Virginia Tech concluded their spring practice schedule on Saturday, culminating in the Hokies’ annual Spring Game. It served as the final audition for playing time for Tech’s young players, as the Hokies will break until fall camp in August.
“We have a long way to go,” said head coach Justin Fuente. “This might be the most important summer of any team I’ve ever coached in terms of what we need moving forward.”
The offense waited until the second half to score. Virginia Tech’s offense scored four touchdowns in the second half, two of which were thrown by Ryan Willis. Willis led all quarterbacks by completing 10-of-15 pass attempts for 262 yards and two touchdowns. Josh Jackson finished 6-of-12 for 64 yards and an interception, which came on a dropped pass that was tapped into the air. Hendon Hooker saw what seemed to be fewer snaps than Jackson and Hooker, completing 1-of-4 attempts for 42 yards.
Willis’ touchdowns both came on big plays downfield. The first came on an 83-yard pass to Sean Savoy, while the second came on a 33-yard pass to Phil Patterson. Willis said both touchdowns came on run-pass option plays, and that he took advantage of the pre-snap look.
“Yeah, I just took a peek over there and I knew,” Willis said. “We’ve been repping it all spring and it just worked out.”
The big plays proved to be part of an up-and-down performance from Virginia Tech’s defensive backs. Khalil Ladler made the game’s only interception, catching a dropped pass by Savoy. The Hokies had another near interception of Jackson and were also able to bat down a few passes downfield.
The Hokies were about as green as it gets at cornerback on Saturday. Sophomore Bryce Watts and redshirt sophomore Tyree Rodgers saw snaps with the first team, while freshman Jermaine Waller saw snaps with the second team. Waller gave up the 83-yard pass to Savoy, but also defended a couple passes.
“Jermaine, I think, has a chance. He’s kind of a microcosm of our football team right now,” Fuente said. “He’s got talent, he’s young and we don’t have time to pull him aside and say, ‘Just relax, we’ll call you in a couple years when it’s time to play.’ But I love the way he’s approached the spring. He’s missed some time with a hamstring. He still got some work but obviously was limited. So in short, I’m excited about him.”
Defensive coordinator Bud Foster noted after Saturday’s scrimmage that he likes the potential of his young cornerbacks, specifically Waller.
“That’s how he’s played all spring and he’s a guy I’m really excited about,” Foster said of Waller. “He just kind of does things naturally and I think he’s got some thick skin, which you need to have at that position. He got beat today and I told him, ‘Hey, that’s going to happen, that’s how you respond.’ That kind of defines those guys at that position.”
Waller could be more important than the Hokies originally thought, thanks to Adonis Alexander’s situation. The senior cornerback was held out of the spring game on Saturday due to injury and academic issues.
After the game, Fuente declined to speculate on Alexander’s status for next fall.
“I’m not going to get into other guys’ school stuff,” Fuente said. “I got concerns every day about all our guys, so we’ll figure that out when everything comes about.”
Along with the cornerbacks, Foster expressed optimism regarding his linebackers as well. Dylan Rivers finished Saturday’s game with five tackles and while Rayshard Ashby didn’t register any tackles, he was around the ball when on the field.
“I think we’ve really improved, but today was practice 15 and you guys have heard me say this before, I’d like to start all over again,” Foster said of his linebackers. “But I do really like this group. I say that from a standpoint that it’s a group that’s very — it’s important to them. They’re very willing and want to be good players and I look forward to coming to work with these guys every day because they’re eager to learn, they’re eager to please, they’re eager to go out and compete, so that’s half the battle.
“Now, like I’ve said, we’ve thrown a lot at them but what we’ve got to do is have a big-time summer from now until we open up camp. That’s where those guys will make their biggest adjustment. I think they understand the urgency, obviously the expectations but the urgency to perform at a certain level, to practice at a certain level, to compete at a certain level, to work at a certain level. Now we’ve got to carry that over the summer.”
One of the biggest storylines of Saturday’s Spring Game was the number of players who were held out. Virginia Tech did not provide reasons why each player was held out of the game, but here’s the list that was provided.
— Ricky LaBlue (@RickyLaBlue) April 14, 2018
The Hokies were down several wide receivers on Saturday and have been missing a few all spring. Eric Kumah, who emerged late in 2017 as a reliable option, has been limited, and Ball State transfer Damon Hazelton, who sat out 2017 due to transfer rules, has been out the entire spring.
On Saturday, Phil Patterson led the way with five catches and 85 yards, including a touchdown and an impressive one-handed grab near the sideline. Savoy’s only catch of the day came on the 83-yard touchdown from Willis. Kaleb Smith was Tech’s next leading receiver with one 42-yard reception, and Hezekiah Grimsley caught two passes for 19 yards.
Given the injuries and inexperience at wide receiver, Justin Fuente feels that the group needs to make serious strides before the start of the season.
“Lot of work to do,” Fuente said of his receiving corps. “We didn’t get to practice with several of them. So hopefully we’ll get healthy, be able to show up every day and work hard and improve.”
Here are the unofficial stats from Saturday’s Spring Game, which were kept by the media at the game.
Ryan Willis: 10-of-15 for 262 yards and two touchdowns
Josh Jackson: 6-of-12 for 64 yards and an interception
Hendon Hooker: 1-of-4 for 42 yards
Deshawn McClease: four carries for 49 yards and a touchdown
Coleman Fox: 10 carries for 40 yards and a touchdown
Jalen Holston: five carries for 19 yards
Hezekiah Grimsley: two carries for 19 yards
Nicolas Conforti: eight carries for 17 yards
Steven Peoples: two carries for eight yards
Phil Patterson: one carry for eight yards
Hendon Hooker: one carry for minus-7 yards
Josh Jackson: four carries for minus-11 yards
Phil Patterson: five catches for 86 yards and a touchdown
Sean Savoy: one catch for 83 yards
Kaleb Smith: one catch for 42 yards
Hezekiah Grimsley: four catches for 38 yards
Coleman Fox: one catch for 38 yards
Deshawn McClease: one catch for 26 yards
Sean Daniel: two catches for 25 yards
Drake DeIuliis: one catch for 10 yards
Dalton Keene: one catch for five yards
Khalil Ladler: five tackles and an interception
Dylan Rivers: five tackles
John Jennings: five tackles
Alan Tisdale: five tackles
TyJuan Garbutt: four tackles
Emmanuel Belmar: one sack
Zion DeBose: one sack
Xavier Burke: one sack