When the ACC football schedule was released with the new provisions for COVID-19, many Virginia Tech fans were excited for the opportunity to play Clemson at Lane Stadium. Now, with the season coming to a close and the Hokies losers of three straight, much of the juice has been taken out of the contest.
In fact, much of the fanbase might be downright dreading to see Virginia Tech play the Tigers as 22-point underdogs. However, those in the program are relishing the opportunity to compete on the biggest stage against a top team in the country.
“Clemson is one of the best teams in the country,” defensive tackle Jarrod Hewitt said. “Without a doubt, you can’t argue it. They’re coming into our place at primetime, so we’re going to be very excited. We’ll be ready to go, and we’re just looking forward to the challenge.”
Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit will be on the call as the Hokies take the field in front of a minimal crowd but a national audience.
“I feel like this is a great opportunity for us to go and showcase our talents and showcase all the hard work we’ve been putting in over the weeks,” quarterback Hendon Hooker said. “Just kind of bouncing back from the past couple weeks. Just showing everyone we are a good offense and we are efficient and we can move the ball and score points.”
Questions about Virginia Tech’s Defensive Identity
Most coaches offer overabundant praise when talking about an opponent. There’s a lot of coach’s speak and exaggeration on what the other team does well. However, when Clemson’s offensive coordinator Tony Elliott spoke to the Clemson media yesterday, he didn’t mince words.
“They don’t have an exotic third-down package,” Elliott said. “They’re doing their base stuff and adding a couple of blitzes on third down. Looks like they’re doing a lot of different things, so still don’t quite have a — Virginia Tech looks kind of all over the place, searching. I think that’s a combination of a couple things… with personnel, looks like they’ve been hit. They play a lot of guys in different positions in the secondary, play a lot of guys up front. So not quite the continuity you normally see when you’re getting ready for an opponent.”
Elliott’s questions about the Virginia Tech defense and the lack of an identity probably holds some truth. Still, it’s shocking to see a coach come out and say that. What are the Hokies’ thoughts on this sentiment?
“I think looking at our film from the outside in, you could probably say something like that,” Hewitt said. “One game we look great, next game we look in between and the next game we don’t look good at all defensively. We’re still trying to put our best foot forward. I think every time we play well it’s because of the preparation that we had this week. We’ve had two really good practices for Clemson going forward, so we’re pretty excited about this game. We think that they’re a great team, and we’re ready to go out there and play.”
In Justin Hamilton’s first year as defensive coordinator, the defense has been uneven. He’s still instituting that identity in his unit, a squad that he hopes is relentless in the final two games of the season.
“I feel like Coach Ham wants us to be a defense that flies around, pretty much relentless,” cornerback Brion Murray said. “Just have fun and have each others’ backs. He wants an aggressive style defense. It just comes with him being a new coordinator, us learning the defense. As the season goes on we kind of learn more and get comfortable in our spots.”
Hendon Hooker Heals Quickly
Virginia Tech’s offense has utilized Hendon Hooker much more in the running game this year as the redshirt junior is second on the team with 627 rushing yards. Despite taking more hits this year, Hooker noted that he’s feeling better than ever, partly because he was playing through an injury most of the 2019 season.
“Honestly all of last year I played through pain,” Hooker said. “My knee was hurting. Just regular hits were hurting because my knee was hurting. I had a knee brace on, and I couldn’t run as fast as I should be able to. That was a struggle. This year I’m feeling recharged and healthy just coming into the season. The hits are part of football. I kind of tell my parents I’m an alien. I heal fast. From the time that we get to practice and by Tuesday, I’m back full go.”
Hooker’s knee injury last year explains the lack of explosive runs that many expected to see from him as a dual-threat quarterback. We’ve seen much more of that this year with his increased mobility.
“It’s extremely hard to just plant and explode from a standstill position [in a knee brace],” Hooker said. “It’s not the same as when you don’t have it on. You can just be willy nilly, be free with your knee and make moves that you couldn’t make with the knee brace on.”
Closing the Season Strong
The 2019 Virginia Tech squad had all of its goals firmly ahead heading into the final stretch of the season. With a win over Virginia, the Hokies would have advanced to the ACC Championship Game and likely the Orange Bowl subsequently. We all know how that ended, though, and Virginia Tech fell in its bowl game as well to Kentucky.
Despite not being in a similar position, Virginia Tech is approaching the final stretch of the season with a focused mindset on ending the season with a high note.
“Last year as a whole, you could say we had a good/OK season, but we didn’t finish well,” Hewitt said. “We lost to UVA and we lost to Kentucky to finish the year. That’s something we can flip this year. Maybe we didn’t think as a whole season it wasn’t as good, but we have a chance to feel really good at the end of the season. We’ve had a rough couple of weeks. We have a chance to pull off an upset that no one thinks we can do, and we have an in-state rival in Virginia coming at home, so it could be a very memorable last two games.”
“I felt like we were just kind of relaxed and going with the flow of things and didn’t really take control of our destiny,” Hooker added. “I feel like we have a great week to do that this week and next week as well. We’re really locked in this week, not just because it’s Clemson, but because it’s the next game. We’re planning to go 1-0.”
- Quincy Patterson entered the transfer portal on Monday morning. Hooker gave these remarks during Tuesday’s media session on his fellow quarterback.
“How I feel about it is I’m going to miss him,” Hooker said. “He’s my right-hand guy. We used to compete and push each other. We’re going to continue to do that in the quarterback room with me, Braxton and Knox. I’m ready to see him play. I’m one of Quincy’s biggest fans, so I’m excited to see him venture off and walk his own path.”
- The odd circumstances of this season allows no eligibility to be used for any of the players. As a result, any of the seniors could return for another season. Hewitt is still considering the option himself.
“It’s crossed my mind,” Hewitt said. “I couldn’t give you an answer now. Really just want to have fun. Want to focus each game at a time. I don’t want to think about what’s ahead of me – coming back or staying. I want to try to have fun. These last two games, just want to lock in and play my best.”