Virginia Tech Preparing For Explosive Louisville Offense

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Virginia Tech
The Virginia Tech secondary will have a big challenge on Saturday. (Virginia Tech sports photography)

The Hokies now sit at 3-2 as they prepare for a trip to Louisville on Saturday. As players spoke to the media on Tuesday, it was clear that the team is prepared to bounce back from last week’s loss in Winston-Salem.

“We take everything very seriously here,” running back Raheem Blackshear said. “We watch film, put everything in the past and fix what we need to fix and just go 1-0 every week.”

Since Justin Fuente arrived in Blacksburg, Tech is 13-5 following a loss, with three of those losses coming during the Hokies four-game losing streak in 2018. Bouncing back from a loss has not been an issue for Tech over the past few seasons and the hope is that continues in Louisville.

“I just feel like it all comes from who has heart. When you have heart and you lose a football game, you’re going to do everything in your right power to not lose the next football game. I feel like we have a lot of guys on this football team that just want to win,” wide receiver Tre Turner said. “When we lose, we’re not going to take an L, like we’re not going to take it lightly like, ‘Oh, now we’re just going to keep losing the rest of the season.’ No, when we take a loss, we all look at that loss the same. We want to win the game.”

Fuente says that the Hokies turned the page during Sunday’s practice and their attention is now fully on the Cardinals.

Preparing for Louisville

Louisville went through a tough stretch before finally recovering with a win against Florida State last week. The Cardinals lost four straight games, including a 19-point loss at the hands of Georgia Tech.

However, the Hokies aren’t taking the Cardinals lightly, despite their 2-4 record. There were high hopes for Louisville entering the season, mostly because of their talented skill players on offense.

“They’re explosive at wide receiver, running back, quarterback; basically anybody in their skill position can catch the ball and turn a ten-yard game into an 80-yard game in the blink of an eye,” cornerback Brion Murray said. “We’re preparing for that and trying to limit those as much as we can.”

The preparation for those players begins with Tutu Atwell. After posting over 1,200 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2019, he hasn’t missed a beat in 2020 with 450 yards and five touchdowns. With the issues the Hokies have had in the secondary, containing Atwell will be crucial.

“It definitely is an opportunity to prove yourself. He’s a very good receiver, very explosive, fast, quick,” Murray said. “He’s kind of small, but all-around, he’s a great receiver. It’s a great opportunity, and we’re looking forward to that. Our whole unit is looking forward to it as a secondary.”

With Atwell, quarterback Malik Cunningham and reigning ACC Running Back of the Week, Javian Hawkins, the Tech defense will certainly have its hands full this weekend.

DaShawn Crawford, Virginia Tech
DaShawn Crawford hopes to be fully healthy soon. (Ivan Morozov)

DaShawn Crawford Works His Way Back 

The Hokies have been missing a huge piece in the middle of their defensive line for much of the season, and finally DaShawn Crawford is back on the field.

“It was just a major strain to the knee. The process of getting back, I just had to sit out for a couple of weeks because it hurt so bad,” Crawford said. “I gradually worked my way back working with Coach Tapp and Teerlinck, just making a plan to get better so I can get back into the flow of things.”

Crawford played through a knee strain in the season opener against North Carolina State, but only played two snaps before he had to come out of the game.

“I was trying to push myself more than I needed to push myself. I was being hard-headed,” Crawford said. “The coaches said that I needed to chill out, but I was being hard-headed and said I could go. I got out there and had to come right out.”

After missing the next two games, he played limited snaps against Boston College and Wake Forest, and looks to increase his playing time next week.

“I think it’s still going to be a gradual work-up because the guys in front of me have worked all camp and have grinded through practice,” Crawford said. “They’ve been playing, so I can’t just jump them because they’ve been doing work.”

Having Crawford back in the rotation should improve the performance of the line as a whole. With multiple solid guys in the middle of the defensive front, the Hokies should have fresh tackles more often than they have.

Wide Receivers Look to Separate 

The passing game has not been the focal point of the offense like many expected entering the season. Khalil Herbert’s explosion at running back has allowed the Hokies to rely on the run through the first few games of the season, but against Wake Forest, that wasn’t the case.

Tech was forced to throw the ball more often, and the flaws within the passing game were shown.

“We went over the film on Sunday. Coach [Jafar] Williams, he got on us. We knew what we were going to get on Sunday because obviously the passing game wasn’t where it was supposed to be,” Turner said. “We looked over it and made our corrections. We’re onto Louisville now. Just ready to make plays whenever we get an opportunity.”

Some of the issues stem from the lack of depth at wide receiver. Turner and Tayvion Robinson are the only receivers with five or more catches this season.

Quarterbacks Hendon Hooker and Braxton Burmeister have struggled to find big plays downfield as the group struggles to separate from opposing defensive backs.

“It’s about who is more physical and who wants to be more physical in the passing game running routes,” Turner said. “DB gets hands on you and you don’t want to put hands on him, then you’re not going to win the rep. It’s the same as going one-on-one in practice. You just have to know how to get open. If you can’t get open, then of course, the pass is not going to work.”

The Hokies’ backfield won’t be able to put up 300 yards in every game like they did early in the season. When the running game isn’t dominant, Hooker and the receivers have to find a way to step up.

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