After nine straight weeks of competition, Virginia Tech finally gets a week off, and it couldn’t come at a better time following their 47-14 blowout in Pittsburgh on Saturday.
“We need to hit recharge a little bit. It’s been a long process from the middle of July when we started practicing all the way to now playing games every single week,” Head Coach Justin Fuente said. “We’re finally getting a chance to take a little breath here. It’s been as long of a stretch as I can remember, and obviously it’s been a revolving door of personnel, coaches and players.”
While Thanksgiving weekend is usually rivalry week in a normal season, this year, the Hokies get the holiday week off which makes for an interesting week as the season begins to wind down.
Tech Finally Gets A Week Off
With three straight losses, the Hokies are reeling after a 4-2 start. Two huge games loom in Lane Stadium after the holiday weekend, with top-five Clemson traveling to Blacksburg before the Commonwealth Cup is on the line in the season finale against Virginia.
Tech looks to put the season back on the rails during this bye week which starts with their two practices on Tuesday and Wednesday.
“Everybody will be out there, but we’ll work with the older guys in some individual stuff and get some team work for some of the younger players or guys who haven’t played as much,” Fuente said. “We need to get those guys some reps and get the guys who have had a bunch of reps healthy and feeling better.”
After practice on Wednesday, the team will be off until Saturday giving players Thanksgiving off. With COVID-19 cases surging throughout the country, the Hokies hope that having Thursday and Friday off won’t lead to another outbreak among the team as players are given the opportunity to see family.
“I’m not going to lock them up. We all understand what we’re dealing with. These kids have already sacrificed a tremendous amount,” Fuente said. “I’m not sure anybody knows, unless you’re on the inside, what these kids have been through. I’m going to encourage them to understand the importance of how they act, what they do and what they’re around. I’m not going to force them to stay here or to go home.”
When the Hokies get back to work on Saturday, the pressure will be back on as they prepare for the stretch run. With the disappointing results from the last month, Tech will be looking to turn the season around in December.
“We’ll have some meetings and stuff on Saturday and get back to work on Sunday evening in preparation for Clemson,” Fuente said. “I like our schedule and where we’re at with all that sort of stuff and hopefully we can accomplish our goals this week of getting some of the young guys some work and getting the guys that have played a lot feeling better and get recharged after this long, stressful march that we’ve been on.”
Offensive Line Continues to Shuffle
Vance Vice has always been known as an offensive line coach who will mix up his personnel during practice. On Saturday, the Hokies were forced into a tough situation on the line with star left tackle Christian Darrisaw out with an injury.
“We’ll see. He wanted to go on the trip and warm up and see how he felt. That’s what he did and just was unable to go,” Fuente said. “Hadn’t practiced all week either. We’ll see how all that goes with a little bit of rest. Heading into next week, he’ll obviously be a guy who won’t do much this week.”
Redshirt-sophomore Luke Tenuta moved from right tackle to the blind side with Silas Dzansi plugging in on the right side. The shuffled tackles were able to hold their own against a tough Pittsburgh front.
“All in all, Silas had one play that stood out to me that I didn’t like that he knows he kind of messed up,” Fuente said. “It was early in the game, but he was effective and did a good job. Luke is in there battling his tail off. I’m proud of those guys.”
Sophomore Doug Nester was also missing from the lineup in Pittsburgh, but there’s optimism that he could return soon. Although he is usually inside at guard, he has shown he could bump out to tackle if Darrisaw is going to miss an extended period of time.
“It will be nice to get Doug back because if we are short a guy at tackle, Doug is a guy who has played out there some. He played some right tackle early in the year,” Fuente said. “Watching the cut ups, I had kind of forgotten about that. When Luke was out, Doug had played some right tackle early in the season and had done a decent job, so it will be good to get Doug back in the fold there too.”
For the seventh time this season, cornerback Jermaine Waller was not available on Saturday. After working his way back from foot surgery this offseason, Waller missed two games before playing against North Carolina. Then, he missed three more and returned against Liberty. He has not played since, and his status for the rest of the season is in doubt.
“I don’t know if he’ll be able to come back or not. He’s working hard and diligently to get his body feeling better,” Fuente said. “The door is still open, but I don’t know if he’ll be able to go or not.”
Waller was expected to take over as the Hokies’ top cornerback after Caleb Farley opted out to prepare for the NFL Draft, but he has yet to play in consecutive games, and fans may not see him again in 2020.
Wide receiver Kaleb Smith is also banged up after hurting his shoulder against Pittsburgh. He missed the second half along with top receiver Tre Turner, leaving Tech without many options on the outside.
“Kaleb has done a great job of that; he’s just continued to work. It was the second play of the second half when the ball got intercepted and he came from all the way across the field, hustling his tail off,” Fuente said. “I thought he was going to strip the ball, but he made a nice tackle because we missed a few tackles there offensively. It was just great hustle. I hope he’s okay, he didn’t get to play much, or any, after that.”
Smith and Turner will need to heal up over the next two weeks or Tech will have a problem outside. Outside of those two, Tayvion Robinson is the only Hokie receiver with multiple receptions this season.