The big news coming out of Justin Fuente’s Monday press conference was the announcement that quarterback Quincy Patterson would be entering the transfer portal. Jake Lyman has that story here, but there were still plenty of other storylines to note.
This Saturday, Virginia Tech welcomes No. 3 Clemson to Blacksburg for a primetime matchup. The two squads last met in 2017 with the Tigers defeating the Hokies 31-17 with ESPN’s College GameDay in town.
“I can promise you it doesn’t take long to get the attention of everybody when you turn that film on,” Fuente said. “You look at the team we’re about to play. I don’t know how that helps. I know we’ll be anxious to prepare and play.”
Here’s the rest of the main takeaways from Fuente’s presser.
Successful Off Week
After playing in nine consecutive weeks and losing three straight, the bye week could not have come at a better time for Virginia Tech. From the outset, Fuente set a clear objective to rest his veteran players who have been worn down and banged up throughout the season and give the younger players a chance to impress through increased reps. By all indications, that plan came to fruition during the few practices the team had before Thanksgiving.
“I think our guys feel much better,” Fuente said. “I thought it was the most important thing we could do in the bye week. Certainly we need practice and we need to improve and all those sorts of things, but you get to the point where the law of diminishing returns comes into effect, that’s exactly what we needed both mentally and physically. It’s not just nine games in a row, again not to keep harping on this, the mental strain of everything that has gone on through this has been pretty difficult. I think our guys needed a little breath of fresh air. A chance to catch their breath a little bit there for a couple of days.”
The off week also offered the coaching staff a chance to take a deeper dive into the film and take an overall audit of the struggles so far in the 2020 season. Over the past couple of weeks, Virginia Tech’s offensive efficiency on third down and fourth down has taken a big hit with the Hokies converting on just 10-of-33 of those chances against Miami and Pitt.
“We haven’t been very efficient in our opportunities to use two downs to get it to a fourth down and more manageable,” Fuente said. “It’s a pretty in-depth dive into what we’re doing schematically and philosophically. I like it philosophically, how we’re trying to handle those things, but we need to do a better job of cutting those down through scheme or execution to get those to a little bit more manageable situation. It was certainly one of the things that we worked on in our couple of days of practice last week.”
Christian Darrisaw: Healing and Playing
The bye week was also beneficial for a player like Christian Darrisaw, who warmed up but did not play against Pitt with an undisclosed injury. There were also worries that Darrisaw may opt out with his NFL future in the balance over the final two weeks. He dispelled any of those concerns on Twitter last week.
Now, it appears Darrisaw will be good to go against Clemson.
“I don’t know what he said on social media, but he practiced his tail off last night,” Fuente said. “I haven’t had any discussions with him otherwise. Again, not knowing what he said on social media, I will say he went out there and was our starting left tackle in practice yesterday and looked really good.
“I know he was banged up. I certainly wasn’t questioning [it]. He was banged up, and he has been an absolute warrior. He basically played over half-a-year on one foot a couple years ago. I brought him in maybe a week ago, a week-and-a-half ago and said, ‘Man, you’ve earned your stripes. I trust you. When you’re ready to go, let’s go.’ He jumped in there in the one huddle and looked great yesterday.”
Finding Bigger Roles for Hodges and Blackshear
One of the biggest downfalls with how Virginia Tech’s schedule has worked out this year has been the difficulties of getting a few of the transfers acclimated to the offense.
Many expected Changa Hodge to step right in and be a difference maker on the outside, especially with the lack of depth at receiver. He came to the program from Villanova, where he tallied 65 receptions for 1,118 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2019.
“I think Changa Hodge has been hurt the most by this,” Fuente said. “The way the schedule fell, the time he missed in fall camp, the way we played game after game after game. I hope that we can continue to bring him along. I’ve said that for many weeks now. We just haven’t been able to. It’s been one week after another of just playing. He’s kind of been drinking water through a fire hose.”
Another candidate for increased production down the stretch could be Raheem Blackshear. The 5-foot-9, 194-pound running back totaled 2,239 career all-purpose yards over 27 games at Rutgers. With the Hokies, he’s put up a paltry 256 rushing yards on 56 attempts (3.82 yards per carry).
“I think Raheem Blackshear has been hurt by it too,” Fuente said. “He’s worked so much at running back and then Khalil [Herbert] goes off and has such a productive particularly early part of the season. Then Khalil is out, so on and so forth.
“Getting Raheem and Changa, and I’m sure there’s someone I’m forgetting, but those are two guys that I think have been hurt most by the circumstances through the development of being versatile and picking up what’s going on and helping this team more on the stat sheet than currently. They’re currently helping this football team, but I think we’d all like to get those guys helping us a little more on the statsheet.”
Facing Trevor Lawrence
Virginia Tech’s defense will face its toughest test in some time this Saturday against the explosive Clemson offense. At the forefront of the offense is the likely No. 1 pick in the upcoming NFL Draft, quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
The 6-foot-6, 220-pound signal caller can do it all. In 2020, Lawrence has a 19-to-2 touchdown to interception ratio. Despite missing two games with COVID-19, Lawrence has racked up 2,236 passing yards this season. He averages 319.4 yards per game through the air, tops in the ACC.
“Every now and again, you go up against a guy, or see a guy, or get a chance to coach a guy that there’s nothing he can’t do,” Fuente said. “You look at Trevor and what he’s been able to accomplish, the efficiency of his play and his ability to run the ball when they need him to, but deliver the ball down the field and run the offense. By all indications, he seems to be a great leader as well. He’s probably going to be the No. 1 pick in the draft, deservedly so. I can’t imagine a more talented guy. There will certainly be a learning curve at the next level, but I can’t imagine a more talented guy or a guy with a higher ceiling.”