Virginia Tech seemingly had a complete performance in all aspects of the game in Saturday’s 40-14 victory over Boston College which moved the Hokies up to No. 19 in the AP Poll. All night long, Virginia Tech pounded it on the ground to the tune of 350 rushing yards and was efficient in the passing game. The Hokies were opportunistic on defense, forcing five Eagles’ turnovers.
Still, head coach Justin Fuente doesn’t think his squad has even reached the surface.
“I don’t feel like we played all that well after watching the film,” Fuente said during Monday’s Zoom session. “We’ve got a lot to work on. I’m happy with the outcome, but the outcome shouldn’t jade our view of what actually occurred. We still had far too many mistakes being made out there. A little bit of that is that guys haven’t played together. I think it’s pretty clear when we watch the film as coaches that there is a lot to work on.”
There still may be a lot to work on, but the rushing attack has been a consistent positive from the first snap of the 2020 season. On Saturday, it was quarterback Hendon Hooker who got going with his legs, racking up 164 yards rushing. We also saw an added physicality from the 6-foot-4, 220-pounder that we didn’t see last year as he lowered his shoulder on a few occasions and carried some defenders for extra yardage.
“I don’t want him taking big hits,” Fuente said. “He is a weapon running and throwing the football. He did do a good job escaping out. A guy had a hold of him a time or two. Then, he punched the ball into the endzone down the right side there with an unblocked hat who showed up there on the 1-yard line and found a way to get it in. I’m proud of that. He is a big, strong kid. He has that ability; I just don’t want him getting too carried away with it.”
Meanwhile, running back Khalil Herbert was his usual self, accounting for 143 yards on the ground, bringing his average to 148 yards per game. It’s a figure that is still tops in the nation and over 15 yards more than Iowa State’s Breece Hall who is second.
“There’s still room for improvement, and I think he acknowledges that and takes that coaching which is pretty cool,” Fuente said. “I also saw him helping his teammates on the sideline, helping them with what he was seeing when he was running the ball which is another pretty cool attribute.”
The biggest change for the Hokies on Saturday was the decreased number of players and staff unavailable for action after being bit hard by the coronavirus bug and injuries through the first three weeks. Virginia Tech was missing just a couple of starters in Jermaine Waller and Luke Tenuta, while the entire coaching staff was back as normal. It’s certainly a positive development that the Hokies may just be getting over the roughest stretch.
“I’m hesitant to say anything,” Fuente said. “You see guys make comments, and the next thing you know, it bites them in the tail. We’re doing everything in our power to adhere to the guidelines and do our best to control what we can in this situation. We were still down some guys, but it was nice to have our staff there. It was probably the most normal week we’ve had thus far.”
Now, Virginia Tech turns its attention to Wake Forest, who is 2-2 but coming off two consecutive victories including a 40-23 triumph over Virginia on Saturday. On offense, the Demon Deacons are averaging 40.3 points per game, a number that’s third in the conference behind only Clemson and the Hokies.
Wake Forest’s offense is headlined by a two-headed rushing attack of Kenneth Walker III and Christian Beal-Smith. Quarterback Sam Hartman had his best game of the season in the win over the Cavaliers, tossing for 307 yards and a touchdown on 16-of-27 passing.
“Coach [Dave] Clawson is going to find ways to be productive on the offensive side of the ball,” Fuente said. “He’s been doing it for so long. He’s just really, really good at it. Between their scheme and their personnel, they provide tons of issues being able to run the ball and throw the ball down the field.
“I’ve been really impressed with the Hartman kid. He’s taken care of the football. He gets on the move and makes plays with his arm. He can push the ball down the field. They have the ball on the minus-1 yard line and they’re taking shots. I feel like just watching the film, Dave hasn’t told me this, but they have complete confidence in Sam Hartman to go operate whatever he calls and execute it at a pretty high level.”
The defensive side of the ball for the Demon Deacons is middle of the pack in the ACC allowing 29.8 points per game, but the unit begins and ends with defensive end Carlos ‘Boogie’ Basham Jr. Basham, a projected early round pick in the 2021 NFL, has tallied four sacks and 17 tackles thus far.
“I can’t say enough about Basham,” Fuente said. “He’s just all over the place. Caused at least one fumble I can remember in the game last year. He chases the ball. Obviously a big, strong player. They do a good job with him in terms of what they’re asking him to do. He loves to rush the passer and plays really good against the run.”
With UNC losing this past week, Miami losing the previous week, and Notre Dame exhibiting some serious limitations in a 12-7 win over Louisville, Virginia Tech is right back in the hunt to try to challenge Clemson atop the ACC. Sitting at 3-1 with all that the Hokies have dealt with would typically allow Fuente a moment of reflection on the accomplishment in a normal year, but instead, he’s pushing ahead in the midst of all the uncertainties.
“We’re so deep in the weeds right now,” Fuente said. “I don’t know what day it is or where we’re going or what we’re doing. I know we have Wake Forest. We’re just trying to take it one step at a time here. I have been proud of the way our kids have handled some tough things that we’ve been through. Those things aren’t over. This isn’t time for us to sit back and relax and slap each other on the back. This is time for us to continue to focus knowing there’s a long road ahead of us. They’ll be a lot of twists and turns in the road, and we have to do our best to keep it between the ditches, keep it rolling in the right direction.”