The Hokies practiced on Tuesday as they prepare for a matchup with #9 Miami on Saturday afternoon in Lane Stadium. The Hokies look to rebound from last weekend’s loss to Liberty and vault themselves back into the ACC Championship conversation.
“We came out and had a good Tuesday practice, just like I’m used to seeing us do after we lose,” wide receiver Tre Turner said. “It’s a tough loss to take, but we always have to turn the page and move on to next week.”
At 4-2 in conference play, Tech has no room for error as they prepare for a tough stretch run over the last month of the season. That starts this weekend with the Hurricanes, and here are three takeaways from the players’ session with the media ahead of Saturday’s game.
Coach Fuente Runs the Scout Team
Tech will take on possibly their largest offensive test this season when Miami rolls into Blacksburg this weekend. Quarterback D’Eriq King is the third consecutive mobile passer that the Hokies will take on, but he also has been the most impressive this season.
“The scout team, Fu is leading scout team this week, so he’s definitely in there on them and making them work as hard as they can. We’re getting a really good look. It’s hard to simulate a guy like King,” linebacker Dax Hollifield said. “There’s a reason he’s in the Heisman race. Last week, when I watched him against NC State, he lit them up. I’m very impressed with him. I don’t think anybody can really simulate that, but we’re doing the best job we can.”
It’s rare for the head coach to lead the scout team during the week, but with the test that the Hurricanes’ offense presents, Fuente has decided to take preparation into his own hands.
“We’ve had some different guys try to imitate the different looks we’re going to get, but coach Fu running the scout team down there today, there was a lot more juice, a lot more excitement,” defensive tackle Jarrod Hewitt said. “Kind of just being more urgent. You know if the head man is over there running the scout team, you know you’re going to have to be giving it your all or giving it your best.”
Over the last two weeks, Malik Cunningham and Malik Willis stuffed the stat-sheet at quarterback. Having the head coach preparing for King may be the only way that the Hokies’ defense can truly get a good look.
Jermaine Waller Working His Way Back
When Caleb Farley opted out due to COVID-19 over the summer, the negative impact on the secondary was expected to be limited because the Hokies had Jermaine Waller on the other side. That hasn’t been the case this season.
Waller has missed five games due to injury so far this season in most part due to foot surgery over the offseason. That injury stretches back further than many expected, as Waller says that he was playing with a fractured bone in his foot throughout the entire 2019 season.
“I got surgery on it after the season. I’ve been rehabbing throughout the pandemic, but things were messed up at the beginning because everything was closing,” Waller said. “It was kind of rough getting everything set up. I eventually got things right and was able to get the rehab that I needed.”
After finally returning to the lineup against North Carolina, Waller disappeared once again with an upper body injury before finally returning against Liberty.
“It’s been tough. I’ve just been trying to get back out there with the guys. Watching them and not being able to participate as much as I want to has been tough,” Waller said. “There’ve just been injuries that have been keeping me back from helping and doing what I need to do to help the team. It was just best for me to get things right. Everything is straight now.”
The secondary has not been a strong suit for the Hokies this season, so having Waller back will certainly help against an explosive offense like Miami’s. The hope is that Tech’s top corner is back to 100% and can play a big role down the stretch.
The Passing Offense Continues to Develop
Khalil Herbert has been the dominant force for Tech’s offense this season as he has racked up over 800 yards in the six games that he has a carry. With Herbert sidelined with a hamstring injury on Saturday, the passing offense had to step up and make plenty of plays down the stretch to give the Hokies a chance.
Quarterback Hendon Hooker has stepped up in a big way over the last two weeks and added another dimension to the offense. In the last two games, Hooker is 30-37 for 400 yards with seven total touchdowns, including two huge touchdown drives late on Saturday to keep Tech in it.
“We knew that we could go out there and execute. I don’t really know where the doubt was. We’ve executed in two-minute situations,” Turner said. “Hendon is calm and poised. We go out there and run our routes and catch the ball, and it showed up in the game. That was new, I guess, but it was fun, and it was good to see it executed and work out in the game.”
Turner and the receivers have started to step up as well. On Saturday, Tech was missing their top pass-catcher, tight end James Mitchell. For the first time this season, the receiver group consistently made plays and opened up the field.
“It feels good knowing that coaches are getting more comfortable with guys, because everybody wants opportunities,” Turner said. “You have guys older than me that just transferred here who want opportunities. It’s just nice seeing guys on the field who haven’t been out there.”
There were questions about Hooker and the passing game as a whole after the junior threw three interceptions against Wake Forest three weeks ago. It seems like he has answered those questions and cemented himself as the Hokies’ long-term solution under center.
“I feel like he’s back in a groove. Wake Forest was a shaky game for him, we all saw that and talked about it after the game,” Turner said. “He turned it around the week after that, and you saw what he did last week. I feel like he’s in his groove, so we’re going to keep rolling on offense.”