Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente spoke with the media on Monday after the team’s 48-17 win over Duke. The Hokies (5-5, 3-3 ACC) have two games remaining, both on he road, at Miami and Virginia.
Here are some takeaways from the press conference:
Fuente provided some updates on two players that were injured over the last few weeks: center Brock Hoffman and wide receiver Tre Turner.
Hoffman participated in Senior Day ceremonies before the Duke game but was wearing street clothes with his letterman jacket, and he had a walking boot on his left foot. Fuente said his injury is not season-ending.
“He’ll work to get back,” Fuente said, “and hopefully he can play this week.”
As for Turner, Fuente went into detail on his status on Monday, Nov. 8 after the Boston College game. In summary, Turner has an upper-body respiratory injury. Fuente said he had never heard or or seen what Turner’s dealing with, and said flying exacerbates the injury.
In his post-Duke update, in reference to a tweet from Turner that mentioned him driving to Miami, Fuente explained that Turner might end up having to drive down to Miami due to his health and the air in his neck/throat.
“Yeah, he might be [driving to Miami],” Fuente said. “It’s the same old deal. We’ll figure it out. Whatever the doctor says is best for him.
“We’re not going to let him drive himself, I can tell you that much,” he said with a laugh. “We’ll figure out who is going to take him. If that’s what we have to do, we’ll drive down there.”
Turner finished with 37 all purpose yards against Duke: eight from two rushes, and 29 from one catch. Last time Tech was down in Miami in 2019, Turner didn’t make the trip due to a lower body injury. He has 35 catches for 631 yards and two touchdowns this season.
Running Back Rotation
In three of the past four weeks, Virginia Tech has put up over 230 yards on the ground. This comes after the Hokies just had one game of 200-plus rushing in the first six (MTSU).
After a rough week at Boston College, Tech rushed for a season-high 297 yards on 41 carries, which comes out to 7.2 yards per rush. Malachi Thomas had a quiet week, just 10 yards on seven rushes.
Outside of that, however, Virginia Tech was lights out. Factor out Thomas and the knee that the Hokies took at the end of the game and the stat is impressive:
33 carries, 289 yards, two touchdowns, 8.75 yards per carry.
Raheem Blackshear and Keshawn King were particularly impressive.
Blackshear was Tech’s leading rusher with 117 yards on 12 rushes (9.8 ypc) while King, who hadn’t had a carry since Notre Dame in early October, ran the ball nine times for 90 yards (10.0 ypc). The two each had a touchdown, too.
“I would say that Raheem’s adjusted a little bit and really… it’s kind of like he’s satisfied as a hitter to take a walk,” Fuente said. “He’s satisfied with hitting an opposite field single. He’s satisfied with pouring it up in there and getting four tough yards, and as a byproduct, I think some of the bigger runs have come from that as opposed to swinging for the fences every time you touch the ball.
“I thought he was just a little bit of trying to make everything perfect as opposed to just punching a hole in it and looking at the results. … I don’t want to diminish those feelings amongst our players; I just want them to understand how those feelings come about. Doing the ordinary time after time and then the big plays come.”
Fuente said Tech’s running back rotation is still flexible, and he noted that Thomas got banged up against Duke.
“I’d say it’s still flexible. Malachi [Thomas] gets dinged up in the game and provides opportunities for other people. We have a good handle on it [the rotation].”
Either way, the Hokies have really made progress in recent weeks. It seemed like it was going to be a tandem of Thomas and Blackshear the rest of the way, but Fuente said he was impressed with how King practiced and thought he deserved that opportunity. That choice clearly paid off.
Kaleb Smith Rewarded
It’s brought up all the time about how players do things that don’t show up in the stat sheet. In basketball, it can be good defense. In football, it could be blocking.
Wide receiver Kaleb Smith, often times, is one of those guys. He has 18 catches for 243 yards this season, though he’s only had more than three catches in a game once, back at West Virginia in September. He hadn’t recorded more than two in one game since then.
People have become accustomed to Smith’s run blocking ability. Among all eligible receivers with 100+ run blocking snaps, he ranks fourth in run blocking in the entire country, per PFF, with a grade of 88.6.
Against Duke, he had another great game in that area, posting a rating of 89.1, his best grade of the season to date. But he also was rewarded for all of the work he put in with a touchdown, his first of the season.
Blackshear was lined up under center in the wildcat. He took the snap, pitched it to Burmeister, who found a wide open Smith in the back of the end zone for six.
— ACC Digital Network (@theACCDN) November 14, 2021
“I was really pleased,” Fuente said. “He had a big huge third down conversion and the reverse pass touchdown. That’s kind of put him in the category we talk about with a lot of these kids. I see them behind the scenes every day, how they work and the dedication they have to the team and each other and to their craft.
“It’s nice for them to get rewarded in a public venue occasionally because they do work really hard and do a lot of things that don’t show up in the box score, and that’s certainly Kaleb.”
Defensively, the Hokies were frequently in the Duke backfield on Saturday. Tech recorded seven tackles for loss and four sacks, and the linebacker duo of Alan Tisdale and Dax Hollifield had 3.5 of the TFLs and 1.5 sacks.
Hollifield finished with a team-high 12 tackles, while Tisdale posted nine, the third-most on the team. The two seemed to get constant penetration against the Blue Devils, stopping plenty of plays behind the line of scrimmage. Duke finished with 36 total yards lost, and Tech only allowed 4.0 yards per carry against Mataeo Durant, formerly the ACC’s second-leading rusher.
“Whether it’s a blitz or hugging up the guy or the guy you’ve got to cover is blocking, it gives you an opportunity to react and rush the quarterback,” Fuente said. “We had one of those for Dax. It shows good understanding of what we’re trying to get accomplished.
“We have tried to move those guys a little bit and give them chances to blitz. They’ve been able to make some of those plays.”
- Virginia Tech’s game at Miami is a 7:30 p.m. kickoff on the ACC Network. Wes Durham, Roddy Jones and Taylor Davis are on the call. The latest line, per Vegas Insider, is Canes -7.0.
- The Battle for the Commonwealth Cup does not have a set kick time yet. Virginia and Virginia Tech will meet in Charlottesville on Saturday, Nov. 27, though the ACC has exercised a six-day hold on the television network and time.
- Keshawn King was named to the Paul Hornung Weekly Honor Roll this week after his performance against Duke. King led the Hokies in all purpose yards with a 47-yard receiving touchdown, and he rushed nine times and returned two kickoffs.
- Raheem Blackshear was named the ACC Running Back of the Week. He had 117 rushing yards on 12 attempts and 40 yards receiving on two catches, while he also scored two touchdowns.