When Virginia Tech lines up to face Louisville on Halloween this Saturday from Cardinal Stadium, it will be the first time that the two programs have met since the 2006 Gator Bowl.
It’s an indictment on the ACC cross division scheduling, as the Cardinals have been in the ACC since 2014. All it took was a national pandemic to get these two schools to meet.
“I find the ACC scheduling model perplexing,” head coach Justin Fuente said. “I always challenge our staff to do this and our players, I prefer not to be the person that complains about the problem without having the solution. I don’t know what the solution is. I do think it’s odd and in some ways unfortunate. It is such a cool league with unique schools. Some regional benefits that I think are really unique and maybe only to the ACC that we don’t get to take advantage of because of the way it’s scheduled out. I don’t have the solution, so I’m not going to go on a rant complaining about it, but it is odd.”
Instead of trying to figure out a solution to the ACC scheduling problem, Fuente will be tasked with finding an answer to the explosive and speedy Louisville offense. The Cardinals are fresh off a 48-16 win over Florida State where they racked up 569 yards of total offense.
“I’ve watched them on TV over the past couple years and man, that’s the first thing I always think of whether they’re winning or losing, home or away, I always wonder, ‘Man, it just seems like one guy after another that can really run,’” Fuente said. “You know heading into the game if [one false step] happens it’s not going to be a 10-yard gain, it’s going to be an 80-yard gain. That gets your attention pretty quickly.”
Here’s four other takeaways from Fuente’s Monday Zoom session with reporters.
A Look at the Rushing Defense
Virginia Tech’s defense has taken its fair share of lumps when defending against the run in 2020. Heading into Saturday’s contest, opponents are averaging 194.6 rushing yards per game. Take out the Boston College game where the Eagles essentially abandoned the run, and Virginia Tech is allowing 220.75 rushing yards per game.
On Saturday, it appeared the rushing defense was going to be an issue after Wake Forest rattled off 141 yards in the first half, including a 58-yard rush by Christian Beal-Smith down the sideline.
“On the big long run on third-and-short, we missed a fit in there with a young player that got it right the next time,” Fuente. “We’re trying to protect certain positions by calling things a little bit differently. We don’t have as many people in the box as we traditionally have had, for reasons I’m sure you can figure out. We’re going to have to be willing to give up some yards on the ground in order to hopefully prevent the big plays that can leave you exposed to in the back end.”
However, the second half was a different story. The Hokies limited the Demon Deacons to just 65 yards on the ground in the final two quarters of play. Defensive coordinator Justin Hamilton made some adjustments on the fly that is an encouraging sign moving forward.
“I feel good about our knowledge of what we’re trying to get accomplished and ability to diagnose what we’re getting and tweak it or change it in order to give ourselves the best chance,” Fuente said. “They, being not just J Ham, clearly see what’s going on. Clearly getting it communicated to the players. It’s been nice because to be honest with you, that was really difficult the first couple weeks of the season when you’re down so many coaches… I’ve seen us with our full staff back on multiple occasions be able to make those tweaks and adjustments to give us a better chance.”
Kick Catch Interference
One of the more confusing moments of the Wake Forest game was on the Hokies’ last gasp onside kick attempt. John Parker Romo sent a high, bouncing kick to Wake Forest. Dax Hollifield crashed as hard as he could and tackled the Wake Forest player receiving the kick, only to be flagged for kick catch interference.
A Demon Deacons player had called a fair catch, a move that can apparently be done if the ball only bounces one time off the turf.
“It was a one bounce kick, which we’ve never done,” Fuente explained. “When it hits one time you can fair catch it. That make sense? It used to be years ago kickers got really good at kicking it straight into the ground and the ball would go straight up in the air and the receiving team could not fair catch it because it had already hit the ground.”
Jermaine Waller’s Status
Cornerback Jermaine Waller missed his second consecutive game while dealing with an undisclosed injury that he suffered in the North Carolina game. Waller also missed the first two games of the season while recovering from a foot injury that had still hampered him from last season. The current injury is not related to that previous injury.
In Waller’s one game this season, he made eight tackles, including one for loss, along with a pass breakup.
“He played too much in that [North Carolina] game to be honest with you,” Fuente said. “I thought he was an absolute warrior. We ended up putting him at nickel. He was put in an unfair situation, and I hate it for him, as were some of the other guys in that game. It’s been really hard for him. He wants to play. He’s going to go play. I hope it’s this week. He’s certainly on the mend. He worked his tail off to come back, and through the circumstances we were in, was put in an unfair situation in my opinion. He is healing up and hopefully will be back soon.”
TyJuan Garbutt Rejoins the Program
It was announced in August that defensive end TyJuan Garbutt was not with the team as he was dealing with a family matter. Fuente announced on Monday that Garbutt is back with the team and ready to get back practicing.
In 2019, Garbutt tallied 31 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and one sack.
“TyJuan Garbutt is back practicing with us,” Fuente said. “He has actually been back for a week or two. He hasn’t practiced yet, but we’ll work him back into practice a little bit now. I don’t know when he’ll be ready to play, certainly I wouldn’t think it would be this week unless I’m just blown away by something or something crazy happens. He’s been back training and running and getting back into the flow over the last couple of weeks, and we’ll start working him back into practice a little bit and get him trained in terms of lifting and conditioning off of the field.”