Hokies Have “Bounce In Their Step” After Win Over Georgia Tech

There were hearty celebrations for the Hokies after their win at Georgia Tech on Saturday. (Ivan Morozov)

Virginia Tech had lost three straight games before its 26-17 win on Saturday at Georgia Tech in Atlanta. The Hokies did not practice Sunday, but worked out, and head coach Justin Fuente said the players had a “bounce in their step.”

“We were basically in the exact same situation against Georgia Tech and Syracuse with approximately five minutes to go in the game, a two-score lead about to kick off,” Fuente said in his Monday press conference. “To see Jalen Stroman make that tackle [on the kickoff], that was huge, and to see us finish the game off was impressive.

“I just think it’s a remarkable display of perseverance and togetherness. The way they continue to battle back through disappointment… they’re fun to be around. They’re really inspirational, quite honestly.”

Now, the Hokies sit at 4-4 (2-2 ACC) and turn their attention to Boston College. The Eagles also sit at 4-4 (0-4 ACC), though have lost their last four games after starting the season with four wins. It’s a winnable game for Virginia Tech, as are all of the remaining games on the schedule. With the offense playing its two best games of the season in back-to-back games this week while the defense figured things out against Georgia Tech, the Hokies are in a good position heading into Friday night’s game.

Here are a few thoughts from speaking with Fuente on Monday:

Best Game Of Alan Tisdale’s Career

After a poor defensive performance across the board for Virginia Tech against Syracuse, the Hokies responded. Alan Tisdale, particularly, had the best game of his career.

His preliminary PFF grade from the Georgia Tech game is an 85.6, his highest grade ever, and he finished with a team-high 12 tackles. He also had a career-high 2.5 tackles for loss. Will Stewart went into more detail on his statistics in his Monday Thoughts.

As a result of how well he played, he was named the team’s Defensive Player of the Week.

“I think the key for him is to continue to try to strive for that type of production each and every week,” Fuente said. “He played really well and was our Defensive Player of the Week. He should be proud of that performance, and now the challenge for him is to try to stack the next one on top of that one.”

Alan Tisdale (34) had his best game of the season on Saturday. (Ivan Morozov)

Tisdale had three games in a row where he had a PFF grade of 50 or lower. He had his best game of the season, by far, on Saturday in Atlanta, and maybe the best of his career. 

It showed on the field, too. He and his partner in crime, Dax Hollifield, stopped Georgia Tech’s run and only allowed 142 yards on 29 carries, outside of a 61-yard run from Jahymr Gibbs in the second half. It’s a much better performance than allowing Garrett Shrader and Sean Tucker of Syracuse to each hit the century mark in Lane Stadium.

As mentioned on the Tech Sideline Podcast on Monday, if Virginia Tech’s linebackers continue to improve and play well down the stretch, the defense will play well.

Malachi Thomas Has Sparked The Offense

Earlier in the season, Virginia Tech was searching for someone to complement Raheem Blackshear. The Hokies have found that in true freshman Malachi Thomas, who became the first Virginia Tech running back since Kevin Jones in 2001 to rush for over 100 yards in back-to-back games on Saturday (finished with 103).

One of the most impressive statistics about Thomas is that in 57 carries, he only has three total yards lost. He and Blackshear have been quite a one-two punch for Tech over the last two weeks, and it’s provided balance, which has opened up the passing game.

“This is a guy that could play both ways at times in high school,” Fuente said. “Two weeks ago, he’s playing all of the punt return snaps as well. He’s a football player. He loves playing. … We saw through fall camp, through the season, that he’s a ball player.”

The reason why Thomas hadn’t received much playing time until the Syracuse game on Oct. 23? Because there is more to running the ball than just carrying the football, per Fuente. Thomas mentioned that it revolved around pass blocking and understanding assignments and schematics of the offense.

“Now he has a better understanding of the big picture,” Fuente said.

His pass blocking was evident on Saturday. He finished with the third-highest pass blocking grade (78.8) behind Johnny Jordan and Raheem Blackshear. That comes after grades of 33.1 and 14.3 over the past two weeks. Not a bad improvement for someone who arrived in Blacksburg over the summer.

Malachi Thomas is the first true freshman at Virginia Tech to have back-to-back games with 100-plus rush yards since Kevin Jones in 2001. (Ivan Morozov)

If he can continue to be a safe option there and provide efficiency in the running game, the Hokies will be in business with him and Blackshear in the backfield.

John Parker Romo Has Been Impactful

After starting the season one-of-three on field goals, John Parker Romo has turned it around in the kicking game. Since that mark, he’s made nine of his last ten kicks, the lone miss from 53 yards.

He was very impactful on Saturday against the Yellow Jackets, capping off four Virginia Tech drives with a field goal. Justin Fuente joked that he hasn’t said anything to Romo that made him turn it around; if someone said something, it was special teams coach James Shibest. He said he’s been impressed, however, with how Romo has been prepared for each and every kick, and mentioned how difficult moving on from those misses can be.

“He’s been a weapon for us, because we’ve needed him,” Fuente said. “I think young people, at times, have trouble moving on.”

He referenced Jaylen Griffin’s incident at Georgia Tech where he got called for roughing the passer. It’s just one of those plays where Fuente, as a coach, pulls his player to the side, tells them to move on and reminds him that he’s confident in them and believes in them.

John Parker Romo has made nine of his last ten field goals and hasn’t missed from inside 50 yards since starting the season 1-3. (Ivan Morozov)

That’s been the same mantra for Romo, as it’s been for the entire team, even when he’s missed kicks: don’t dwell on it; instead, pick your head up and move on to the next one.

Romo’s done exactly that, and he’s been perfect from inside 50 yards over the past four games. He’s had three games – Notre Dame, Syracuse and Georgia Tech – where he’s made multiple field goals, too. His turnaround gives the Hokies a lot more confidence in the kicking game, the complete opposite of earlier in the season.

Injury Updates

Fuente did not give any updates on any of the players that have missed time with injury. He did inform the media that nickelback Chamarri Conner practiced on Monday, but did not provide any news on defensive tackle on Mario Kendricks or tackle Luke Tenuta. 

Ny’Quee Hawkins played in place of Conner, who played 36 snaps, in the latter stages of the Georgia Tech game and finished with four tackles, including one TFL. Silas Dzansi played tackle in place of Tenuta (DNP), while Kendricks played 16 snaps against the Yellow Jackets before leaving with an injury.

5 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Fuente was brought to Tech largely based on his offensive experience; Memphis could put up a pile of points. He should get back to that the way Beamer personally took on special teams. So perhaps incrementalism is the best route? Replacing Cornelsen seems like given and nobody would second guess that move. But our team also seems to physically break down in the last 10 minutes of these generally close games, so perhaps some changes at strength & conditioning is warranted too. As for Fuente, I’d hate to see us get into the hire and fire BS that so many other schools get into.

    The real Ian Anderson=Jethro Tull
    Let’s Go Brandon!

  2. Did you you meant to write “first FRESHMAN RB…to rush for 100 yards in back-to-back games since 2001”?

  3. Seems like 26-17 was also the score when we beat Temple in the famous 2-8-1 season. Not sure either game was anything to get giddy about.

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