Before diving into this week’s game notes, be sure to read my game recap from Virginia Tech’s Black Friday win over Virginia. The Hokies blanked the ‘Hoos 10-0 inside Scott Stadium, extending their win streak to 14 straight wins. In fact, Friday night’s win ensures that this counter will push past 5,000 days that the Hokies have held onto the Commonwealth Cup.
Virginia Tech has held the Commonwealth Cup for 4746 days. #Hokies
— Commonwealth Cup (@CommonwlthCup) November 25, 2017
If you’re looking for bowl game probabilities, you’ll be disappointed to know that Virginia Tech does not know where they’ll be just yet come bowl season. Prior to Notre Dame’s fourth quarter-implosion on Saturday night, the Hokies seemed headed for Orlando, Fla. for either the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1, or the Camping World Bowl on Dec. 28. However, with Notre Dame seemingly out of the running for a New Year’s Six bowl game, Tech’s bowl picture looks murky.
Joe Giglio, a sports writer for The News & Observer based out of Raleigh, N.C., usually has a good read on the bowl destinations for ACC teams. Here are two scenarios he sees playing out…
— Joe Giglio (@jwgiglio) November 26, 2017
After the conference championships next weekend, we should all have a clearer bowl picture. Until then, Tech fans can only hope Giglio’s predictions come true and the Hokies head to Florida for their bowl game.
Now, game notes from Friday night’s win.
Reserves push Virginia Tech to the finish
Virginia Tech played Virginia with several backups playing significant roles, on both sides of the football.
Defensively, Virginia Tech played without safety Terrell Edmunds, who was ruled out for the season before the Pittsburgh game on Nov. 11. Tech also played without whip/nickelback Mook Reynolds and defensive end Vinny Mihota, who had started a combined 51 games for the Hokies. Starting defensive end Trevon Hill missed the first quarter of Tech’s game vs. Virginia, but returned for the remainder of the game.
Their replacements? Redshirt-freshman Khalil Ladler in his first career start, redshirt-senior Deon Newsome, who made his first career start vs. Pittsburgh, and defensive ends Houshun Gaines and Emmanuel Belmar, both of whom were making their first career starts as well.
Tech couldn’t have asked for a better performance from the group. Ladler and Newsome helped the Hokies bottle up Virginia’s passing attack, while Gaines registered four tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack. Gaines also recovered a fumble in the third quarter, setting up Tech’s only touchdown of the game.
Offensively, the Hokies played without left tackle Yosuah Nijman and wide receiver Sean Savoy, both of whom have played critical roles for Virginia Tech this season. The Hokies did get CJ Carroll and Steven Peoples back from long-term injuries, but still relied on players like redshirt sophomore lineman D’Andre Plantin and freshman receiver Hezekiah Grimsley. Plantin successfully protected quarterback Josh Jackson’s blindside — Jackson wasn’t sacked at all vs. the ‘Hoos — and Grimsley led the Hokies in receiving with five receptions for 56 yards.
Even kicker Joey Slye was out. He missed his second straight game, as he deals with a hamstring injury. Redshirt freshman Brian Johnson handled the kicking duties for the second week in a row, and went 1-2 on his field goal attempts.
In all, it was about as gritty of a win as you’ll see. Virginia Tech relied on backups and third-stringers at key areas, and still pulled out a win.
“We talked this week about what a team victory this would have to be, because we had so many guys out,” Fuente said. “So many people had to step up and go play, whether it was in the secondary or at wide receiver, on special teams, to go and win a rivalry game against a team that is obviously much-improved from a year ago.
I thought it was as good of a team win as I’ve been a part of, and I hope everybody is proud of these kids, because they have battled. To pour it out on the field a week ago, and come back in less than a week and play as hard, as smart and as tough as they did, speaks a lot about their character.”
Peoples’ return boosts improving running game
The return of running back Steven Peoples boosted Virginia Tech’s running game, which for the second consecutive week showed vast improvements. The Hokies ran for 202 rushing yards on Friday night, their biggest rushing total since Sept. 23 vs. Old Dominion. The Hokies only averaged 3.8 yards per carry, but were able to consistently move the ball on the ground. Tech won the time of possession battle by nearly 15 minutes, which kept their depleted defense off the field.
“I was pleased. I thought it set up some other things,” Fuente said of the running game. “We’re still not good enough to line up and just force feed it down anybody’s throat, but I like the way those kids ran. It was nice to have Steven back. You know how we feel about him. When he’s healthy, he gets out there and gets carries, because he does run hard and tough. And Deshawn was a nice little mix-up in there, with some speed and quickness.”
McClease ran for 71 yards on 13 carries vs. Virginia, his second consecutive game with at least 70 rushing yards and at least five yards per carry. Peoples had 71 yards on 22 carries. Quarterback Josh Jackson added 39 yards on eight carries, while running back Jalen Holston had 17 yards on just three rushes.
While Virginia Tech moved the ball on the ground consistently, Virginia Tech’s defense held the ‘Hoos to just five rushing yards for the entire game. That’s the lowest rushing total Virginia Tech has allowed since November 2012, when Florida State ran for minus-15 yards vs. the Hokies. Virginia’s leading rusher Jordan Ellis carried the ball 10 times, and earned just nine yards.
“We felt like, and Bud can speak to the specifics, but in our conversations, we needed to obviously control the line of scrimmage. We felt like we had an advantage there, or would have an opportunity to do that,” Fuente said. “But to completely make them one dimensional like that is pretty impressive.”
“We needed to make them one-dimensional, when it’s all said and done,” Foster said. “Early, Ricky (Walker) and Timmy (Settle) were playing physical and playing on their side of the line. Tremaine Edmunds just continues to get better. To see Houshun Gaines and Emmanuel Belmar step up, particularly Belmar, in bigger roles, and then Trevon (Hill) came in and was really able to sustain some play without reinjuring himself. Then you got (Ladler) on the back end, who last week, he played four plays, I told him, ‘You’re probably going to have to play 64 plays this week, and be ready to go,’ but our expectations are not going to be any different. It just makes a statement about our kids.”
Linebacker Tremaine Edmunds led the way for the Hokies on defense, making nine tackles, three tackles for loss and two sacks. Defensive tackle Ricky Walker joined the fun too, adding 1.5 tackles for loss and a sack.
“I’m proud man. That’s great,” Walker said. “That’s great man. That’s hard to do, because U.Va. has good backs. (Jordan Ellis) and (Daniel Hamm) are great guys, good guys, and they were definitely capable of having more than five yards. That’s just LPD (Lunch Pail Defense) for you. Nasty D.”
Fuente relieved after gritty win
Considering the circumstances, it made sense that some Hokie fans were concerned about the streak ending on Friday night. Even though Virginia had lost four of their last five, the ‘Hoos were bowl eligible for the first time since 2011, and Virginia Tech had been fighting injuries all over the field. Even Fuente said after the game he was worried about how things would end.
“I felt like we had a — we were going to count on some guys who hadn’t played a lot of reps, and I didn’t think beating the streak into them was the way to go,” Fuente said. “I felt like talking about what the game means, and making sure we were emotionally prepared to go play the game was the way to go. It is meaningful. I’m certainly not diminishing the meaning behind that, I just didn’t want our guys pressured up about it, because we were going to play some different guys that hadn’t played a lot of snaps this week.”
Now that it’s over, Fuente can rest a little easier, knowing the streak still stands at 14.
“I think the first thing that comes to my mind is that it’s an honor,” Fuente said of the streak. “It’s an honor to get a chance to build on something special and be a part of something bigger than yourself. Whether it’s the streak, or it’s Virginia Tech and this football program. The streak is — I’m not sure I can put it into context. I’ve only been here for a couple of the games. I just, I know it’s nice to get to add to it and continue it.”