Virginia Tech demonstrated the potential of the team in a solid 31-14 triumph against then No. 22 Duke on Saturday, putting aside the head scratching loss to Old Dominion one week prior. Now, the Hokies have their most challenging test of the season as No. 6 Notre Dame comes to Blacksburg.
Head coach Justin Fuente addressed the media on Monday afternoon, giving a glimpse of the team’s mindset in preparation for the Fighting Irish.
“While that was a good response and I’m happy for our kids, we still have a long, long way to go from a maturity level, discipline level,” Fuente said. “We’re teaching lessons every day with this group. We’re just continuing to try to bring this group along and give them guidance and help them out as we go through this season.”
Fuente is charged with guiding the Hokies in the midst of the buildup to the biggest non-conference game of the season when the two teams kick off on Saturday at 8 p.m. from Lane Stadium. However, just since he’s taken over, the Hokies are no stranger to being elevated into the national spotlight.
“We played in a big prime time game first this year (vs. Florida State) and the first of the year last year (vs. West Virginia),” Fuente said. “The stage shouldn’t change how we prepare and how we play. We’ve played some really good people on big stages, and we’ll be ready for this one. I just have always steered clear of the stage defines how we prepare.
“We turn our attention to Notre Dame, the most complete and talented team certainly we’ve played to date. They really have things clicking in all areas of the game.”
Notre Dame will be walking with an extra pep in its step after dismantling No. 14 Stanford 38-17 last week. That came one week after the Fighting Irish exploded for 56 points against Wake Forest in quarterback Ian Book’s first game as starter this season. Book, a junior, replaced senior Brandon Wimbush after Wimbush failed to inject any sort of life into the Fighting Irish offense.
In three games with Wimbush behind center Notre Dame averaged 23.3 points, compared to 47 points in two games under Book. Book has put up gaudy numbers, going 52-of-70 (74.3 percent) for 616 yards with 10 total touchdowns, including three on the ground.
“I jumped to a conclusion before I even turned the film on that now all of a sudden they must be throwing the ball better or more frequently,” Fuente said. “They have been more efficient throwing the football, but I think the thing that (Book’s) done is he’s still made plays with his feet. He’s been mobile back there, he’s scrambled, tucked the ball and got a first down or hit an open receiver. He’s made a lot of plays moving around within the confines of the offense.”
Notre Dame’s uptick in offensive production comes with a bit of concern for the Hokies, as the Fighting Irish have made their money on defense the entire season. Defensive coordinator Clark Lea’s unit comes in giving up 18.8 points per game, and have held opponents to under 17 points or fewer in four of the five games.
“The defensive line to me stands out,” Fuente said. “They will play some man coverage in the back end and are pretty darn good at it. They’ve got them flying to the football. They are aggressive and making it hard for people to run the football. It all starts with that, finding a way to run the ball, and everything builds off of that. People haven’t had much success with that.”
Willis has the Keys
During the postgame media availability after Duke, Houshun Gaines passed Ryan Willis as he stepped behind the microphones and said, “No. 5 got the keys to the Cadillac.” No statement better encapsulated Willis’ command and control of the offense Saturday night when he threw for 332 yards and three touchdowns in his first career start at Virginia Tech. The redshirt junior’s performance earned him ACC Quarterback of the Week honors.
“I thought he was a little amped up early, but I’m not sure that was correct going back and looking at the film,” Fuente said. “He was in control. He felt comfortable with the looks. There’s certainly some mistakes in there, but I think it was a nice performance for him. Now the challenge is can he turn the page and get ready for a completely different defense with completely different looks in one week’s time.”
Willis is just another backup quarterback who has excelled in the ACC when given the opportunity. Quentin Harris led Duke to a 2-0 record during his chance, Chase Brice engineered a come-from-behind victory for Clemson against Syracuse last week, and N’Kosi Perry has admirably taken over the reins of Miami’s offense. While he’s not in the ACC, there’s also the aforementioned impact of Book.
“Having another guy ready to play is paramount,” Fuente said. “I think getting those guys reps and work throughout the season and the spring and fall camp and in a weekly preparation is incredibly important. I’ve been in situations where we didn’t have one, and it’s a scary endeavor.”
When Fuente dismissed a number of players in the offseason, and even as recent as just over a week ago, most of those decisions were for the betterment of the locker room. When there’s a locker room with a team-first mentality, that translates on the field as well. It’s an area where Fuente has seen strides and is impressed with the progress, particularly last week at Duke.
“We keep track of team plays, and team plays are plays that don’t make it into the newspaper article,” Fuene said. “They are plays away from the ball. Eric Kumah had a team play on Dalton Keene’s touchdown. He blocked two guys on that play (video link). Plays like that to me are coming along a little more frequently, which makes me feel better about that group.
“I think about Sean Savoy. Sean Savoy didn’t catch a ball last week, but he played well … played well without the ball in his hands. It’s just something that helps our football team. I just think there’s an overall mentality that’s improving there. We don’t do the whole prima donna deal. We do the ‘go play hard without the ball in your hand and go help the football team.’”
- Virginia Tech announced that former head coach Frank Beamer will be honored with a monument celebrating Beamer’s legacy at Moody Plaza on the southwest corner of Lane Stadium. The monument will be unveiled at 4:45 p.m. this Saturday. “It’s another well-deserved and fantastic tribute to a man that set an awfully high standard here,” Fuente said. “It should be a fun event that goes along with the game.”
- Virginia Tech will have another night game on the road. The matchup on October 13 at North Carolina was announced as a 7 p.m. start time and will be televised on either ESPN2 or ESPNU.
- In addition to Willis being named ACC Quarterback of the Week, Reggie Floyd was given the ACC Defensive Back of the Week selection. Floyd tallied 8.0 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and one interception against Duke.
- In light of the recent transfers around college football who are leaving and taking advantage of the new four game redshirt rule like Clemson’s Kelly Bryant, Fuente offered his thoughts on the unforeseen implication. “I read coach Saban’s comments on it the other day and I think everybody’s intent was to help protect the young players in the game in terms of playing them and being able to redshirt,” Fuente said. “I’m not sure we all quite understood the big picture ramifications. Now it seems like every time I read the paper or read an article, it’s involving something along those lines.”