Despite all that has gone south for Virginia Tech football in 2020, the Hokies could amend some of the wrongs by defeating Virginia to return the Commonwealth Cup to Blacksburg. After the Cavaliers’ 39-30 triumph over Virginia Tech last year, the Cup has been out of the Hokies’ possession this past year for the first time since the time between the 2003 and 2004 games.
On Saturday night, Virginia Tech will be looking to make a home for it in Blacksburg once again.
“We say every game is the same, but this is a rivalry game,” head coach Justin Fuente said during Monday’s media availability. “I don’t know that I’ve ever said that it’s just another week. It’s certainly not. This is a game that is incredibly important to both sides. We know we have our work cut out for us to go try and get that thing back. We’ll have to play incredibly sound and hard and smart in all three phases of the game to give ourselves a chance to try to get that thing back.”
Coming into the game, the teams are headed in opposite directions. The season has hit a downward spiral for the Hokies, falling to 4-6 on the year including four straight losses. Meanwhile, UVA has won four straight games to improve to 5-4 after beginning the season 1-4.
However, a rivalry game certainly means that it could be anyone’s ball game.
“I think the first thing is just the passion,” Fuente said when asked about rivalry week. “People care. People on both sides care about the outcome and care about the results. For us, it’s about competition. I think if you’re a true competitor, you’re not afraid to put yourself in the arena and lay it on the line. Do your best to prepare and go put yourself out there for everyone to see. Risk success and risk failure. That’s what being a competitor is all about. We love the competitive part of it, and I think the passion from both fanbases is pretty evident.
“I know both teams will be excited and ready to play. It should be a heck of a competitive event.”
The big playmaker on offense for the Cavaliers is quarterback Brennan Armstrong. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound signal caller has completed 59.46 percent of his passes this year for 1,858 yards, 16 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He’s also added 529 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns.
Armstrong has really hit his stride over the past three games, completing 68.49 percent of his passes along with six passing and three rushing touchdowns.
“He’s a really good player,” Fuente said. “I hear people talk about Steve Young as a comparison, and I think that’s partially because he’s left-handed. The guy that I see is Taysom Hill, who was at BYU and is now with the Saints. That’s a guy that can run and throw. Brennan played special teams and stuff last year. This is a versatile, tough, hard-nosed kid that is working himself into being a really good quarterback. He throws the ball really well. He’s a big, strong kid that runs physically. He’s a tough, hard-nosed player back there.”
Much like Bronco Mendenhall did with Taysom Hill at BYU, the head whistle likes to mix in his different quarterbacks in a number of roles. Oftentimes you’ll see Armstrong and backup Keytaon Thompson on the field at the same time.
“They’ve got two quarterbacks in the game and have kind of taken that to another level, whether it’s trick plays or going in motion and sliding under center and running quarterback sneak on third-and-1 and so on and so forth,” Fuente said.
“[It] certainly causes you a little bit of pause when there’s more than one person who can throw the ball down the field. When you’ve got guys on the outside who can throw the ball and guys on the inside, meaning your quarterback, who can run the ball, that adds a whole new level of intrigue to what you’re capable of.”
An Odd Senior Day for Virginia Tech
Senior Day is normally a joyous occasion celebrated in front of a packed stadium. This year with the COVID-19 pandemic, the seniors will still be celebrated on Saturday night, just in a much different manner.
According to Virginia Tech’s roster, there are 17 seniors on the team. Matters are complicated even further based upon the fact that any of the seniors could return to the Hokies next year with no eligibility being used this year. How will that all be approached on Senior Day?
“I think we have a couple [seniors] that definitely will come back and a couple that won’t,” Fuente said. “Then, we have some guys that are going to worry about it when the season is over with.
“How we’ll handle that in conjunction with Senior Day, I haven’t spent much time on. They’re all welcome to go through it and welcome to come back. I don’t know that it will be whoever goes through Senior Day is definitely not returning. We’ve had a couple of discussions with guys about their long-term plans.”
Playing for Fuente?
Justin Fuente has certainly received his fair share of criticism on social media over the last few weeks. The players would have to be living under a rock to not be aware or notice the fanbase’s opinions swirling around. It begs the question, have any players told Fuente that they’re playing for him during this time?
“I don’t want anybody to play for me,” Fuente said. “I want them to play for each other. I don’t know. It’s like the term, ‘I work for you.’ I don’t like that either. We work together. Kids should play the game for each other. They don’t need to worry about me.
“Let’s go together, go compete. We don’t even go down the road of any of that. It’s about a group of kids playing for each other, and it’s about Divine Deablo and Jarrod Hewitt and guys that have worked so hard for this program. That’s what this is all about.”
Despite all that this season has presented, Fuente still is extremely confident in the big picture of the program in Blacksburg.
“I can’t sit here and tell you that I feel awesome because of the short-term results that we’ve gotten, but in the long-term direction of where we’re going and how our kids are performing on a daily basis in the classroom and the community,” Fuente said. “Our grades are better than they’ve ever been, and we’ve been great in the weight room. I couldn’t feel better about where we’re going and where we’re headed even though we’re right here in the middle of a tough stretch.”
Christian Darrisaw Update
Christian Darrisaw exited the game against Clemson with an injury in the second half and did not return. Fuente provided a little more of an update on his health, along with fellow offensive lineman, Silas Dzansi, after he was also nicked up on Saturday.
“All I can tell you is what CD tells me every single time which is, ‘CD, are you OK?’, ‘Yessir.’ I don’t know if I have a better feel,” Fuente said. “He played a whole season on one foot. He missed one game this year. I would anticipate that it would take a lot to keep him out of this game. I don’t want to speak for him. Silas, I feel the same way about. If they’re able to go, they’re able to go. I don’t know anymore than I really knew beforehand other than they’re incredibly positive whenever I see them.”