Virginia Tech is gearing up for a physical battle with Boston College this Saturday. The Hokies hold an 18-8 all-time record against the Eagles. In head coach Justin Fuente’s two years, Virginia Tech has gone 2-0 and outscored Boston College 72-10. However, the Hokies will be home underdogs this weekend against the No. 24 Eagles.
Fuente is coming off his worst ACC loss in his tenure at Virginia Tech after last week’s 49-28 drubbing at the hands of Georgia Tech. The Hokies would be best suited to wipe the memory clean from last Thursday after sputtering in all three phases of the game.
“It’s up to us as coaches to get the guys in position to have success and encourage them to continue to move forward,” Fuente said at his weekly press conference. “That’s happening, and I feel good about that.
“Over the last year, I’ve seen this team make huge strides. I’m talking about from when we came back from winter break. We had a long way to go and we still do. Staying the course and continuing to understand and try to get those points across is what we have to focus on.”
Over the past two years, Virginia Tech has responded to losses vs. Georgia Tech with hard-fought, bounceback wins the following week. In 2016, the Hokies defeated Notre Dame in South Bend 34-31 after trailing 17-0 to begin the game. Last year, Virginia Tech escaped with a 20-14 win over Pittsburgh following a goal-line stand in the closing seconds.
The performance against the Yellow Jackets isn’t necessarily one that the team can glean anything from considering the distinct offense they run. The film from that game will likely be stored away, and the Hokies will prepare for a new opponent in Boston College.
“You can watch technique and effort and execution and those sorts of things, but I don’t know that any offense in the league when they’re playing other ACC teams breaks down the Georgia Tech film,” Fuente said. “It’s just so different. The defense is lined up so much different. There’s little or no correlation between what you see carrying over. It’s a one-time game that you have to get lined up and go play in a different manner, and then get back to playing a different style of ball this week.”
Home Field Advantage?
Lane Stadium has generally been called one of the biggest home field advantages across the country. That has not been the case this year, however. The Hokies handled William & Mary, an FCS opponent for the home opener, but since have dropped 45-23 and 49-28 decisions to Notre Dame and Georgia Tech respectively.
“I hope the location of the game doesn’t affect our performance,” Fuente said. “At times, at least this year, we have played on the road – maybe been a little more productive at times. It’s something we talk about. It’s not a factor that we haven’t acknowledged. Maybe there are a few more distractions that come with playing at home with family and tickets, all those sorts of things. I know this, our kids definitely do want to play well here. They do want to perform and they do understand how unique and how honored we are to get to play in such a cool venue.”
As Fuente noted, Virginia Tech has been more productive on the road than in front of the home faithful in 2018. The Hokies are 3-1 on the road and 1-2 at home. They are one of three Power Five schools to have a winning record on the road and a losing record at home, with Wake Forest and Purdue being the others.
Punt Return Woes Continue
Heading into the bye week before Georgia Tech, Fuente pointed out that the Hokies had to be better in the punt return game and find consistency. Below I’m copying and pasting some research that I included in the article on October 17.
“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)”
Now we can add one more to the list – Georgia Tech: 2 punts, 1 fumble lost (Savoy). Despite all the problems Virginia Tech has had, Sean Savoy’s muffed punt was the first fumble that the Hokies have lost off a punt return all year. Damon Hazelton replaced Savoy after his mishap, but there will still be a revolving door back there.
“We keep shuffling guys back there because we have not been good,” Fuente said. “There’s no reason to sugarcoat it. We haven’t been comfortable with the way that whoever has been back there has handled it. We have to continue to find somebody back there that can be consistent enough to field the football. That’s what we talked about starting the year, the very first thing is can we communicate to the other people on the field that are blocking for us. Can we take care of the football? We’ve been fortunate up to last week that it hadn’t hurt us, and it finally did.”
Different Names Atop the ACC
Many pundits have made it known that it’s a down year for ACC football. Don’t look now, but the conference currently has four teams ranked with Syracuse, Virginia, and Boston College cracking the Top 25, joining Clemson. It’s an oddity to see those teams ranked with the likes of Miami, Florida State, and even Virginia Tech nowhere in sight.
“It’s similarly competitive as it’s been in my short time here,” Fuente said. “The names may have changed. Maybe some other teams are having some better seasons than they’ve had the last couple years. Maybe there’s a couple teams that aren’t having as good a year as they’ve had in the last couple years. It’s going to be competitive every single year. There’s probably, I think everyone would agree, one team out there that’s head and shoulders above everybody else in the league. Everybody else is scratching and fighting and clawing to squeeze out a win every week.”
Virginia Tech Injury Notes
Linebacker Dylan Rivers and defensive tackle Jarrod Hewitt both exited last game with injuries and did not return. There is no timetable for either at this point.
“I think it will all be day-by-day with those two guys,” Fuente said. “I don’t have any real update. We’ll have a meeting today where we’ll get the latest on those guys. If I was filling out a report, I’d say it was day-to-day right now.”