Since Saturday, the Hokies have been mathematically eliminated from Coastal Division contention.
But for weeks they knew their shot at Charlotte was dashed, which might explain why the message coming out of Monday’s weekly press conference from head coach Frank Beamer and the players in attendance hasn’t fluctuated much from recent weeks.
In the midst of a three-game losing streak, continuing to play hard, improving execution and focusing on the next game dominated conversation for the Hokies – with, of course, plenty of injury talks mixed in.
“Being around these coaches and players hasn’t been anything but good,” Beamer said. “It’s a good organization, good people. There are people that haven’t played as consistent that we know you need to play to be OK, to win games. But we haven’t given up the ship by any stretch of the imagination either. I’m proud of the guys and how we keep fighting.”
Right tackle Jonathan McLaughlin is the most recent causality of Tech’s season, one that has been littered with injuries.
McLaughlin, who has started all 22 games of his two-year career, will undergo season-ending ankle surgery Thursday. He is the third Tech (4-5, 1-4) offensive lineman whose season ended early as a result of injury. Senior Brent Benedict suffered a blood clot before the season, and fellow senior Mark Shuman tore his meniscus in August.
Redshirt junior Wade Hansen, who sat out last season per NCAA rules after transferring in from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, will start in McLaughlin’s spot.
“He’s got toughness,” Beamer said of Hansen. “He’s got good athletic ability. One thing he doesn’t have is experience. But I like toughness and I like good athletic ability.”
Running back Shai McKenzie and defensive tackle Luther Maddy have suffered season-ending injuries. Cornerback Brandon Facyson is expected to miss the rest of the year in order to be eligible to qualify for a medical redshirt, and running back Trey Edmunds will miss at least one more game as he recovers from a broken clavicle. It is uncertain whether Chase Williams, who is trying to come back from a knee injury, will be ready to play by the weekend.
“That’s not us,” Beamer said. “Someone was telling me the other day, we’ve lost one-third of our projected starters when you say Maddy and Facyson and so forth. Again, your experience level isn’t there but you have to keep working hard, keep getting better and that’s the only thing I know to do. Grind it out. Put your head down. Let’s go.”
Even with the ACC crown out of sight, there is still plenty for which to play. They must win two of their final three regular season games to extend the nation’s longest official bowl streak to 22, and there is still the season finale with Virginia on the docket.
The Hokies aren’t looking too far ahead, but they know they need to improve quickly.
“We’re so close every week, I’m talking on the offensive side of the ball,” quarterback Michael Brewer said. “Some things just haven’t worked our way so far, so you’ve got to find a way to win games, especially in the fourth quarter. You have to come out and win the game at all costs, no matter what’s going on. No matter what the adversity is, you just have to come out and find a way to win, and at the end of the day that’s all that matters. That’s something we need to get better at. You can’t just play well and then lose. You have to play well and find a way to win.”
With 8-1 Duke slated for Saturday, the Hokies know they have a well-coached opponent that does very little to harm itself.
Though defensive end Ken Ekanem won’t put any extra emphasis on this game because of current standing of the opponent (Duke leads the Coastal Division), he is ready to get the Hokies back in the win column.
“We’re just frustrated,” Ekanem said. “We’ve played our asses off and we don’t get the outcome that we think we deserve. We’re all ready to be coached up, and we’re ready to do whatever it takes to win this game.”