Before diving into today’s notebook, be sure to ready Saturday’s epic game recap. If you’re a Virginia Tech fan, you’ll likely want to relive it.
Now, let’s hit on some key storylines.
Edmunds named as finalist for Butkus Award
Tremaine Edmunds has been named a finalist for the 2017 Butkus Award. The award is given annually to the nation’s top linebacker, and Edmunds is one of five finalists for the award, joining Michigan’s Devin Bush, Wisconsin’s TJ Edwards, Clemson’s Dorian O’Daniel and Georgia’s Roquan Smith.
Edmunds, a junior, has been a highly successful linebacker for Virginia Tech and has been looked at as a potential early-round draft pick in next year’s NFL Draft. This season, Edmunds has recorded 93 total tackles, 11 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. Edmunds also has two pass breakups and three forced fumbles.
“I know Virginia Tech’s got a lot of history, we have a history of a lot of great defensive players and linebackers, and I think Tremaine deserves to be recognized for his play,” said head coach Justin Fuente. “We forget sometimes how young he is, how far he’s come in a short period of time, but he certainly deserves to mentioned among the nation’s elite. He’s a fantastic young man, as good a person or a better person than he even is a player.”
“We’ve had a couple of guys recognized in the past, but I don’t know if we’ve had one considered as highly,” Foster said. “It would be pretty cool if he could get that thing. I know he’s in some stiff competition, but he’s that caliber player. It’d be pretty exciting. I’m pretty happy for him and our program, it makes a statement about our program and our defense.”
Hokies find success on the ground
Virginia Tech’s running backs put together one of their best performances of the season on Saturday vs. Pittsburgh. The performance was long overdue, as the Hokies’ offense has struggled to move the ball consistently for several weeks.
Tech only ran for 157 yards, which is slightly below their season average of 164 yards per game, but it was their best rushing attack since Oct. 21 vs. North Carolina. Deshawn McClease, who carried the ball just once vs. Georgia Tech, led the Hokies in rushing with 70 yards on 14 carries. Freshman Jalen Holston carried the ball 12 times for 52 yards, while quarterback Josh Jackson carried the ball 10 times for 32 yards and a touchdown. In all, Virginia Tech averaged just 3.9 yards per rush, but Tech was able to consistently gain yards on the ground.
After the game, Fuente was very complimentary of McClease and Holston, who put together his second game of 70 yards or more.
“I really liked the way Deshawn ran with the ball,” Fuente said. “We’ve talked about many times how he’s not the biggest kid out there, but he’s still a tough runner. He’s still got some inside skill. I thought we did a good job up front in the run game, I really did. I thought we were moving the line of scrimmage, getting the ball to the unblocked hat. We made the unblocked hat miss a couple of times, we handled their movement pretty well. Then, Jalen is a little bit bigger kid that plows it up in there pretty well.”
McClease credited the offensive line, saying they opened gaping holes in Pittsburgh’s defense.
“I thought for the most part that our O-line did a great job moving bodies,” McClease said. “Dalton Keene and Chris (Cunningham), once again, they did a pretty good job moving bodies and I was able to make cuts off of those guys. And there were times where the holes were like wide open. You just pretty much have to do what a running back does, and that’s hit the holes and everything else that comes after that, just do what you do.”
The Virginia Tech backfield has struggled to produce consistently, which has held back the Hokies’ offense. Tech ranks 65th in FBS in total rushing, in part because of struggles, but also due to injuries. Steven Peoples has played once since Tech beat Old Dominion on Sep. 23, and left that game after carrying the ball just twice. Travon McMillian was banged up last week, and had just one carry vs. Pittsburgh on Saturday.
“It’s certainly been a little bit of a revolving door,” Fuente said. “I know that we’ve talked about that I don’t care who’s carrying it and all that sort of stuff. If we had one dominant person, I would leave one dominant person back there, but between the injuries and guys getting beat up, it’s a good thing that all those guys are invested in what’s going on. They’ve all gotten playing time, they’ve all contributed to it.
“The one that comes to my mind is Steven, though. You go back and look at the very first game of the year, and watch him run the football, he was a force running the ball on his carries. I really anticipated that expanding as it went along, but it hasn’t. He’s not been able to play as much. Hopefully, moving forward, he’ll get back and be able to contribute.”
Jackson gets better, but sees plenty of room for improvement
Josh Jackson didn’t have a terrific game on Saturday, but he had his best game since Tech’s win vs. Duke on Oct. 28. Jackson completed 17 of his 37 pass attempts for 218 yards and a touchdown, but also threw an interception. Jackson helped the Hokies convert 10 of their 19 third down attempts, but missed on multiple throws downfield, including one to Phil Patterson that would have ended in a touchdown.
Overall, Jackson felt he didn’t play particularly well, but it was an improvement from how things have been.
“I don’t think I played very good, but we won, so I don’t really care,” Jackson said. “There’s obviously the pass I missed Phil on that had me pretty upset, for more than it should have. But just our fade ball, they kind of took it away from us, and it kind of messes our offense up. When we get that press coverage, we’re going to throw it every time. That’s what happened with the pick. I threw it to (Sean) Savoy, I thought he was going outside and he went inside, and I threw it pretty much just right to the corner.
“There were a couple of passes I missed, like to Phil, who was wide open. I’ll kick myself for that one for a while. I think we had a great first drive, and after that we kind of stalled, but at the end of the day, we ended up getting the score and won the game.”
Fuente didn’t absolve Jackson for his mistakes on Saturday, but believes the Hokies’ supporting cast needs to step up.
“Well, I was a little disappointed in a couple things that happened around him,” Fuente said. “We had a couple opportunities for big plays, that interception was not his fault at all. So, I was a little disappointed with a couple of things that happened around him that could have helped him play better. That doesn’t mean that he was perfect.”
For now, Fuente wants Jackson to improve on making the “average play.”
“Josh has got to focus on making the average play on a consistent basis,” Fuente said. “And the big plays will come. We’ve got to have an offensive staff doing a great job getting the guys around him to play well. We’re playing a redshirt freshman quarterback, the guys around him need to step up and produce as well.”