle. After going 13-16 on field goal attempts from 40-49 yards in the 2015 season, Slye is 2-10 on those field goal attempts in the last two seasons. He’s also been unreliable from beyond that distance, hitting just one of his 10 career attempts from 50 yards or further.
Given the weather conditions on Saturday, and how well the defense was playing, it’s reasonable to see why Fuente rolled the dice a few times vs. Duke. To Slye’s credit, he’s hit five of his last six overall field goal attempts, but there’s still some work that needs to be done there.
“Well, I mean I don’t know that I’d read too much into my thoughts on our kicker, in terms of our decisions,” Fuente said. “We were in that kind of area where we haven’t been incredibly efficient kicking field goals, from those longer areas. We had a fourth and manageable situation. I just felt like our defense was, I had a lot of confidence in our defense and sometimes you can be a little bit more aggressive in those situations when you’re playing well, because you feel good about your defense. I think it was a combination of several of those things where we felt it was just better going for it.”