Virginia Tech football (2-1) welcomes Duke (2-1) to town for a Friday night showdown with both teams are coming off a bye week.
It’s the third straight home game for the Hokies, who most recently beat Furman 24-17 on September 14. Meanwhile, Duke is returning to action following a 41-18 victory over Middle Tennessee on the same date.
“We have a huge challenge this week,” head coach Justin Fuente said. “Duke coming in here Friday night. A complete football team in my estimation. You watch them in all three phases of the game – on offense, defense and special teams. You’ve always known coach [Cutcliffe] is a fantastic coach. They have a tremendous amount of talent over there as well.”
After starting the season with arguably the biggest week one challenge in the 42-3 loss to Alabama, the Blue Devils have responded with a 45-13 win over North Carolina A&T and the triumph over Middle Tennessee.
Senior quarterback Quentin Harris has completed 72.53 percent of his passes through three games for 679 yards, eight touchdowns, and two interceptions. Many expected Harris to be the quarterback in last year’s meeting between the two teams, a matchup won by the Hokies 31-14, but instead, Daniel Jones returned for his first game just three weeks after breaking his clavicle.
“Quentin, to me, is a really solid player,” defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. “Takes what the defense gives him, is not really forcing anything right now. That goes back to coaching. Just really talented guy with the ball in his hand. Throwing the ball with the ball in his hand, running the football, and he’s got good game management, and he’s got some experience. I think he’s a well-rounded, complete football player.”
Harris is also Duke’s leading rusher with 203 yards on 34 attempts. Foster expects the Blue Devils to rely on his rushing abilities even more on Friday night.
“They brought him in in goal line, short yardage situations and ran quarterback isos, quarterback powers [last year],” Foster said. “You have not really seen that yet. They have that in their arsenal. I think as we move into conference games, I think you’ll start seeing him utilized more in that role. That would be my guess in what we’re preparing for.”
Given the week off, Fuente noted that the team worked on a lot of good versus good looks. It was also an opportunity for the young players on defense in the two-deep to get some extended work.
“Some of those guys that are in more of a backup role, we gave them a few more reps in the early practices on Tuesday and Wednesday,” Foster said. “Particularly the d-linemen like Norell [Pollard] and Mario [Kendricks], getting those guys the work they need, and continue to work on the little things like their footwork and hand placement, all those types of things.
“We really had a good week of three days of good work. It carried over to yesterday, so I like our approach.”
A common theme throughout Virginia Tech’s first three games of the season is seeing a complete team in spurts, but never throughout the entire game. It’s been an issue on both sides of the ball.
“I think playing the full 60 minutes is huge for this team in general, offense and defense,” Quarterback Ryan Willis said. “Offensively, we just need to come out and have a fast start. I love first possession, drive all the way down and score. That’s the way every coach and every player envisions going into the game, but that level of execution and drive and enthusiasm we have to start the game we need to carry on the whole 60 minutes.”
Much of the bye week was attempting to find the fix that was causing this breakdown in execution at certain times. Lane Stadium occupants are waiting for that complete game to occur for the first time this Friday.
“It’s week four, it’s time to play 60 minutes, and not 50 or 48, or not 52 or a half,” Foster said. “We’ve got to put it all together in all phases. That’s really kind of what I see.”
Ryan Willis got banged up at the end of the Furman game after taking a shot on a scramble. He maintains everything is good heading into the matchup. “I feel good,” Willis said. “Ready to go Friday night.”
Keshawn King was another player who exited the game against Furman after his breakout performance. He bruised his knee, but he says he’s a full-go for Friday. “I’m fully recovered,” King said. “100 percent ready to go.”
There has been progress with defensive end TyJuan Garbutt, who hasn’t played since the opening game against Boston College. “Ty has practiced the past couple days,” Foster said. “We’ve got to knock some rust off. It’s been three games really. He played a little bit, a series, maybe two in that first game. Just get some timing back, those kinds of things. Hopefully we can get him back, and I’m anticipating that. Give us that play he showed all of fall camp and throughout the spring as well. I’m looking forward to getting him back.”
There’s still a lot of unknowns with Damon Hazelton and his hamstring issue. ““To say he’s day-to-day, I think, would be accurate,” Fuente said. “I don’t know. I’m hopeful that in the coming weeks he’ll be able to play. I just don’t know, we’ll see. He’s out there trying to get some work in right now.”
Fuente gave offensive linemen Zachariah Hoyt and T.J. Jackson the same “day-to-day” distinction.