Virginia Tech has its scheduled off week (not an impromptu one because of Mother Nature), giving the Hokies a chance to rest, heal up, and most importantly prepare for Georgia Tech’s triple option offense.
Georgia Tech has been a thorn in Justin Fuente’s side as the only team in the Coastal Division he has yet to beat. The Thursday night game changes the game planning a bit, as opposed to a regular Saturday game. Fuente gave his players Monday and Tuesday off.
“It’s a little bit of a different deal just because of the Thursday game,” Fuente said. “Ordinarily we would go off on Monday and practice the rest of the week, and get guys out on the road recruiting. We’ll go Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and do a little bit Saturday morning.”
Georgia Tech’s offense has been up-and-down this year, shredding Louisville for 542 yards on the ground two weeks ago before being limited to just 229 yards rushing against Duke this past week. Still, the offense is always a challenge, requiring an emphasis on open-field tackling and keeping responsibilities.
It’s an offense unlike any other that Virginia Tech will face all year long, making it difficult to imitate with the scout team.
“The biggest thing is finding a way to simulate what you’re going to see,” Fuente said. “When you play somebody that runs something a little bit more traditionally offensively, then it’s a little bit more easy to service each other. Here, it’s a totally different deal. It’s a challenge. We have experience in this arena in terms of a coaching staff that’s obviously faced this scheme many times before. We have to translate that experience to our players, many of whom do not have very much experience with the scheme.
“I’m not sure yet,” Fuente said when asked who would be the practice squad quarterback. “We’ll have the staff meeting before we practice to talk about that.”
Punt Return Concerns
Halfway through the season, Virginia Tech has yet to find any consistent results in the punt return game. In fact, it’s been a struggle for the Hokies the entire year with punt return specialist Greg Stroman now in the NFL. Here’s a look at game-by-game results, demonstrating the team’s lack of focus on punt returns.
Florida State: 6 punts, 1 fumble (Carroll)
William & Mary: 5 punts, 1 fumble (Carroll)
ODU: 7 punts, 0 fumbles
Duke: 6 punts, 1 fumble (Hazelton)
Notre Dame: 3 punts, 1 fumble (Carroll)
UNC: 2 punts, 1 fumble (Hazelton)
C.J. Carroll and Damon Hazelton have seen 29 punts come their way, and five of those (17.2 percent) have ended with the football on the ground. Fortunately for Virginia Tech, it was able to recover all of those fumbles, but the concerns still exist.
“We have not been very consistent there,” Fuente said. “It’s something that we need to improve on. Part of that deal is communicating. It’s not just catching the ball, but you’ve got all these guys that don’t know where the ball is because they’re trying to block. Those guys identifying where the returner is, peaking the returner, and the returner communicating with those guys is really important. We’ve got to get to the point where we can field the ball and communicate on a consistent basis.”
Carroll recently had to give up his football career after re-aggravating his foot injury, and Hazelton hasn’t made a splash at the position. Wide receiver Hezekiah Grimsley was the district’s top punt returner at Lafayette High School in Williamsburg, averaging 24.6 yards per punt return and scoring three touchdowns. Fuente mentioned him as a guy who was getting work during fall camp, and brought up his name, among others, during the weekly press conference.
“He have worked with Hezekiah, we have worked with [Sean] Savoy, and we have worked with [Bryce] Watts,” Fuente said. “We’ll continue to try to work through that here in the next couple days to see if we can be a little more consistent.”
Nothing’s Been Normal
Virginia Tech enters its off week sitting with a record of 4-2, a reasonable record that many would have predicted (not considering ECU game being cancelled), but the season as a whole has been anything but predictable.
“Quite candidly, it’s been a way too eventful nine or 10 months,” Fuente said. “Some of it is beyond our control, especially the weather and those sorts of things. There’s been nothing normal about anything over the last nine months. It’s up to us to control the things we can control, and grow up and mature, so that we can get on with a little more of regular pace. You’ve just got to adapt, it does you no good to pout, or whine about it, or do anything other than to continue to teach those lessons and be ready for change.”
Many would have expected the outside distractions to wear off once the season started, but that simply hasn’t been the case. Combine a game being cancelled by a hurricane, the starting quarterback getting injured, and a starting defensive end being dismissed and you’ve got a recipe for an abnormal season.
“In between the schedule and some things that we’ve done, it has not been normal,” Fuente said. “You know, what’s normal? You’re coaching a bunch of kids that are working hard, and trying to improve, and want to play well and represent Virginia Tech. I’m enjoying them, I really am. We’ve got some really good people that we enjoy being around on a daily basis.”