Pummeled. Blasted. Steamrolled. All could be used to describe the way Duke took it to Virginia Tech last year at Lane Stadium in the Blue Devils’ 45-10 shellacking of the Hokies.
It was a humbling experience for those on the team last year, and one that they won’t soon forget with Virginia Tech slated to face Duke this Saturday at 4 p.m.
“We remember everything about that Duke game from last year,” offensive guard Lecitus Smith said during Tuesday’s player media availability. “They came in and beat the crap out of us. They came in more ready and more prepared, so we definitely learned our lesson from Duke last year.”
“I just remember it was a big embarrassment, and moving forward, we’re not looking backwards at that game,” linebacker Alan Tisdale said. “We’re just going to play and practice hard every day this week until gameday, and we’ll be ready.”
On that Friday night last year, the Hokies quickly jumped out to a 3-0 lead, but things spiraled out of control following a fumble on their own 16-yard line. The floodgates opened, and Quentin Harris torched the Hokies’ defense to the tune of 263 total yards and three touchdowns (two passing, one rushing). The Blue Devils also caught Virginia Tech napping with a fake punt late in the fourth quarter that led to another score.
“We know we got outplayed,” offensive tackle Christian Darrisaw said. “They played harder and were more physical. This year, we have to outwork them. We know what happened last year. That’s in the back of everybody’s mind, but we’re not going to pay too much attention to it. We’re just trying to win the game.”
That game also marked a distinct watershed moment for the Hokies. Following that game in what was coined A.D., After Duke, Virginia Tech looked like a completely different team and went on to win six of the next seven before falling in the final two games to Virginia and Kentucky.
“It was a turning point,” wide receiver Tayvion Robinson said. “It was a wakeup call for us, and from there we really just put our heads down and worked. The mentality was to keep going 1-0. We had a great run after that.”
“We didn’t expect to lose like that, and it turned around the whole season,” Darrisaw added. “You saw how we came out and played against Miami. It definitely turned us around.”
Head coach Justin Fuente knew Saturday’s meeting against Duke would be played up as a revenge game. It’s why he had a stern talk with his team following Sunday’s practice to spread the message of where he wanted his squad’s focus to remain.
“I think Coach Fuente did a great job talking about it after Sunday’s practice,” Smith said. “We’re going to go into this game like we do every other game this year. We’re going to go into it ready to be physical up front and try to pound them out of the gate with the run… It’s going to be a challenge, but we remember everything about that Duke game last year and we’re ready for Saturday.”
“Definitely guys are hungry and ready to bounce back this weekend, just go out there and execute,” running back Khalil Herbert said. “Get corrections from last week. We’re really focused on us and what we have to correct. What we have to do. We do the right thing, I think we’ll be good.”
Duke will enter the game with an 0-3 record this year with losses to Notre Dame, Boston College, and Virginia. It was supposed to be a revamped offense with Clemson transfer quarterback Chase Brice at the helm, but instead the Blue Devils lead the nation with 14 turnovers.
It’s put the Blue Devils’ defense in tough situations and inflated some defensive stats, but they are no doubt a physical team up front led by their front seven and star defensive end Victor Dimukeje.
“Coach [Vance] Vice is really doing a tremendous job emphasizing technique and effort for this game. Every game is going to be physical; this is football,” Smith said. “At the same time, there are some games that will take more mentally. You have to be more mentally there, because this Duke defense has some tough guys up front and they have a whole lot of schemes that they can mix and match with the plays we have. We have to keep our head on a swivel, we have to keep our eyes up and see where the linebackers are playing. We have to be physical, but also not lose our technique.”
In the ultimate age of uncertainty, there’s no guarantee yet who will be calling plays defensively for the Hokies on Saturday. However, cornerbacks coach Ryan Smith exhibited that he was plenty capable. It’s something he’s proved from the moment he came to Blacksburg according to cornerback Brion Murray.
“He’s one of the coolest coaches I’ve been coached by in my short career playing football,” said Murray, who secured his second career interception on Saturday. “Honestly, when he was called to be the DC… there’s really no fall off. Coach Smith prepares just like J Ham. He’s always in the office with him… I really have a lot of confidence in him. He knows what he’s talking about, for sure.”
When the Hokies take the field in Durham this weekend, last year’s result will surely be in the back of their mind. But if Virginia Tech’s opener was any indication, the team is locked and loaded to put that in the past and put its best foot forward in the 2020 season.
“My biggest thing is that I’ll never look at last year,” Tisdale said. “This is a new year, a new season with a whole new team. I’m ready to work with them guys. The first game went pretty well, so I’m excited to see.”