Virginia Tech leaped all the way to No. 12 in the AP Top 25 Poll following their 24-3 beatdown of Florida State in Tallahassee. Now, the Hokies prepare for William & Mary on Saturday in the home opener, which has already been announced as a sellout.
Head coach Justin Fuente answered questions on the ACC teleconference and press conference in Cassell Coliseum on Wednesday afternoon in the lead up to Saturday’s game.
Facing William & Mary on a Short Week
Following Monday night’s win against Florida State, Virginia Tech only has five days before its next game vs. William & Mary. Yes, William & Mary is an FCS opponent, but Virginia Tech fans will always remember the letdown against JMU in 2010. In what was a similar scenario, the Hokies fell to Boise State on a Monday before returning home to face the Dukes on Saturday.
The 2012 season can also be used as a data point where Virginia Tech beat Georgia Tech at home on a Monday, then took care of business the following Saturday, handily defeating Austin Peay 42-7. Fuente will rely on the model he learned from Gary Patterson at TCU for the preparation during this short week.
“It’s tough,” Fuente said. “The underlying theme is to get our guys feeling good and knowing what to do over the next couple days in our condensed version of game prep.
“It’s the same model when you have a Saturday game, then a Thursday game. There’s not nearly as much physical work. When I was with Coach Patterson at first, we really got after it hard in pads in a short week and weren’t having a lot of success. After a couple years, he switched it up to the model we’re using now. We take the pads off, and that makes you a little bit nervous as a coach, but we’ve had pretty good success with that model. Quite a bit of the contact is cut out. We do a little more closer to the game than we would normally do, out of time necessity.”
William & Mary enters Saturday with a record of 1-0 following a 14-7 win at Bucknell. The Tribe secondary limited Bucknell quarterback John Chiarolanzio to just 143 yards through the air. Just like the Hokies, William & Mary controlled the time of possession in its week one matchup.
“When you look at their game last week, they held the ball for 37 minutes,” Fuente said. “Held Bucknell to 11 first downs. It was a low scoring game, but it seemed like they had the ball the whole game. They are sound in their assignments and their techniques. You can tell that they’re a well-coached and disciplined football team that can cause you problems if you don’t execute yourself. It’s going to make for a really good challenge for us. I know those guys will be excited to play, as will we.”
Jimmye Laycock’s Legacy
Fuente and Co. will face William & Mary head coach Jimmye Laycock on Saturday in what is his final season in Williamsburg. Laycock has been at the helm since 1980, amassing a record of 245-189-2 in 38 seasons thus far.
Laycock played his college ball at William & Mary, where he learned the finer points of football under two iconic coaches. Marv Levy, best known for coaching the Buffalo Bills to four straight AFC Championships from 1990-1993, was the head man at William & Mary for the first three years of Laycock’s playing career. In Laycock’s final year, Lou Holtz earned his first head coaching job before eventually leading Notre Dame to a National Championship in 1988.
“Well, it’s an honor to play them, and to play them in his last year,” Fuente said. “I know those kids think the world of him and are going to do everything they can to send him out in the right way throughout the season, not just our game, but I know they would love to get a win here for him. Just his level of continuity and consistency that they’ve had there I think is extremely rare in today’s day and age, and it speaks volumes to the foundation of his program that it can last year after year.”
Trevon Hill’s Standout Performance
Virginia Tech fans were holding their breath in the days before Monday’s opener, awaiting word if defensive end Trevon Hill would be eligible to play. No news on Hill’s status circulated, and Hill played Monday night, despite sitting out the first two series. According to Fuente, that was just a typical coaching decision. The ESPN duo of Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit reported that Hill had been cleared academically preceding the game, without providing any other details.
“They didn’t get that from me,” Fuente said. “T Hill was completely eligible to play. The other guys had practiced a little bit more, or a little bit better. We felt good about playing him, we started the other guys and rotated him in. We knew we were going to play a bunch of people.”
Even with all the rumors flying around, Hill played Monday night with a chip on his shoulder, putting in one of his best performances in a Virginia Tech uniform. The redshirt junior tallied two sacks and three tackles for loss. Hill seems poised for a big year, after leading the Hokies with 5.5 sacks in 2017.
“He’s improved in the weight room,” Fuente said. “Looking at him he looks different. He’s improved his strength. The one sack that he had, I thought it was a pretty athletic play to run the hoop like that. His shoulders looked like they were about six inches off the ground when he was doing that. It was pretty impressive. He’s continued to work hard, and I think it showed certainly flashes of that in the game. Continuing to be a disciplined player is something we’re staying after him on, in terms of not trying to do too much or do your own thing. Occasionally, he’ll do something and you’ll say ‘Man, that’s pretty darn good.’”
Virginia Tech Faking Injuries?
The main storyline coming out of Wednesday’s ACC teleconference was whether Virginia Tech was faking injuries at times to stunt Florida State’s up-tempo offense. Seminoles head coach Willie Taggart wasn’t one to mince words.
“I mean, it is what it is,” Taggart said. “It happened too often, so it’s hard not to (think it was intentional) … I guess it’s part of football now. That’s all I can say.”
Florida State fans booed anytime a Virginia Tech player went down with an injury, even when Ricky Walker and Reggie Floyd both couldn’t get up following a head-to-head collision between the two players. The Seminoles faithful will also look at the time when defensive tackle Xavier Burke went down after an FSU first down, but the Athletic’s Andy Bitter offers a plausible explanation in this tweet below.
OK, got a lot of comments about the timing of the Xavier Burke injury. This was him 2 plays before that. Obviously struggling to get out of stance. FSU went hurry up, he was slow to get back to the line, stayed in for next snap. FSU hit another big play & he went down. #Hokies pic.twitter.com/EG8FxNPLM4
— Andy Bitter (@AndyBitterVT) September 5, 2018
“Well, I don’t know if it’s a problem or not,” Fuente said. “I know this: Going into the game, we were severely concerned about our ability to handle the humidity and the weather, just coming from our climate down there. We certainly had some issues with it throughout the game. At halftime numerous guys were in there getting IVs and getting treatment so they could finish out the game.
“My answer is that we had numerous issues with cramping and guys battling through bumps and bruises and nicks and things that they were fighting through.”
Ultimately, it’s your call on whether you think the Hokies were faking injuries.
Christian Darrisaw Starting at Left Tackle
One of the biggest surprises from Monday night in Tallahassee was true freshman Christian Darrisaw starting at left tackle. All camp long, it appeared redshirt freshman Silas Dzansi was the man for the job. When the depth chart for the Florida State game was released, Dzansi was listed at first string left tackle. On Wednesday, Fuente offered an explanation for Darrisaw taking over the starting spot.
“Christian has done really well first of all, as has Silas,” Fuente said. “They’re competing for playing time at that left tackle spot. I’ve been really pleased with both of them. Silas in the weeks leading up to the game was dealing with some cramping issues in practice. As a result of that, he missed a little bit of time. We were trying to get a handle on that. In that time, Christian filled his role pretty well. Going forward those guys will still continue to compete. I would anticipate that they would both play.”
Darrisaw filled in admirably at left tackle against a challenging Florida State front four. The Fork Union Military Academy product played composed during his first collegiate start in a hostile environment.
“Candidly, the fact that we played a true freshman at left tackle and we’re not answering questions about why we gave up 25 sacks, I think he did a pretty darn good job against that defensive line,” said Fuente with a smirk. “Are there things for him to improve on? Absolutely, but he didn’t look out of place. The moment wasn’t too big for him and he went out and competed, as he’s done ever since he’s been here.”
While Virginia Tech excelled on special teams against Florida State, a couple roughing/running into the punter calls on Jovonn Quillen could have changed that sentiment. Twice, Quillen came rushing around the edge and clipped the punter, garnering no call either time. Fuente made sure that it will be addressed throughout the week.
“We had the blocked punt, if we had not blocked it, that would have been a 15-yard penalty because he hit his plant leg,” Fuente said. “That would have been a major mistake. We’ll certainly get that highlighted in special teams meetings. I couldn’t tell on the other one. It wasn’t his plant leg, so normally it’s just a five yard penalty if they call it. On the field I thought he ran into him, and on film it’s kind of hard to see. Those are the types of mistakes that did not hurt us in the game but will hurt us if we don’t correct them moving forward.”
Much like we expected Dzansi to start the first game the entirety of fall camp, nearly everyone expected Devon Hunter to be the starting whip linebacker until the depth chart named redshirt sophomore Khalil Ladler as the starter. Ladler collected two tackles, a pass breakup, and a fumble recovery against the Seminoles.
“We’ve obviously moved his position,” Fuente said. “He’s lined up in several different spots, but he was really active. I thought he played the perimeter screens really well. There was one early in the game where they were in quads, they had four guys out there, and he just wanted to make the tackle worse than they wanted to block him, is what I felt like on the field. Blew the perimeter screen up, and it seemed like he was all over the field, so I was pleased with him.”