Saturday’s loss to Pittsburgh was Virginia Tech’s most lopsided loss since another 30-point defeat to UCLA in the 2013 Sun Bowl. It was a frustrating venture for the Hokies on both sides of the football.
However, there didn’t appear to be any quit in the team. That bodes well for Virginia Tech down the stretch despite the precarious situation of potentially snapping a 25-year bowl streak, as their record sits at 4-5 with two more scheduled games (more on that later).
“You want the kids to be disappointed that it didn’t go well. You want to see that it means something to them, but you also want them to respond,” head coach Justin Fuente said at his weekly press conference. “I didn’t see the situation where you couldn’t get them out of the tank. They showed some resiliency, had some good leadership from the older guys. They’re anxious to prove, as the whole team is, that we can play better football.”
Fuente confirmed that defensive end Houshun Gaines is indeed done for the year with a knee injury. With Emmanuel Belmar banged up and uncertain for Miami, and Trevon Hill previously being dismissed earlier in the year, the Hokies could be reaching well down into the depth chart for the starters on Saturday. Redshirt freshman TyJuan Garbutt did start last week, and picked up three tackles for loss in Belmar’s spot.
“I hope that we can get Emmanuel back,” Fuente said. “At defensive end you have three redshirt freshmen and Emmanuel. We have a couple true freshmen ends that haven’t played much – Eli [Adams] has played a little bit on special teams – that we can look at if we need to. Nate Proctor, Zion DeBose, TyJuan Garbutt and Emmanuel have all played in games and at times played well.”
Virginia Tech has been heavily bit by the injury bug as of late. Gaines and Xavier Burke are done for the year. Bryce Watts has a fractured forearm, making it unlikely that he’ll play anytime soon. Fans seem to have forgotten that incumbent starting quarterback Josh Jackson has been out since week four and likely won’t return this year. Rayshard Ashby, Dylan Rivers, Jarrod Hewitt, Belmar, and Deshawn McClease have all been banged up and missed games in recent weeks.
“I do think it’s a good example of the toll that can be enacted on your team,” Fuente said. “When you talk about offenses that go as fast as they can every single snap, the strain that puts on the defense. Or when you’re not as good defensively as you have been, the amount of snaps they have to play can lead to a couple situations like this. Certainly, we’ve had our fair share [of injuries].”
All of these injuries are not even accounting for the losses (both injuries and attrition) that happened prior to the season.
“You always hate when you have an injury before you even get started,” Fuente said. “[Jeremy] Webb going down in warm ups, so we’ve lost a few guys. I don’t know if it’s any more or less than a normal year, but it’s something all teams have to deal with and battle through. It’s just when you combine that with some of the other things on top of that that we’ve had to deal with, it puts a pretty big strain on you.”
Quincy Patterson’s use vs. Pittsburgh
Freshman Quincy Patterson participated in his third game of the season on Saturday, leaving him one more game before he will be shut down because of the new redshirt rule. Against Pittsburgh, Patterson was inserted into the game on several occasions in the middle of drives.
Down 17-0 in the second quarter, Patterson entered and rushed for no gain before being replaced by Ryan Willis on third-and-9. The Panthers stacked the box knowing Patterson would mainly be used as a running threat, a trend that would continue in the game.
Later in the third quarter while trailing 31-7, Patterson was called upon again after Willis had led Virginia Tech 61 yards down the field to the 19-yard line. Patterson was again stuffed on two running plays before Willis picked up the first down on a 12-yard scramble. The freshman was reinserted for first-and-goal, and after a handoff to Terius Wheatley, had a chance for a passing touchdown, but forced it to Damon Hazelton instead of hitting a wide open James Mitchell in the back of the end zone.
Willis eventually found Eric Kumah for a touchdown on the drive, and it left some folks wondering the timing of putting Patterson in the game in the middle of those possessions.
“It doesn’t take the starter [Willis] out of rhythm,” Fuente said. “It’s not an issue with the timing or any of that stuff.”
Patterson finished with five carries for four yards, and 1-of-4 passing for nine yards in the game. What does the road ahead look like for him?
“There’s a long way to go,” Fuente said. “What there aren’t issues with is operationally or flow or communication. Continuing to execute at a high rate of speed, and practice at a high rate of speed is what he has to continue to do. He’s done some good things, and there’s plenty for him to work on.”
Miami and the Rest of the Way
Virginia Tech squares off with Miami from Lane Stadium on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. What was once supposed to be a heavyweight clash between the preseason No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the ACC Coastal has turned into a matchup of two 5-loss squads.
Miami’s biggest issue this season is getting consistent play out of the quarterback position. Both Malik Rosier and N’Kosi Perry have continued to split time, and neither one has made a splash to take the reins of the offense moving forward.
“They’ve been shuffling the quarterback situation back and forth trying to find comfort,” Fuente said. “They have some really dangerous skill-players at running back and at wide receiver. They’ve got a little bit of youth out there as well, so they’re searching for a little more consistency which I’d say is similar to what we’re looking for.”
As aforementioned, the Hokies would have to win its final two remaining games against Miami and Virginia to keep the 25-year bowl streak alive. However, Fuente and Co. do have the option to schedule a 12th game that Virginia Tech lost out on because of the ECU cancellation. The Hokies appear to be holding off as long as they can before scheduling another game.
“We’ve got interest in all of the scenarios,” Fuente said. “There’s a lot to all of that. Whit [Babcock] has done a great job of keeping me up to date on what’s going on. We’re continuing to work our way through it. Do we have interest? Certainly.”