Virginia Tech’s Media Day came to a close on Sunday following Fan Appreciation Day in the afternoon, and the media was given a glimpse into how the Hokies are preparing for Florida State on September 3.
While the Hokies have a large turnover in terms of players on the field, the Seminoles have to transition to a completely new coaching staff. As a result, it can be hard to prepare for a team like Florida State, not having any film of the new coaching staff’s system with the current players.
Florida State head coach Willie Taggart enters his first season in Tallahassee after spending one year at Oregon and the previous four years before that at South Florida. Known for his ‘lethal simplicity’ on offense, Taggart and company will make sure Fuente and his team have their hands full in the lead up to Labor Day.
“Well, it just takes a little more leg work,” said Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente. “You know you have to piece things together. For instance, you watch Florida State film for personnel, and then you watch where the coordinators have been from or what they’ve historically done for a scheme, and then you try to match those two together. The good news is when it’s the first game you’ve got time to comb through all of that. The bad news is you haven’t seen those two things together on film because they obviously haven’t played a game this year. It just takes a little more leg work there.”
A large portion of the responsibility will fall on the shoulders of defensive coordinator Bud Foster. Foster will have to concoct a game plan against an explosive group of players in a new system. In particular, Florida State boasts one of the top running attacks that Virginia Tech will see in 2018. Cam Akers and Jacques Patrick combined for 328 carries, 1,772 yards, and 14 touchdowns last year. Taggart’s offense demonstrated the ability to utilize a homerun threat at Oregon when Royce Freeman tallied 1,475 yards (11th in the nation) and 16 touchdowns (14th in the nation) last year in Eugene.
“He was at Oregon for one season and we have looked at his film there,” Foster said. “We also have looked at the film when he was at South Florida before that. We have looked at and studied Florida State’s personnel. They’re still Florida State and they’re still extremely dynamic. I think we’ll see similar to what we saw from Oregon, what worked for them. I do know this, I know Florida State has some dynamic backs. You hear they might be playing multiple backs, which would not surprise me because I know that’s one of their strengths for their football team offensively.”
The biggest question Sunday surrounding Florida State was who would be their quarterback for the opener. In 2016, Deondre Francois came in as a freshman and threw for 3,350 yards, 20 touchdowns, and seven interceptions while leading the Seminoles to a thrilling 33-32 victory over Michigan in the Orange Bowl. Francois’ season came crashing down in week one last year when he tore his ACL against Alabama. Freshman James Blackman filled in admirably, throwing for 2,230 yards, 19 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions, leaving Taggart with a quarterback battle.
“I think it’s what you see is what you’re going to get,” Foster said. “I think whoever is their quarterback, I think they’re going to run the offense that we’ve seen at Oregon or South Florida. So, we are not really thinking about who will be playing quarterback, though, I do think I know who will be their guy. But we are not preparing for three different offenses is my point.”
Taggart announced this morning that Francois will be the starting quarterback next Monday night.
When all you can look forward to is week one, how long in advance do you start preparing for that opponent? For redshirt sophomore quarterback Josh Jackson, that process began back in the winter, shortly after the conclusion of Virginia Tech’s bowl game, watching Florida State film as well as some from Michigan State, where current Seminoles defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett was last season.
“I have been watching them since January,” Jackson said. “It’s just been kind of a steady pace with that. They are kind of like an old school 4-3 defense and that’s how they want to play. They have a few calls and I think they will be really good at them. You just have to execute.”
For defensive tackle and lunch pail holder Ricky Walker, he didn’t start scouting the week one opponent quite as early as Jackson, but he still had to go through the process of watching a coordinator at a different college. His time was spent observing new FSU offensive coordinator Walt Bell during his time at Maryland. Bell was the offensive coordinator and QB coach at Maryland in 2016 and 2017 before joining Taggart in Tallahassee.
“I started in the spring,” Walker said. “I was watching Oregon and Maryland, the offensive coordinator came over from Maryland. Fast tempo, pretty much same stuff that I see every day in practice. As I break down the film, it’s pretty much going to be like seeing our same offense. Our offense probably gets a little more complicated. It’s game week and starting tomorrow, I’m all in the film room.”
The preparation isn’t always just about X’s and O’s. Virginia Tech takes an inexperienced group into hostile territory at Tallahassee. Doak Campbell Stadium holds 79,000+ and the Hokies are just 5-13 against the Seminoles there, losers of five straight dating back to 1976. Virginia Tech last won there in 1974.
“Recently, our crossover work has been practice with crowd noise,” Jackson said. “We’ll be in the indoor [facility] and they’ll just ramp up the volume. You can’t hear, you have to just communicate really well, and I think that can get (us) comfortable for what will happen at Florida State.”
Not only will Virginia Tech have to worry about the crowd noise, but also the steamy and humid summer nights in Florida. Strength and conditioning coach Ben Hilgart made sure his players would be up for the challenge.
“In the summer on Mondays, we would run out with coach Hilgart in sweatshirts and sweatpants, all black, getting ready for the heat in Tallahassee,” Walker said. “While we were running, he was playing the chant song with the chop. It was pretty cool and exciting.”
Virginia Tech and Florida State open their season in exactly a week. Kickoff is scheduled for 8:00 p.m. on Monday, September 3 on ESPN.