Fresh off of a season-opening win over West Virginia, Virginia Tech must now refocus and prepare for their home-opener vs. Delaware.
This week’s game presents one of those unique challenges of preparing for a game on a short week. The Hokies didn’t arrive back in Blacksburg until early Monday morning, and took Monday off. The team will return to practice on Tuesday, whereas on a normal week, the team would return to practice Monday.
Head coach Justin Fuente has plenty of experience in these situations. At TCU and Memphis, Fuente’s teams often played on short weeks and Virginia Tech had to prepare for Miami on a short week last season.
“I’ve got a lot to draw on, in terms of our schedule, whether it was what Gary (Patterson) did at TCU, or how we decided to approach it at Memphis,” Fuente said. “We’ve got some background there on short weeks. The thing is, there’s just a little less physical-ness in practice, to get the guys feeling better, to get their bodies healed, to get their legs back and that sort of stuff. We’ll cut back just a little bit as a necessity. Not because I want to, but I just feel like that’s the best way to get guys back ready to go.”
As Virginia Tech prepares for Delaware, the Hokies have to ignore the outside distractions that come with beating a ranked team. The win over West Virginia at FedExField bumped Tech to No. 18 in the AP Top 25 and the Amway Coaches’ Poll, three spots ahead of last week’s ranking.
“We’ve got to get our guys, by Saturday, feeling good and knowing what to do, and ready to play for the next one,” Fuente said. “We’ve got to handle all of the things that come with playing a big opener, and all the opinions, and all those things on the outside, overreaction, good or bad. We’re going to handle all of those things, and get ready to play what I believe to be a very tough and disciplined football team in Delaware.”
It would be easy for the Virginia Tech players to buy into the hype and overlook Delaware, but the Hokies are taking every precaution to avoid that. They better, because Delaware is the type of FCS team to scare people. The Blue Hens won their opening game vs. Delaware State 22-3, and head coach Danny Rocco held a career record of 90-42 entering the 2017 season. Rocco has coached at Richmond and at Liberty, and led Richmond to three consecutive FCS Playoff appearances. Rocco’s teams have never finished a season with a losing record.
“You have to forget about the game you just finished with, and look forward to the next one quicker,” said Kyle Chung. “You can’t stay on the previous win or loss, like this week we won, so we can’t look at West Virginia and stay on that. We have to focus for Delaware and get ready to go 1-0 this week.”
Fuente pleased with Jackson’s career debut
Now that Fuente has been able to look at the West Virginia film, he sounded pretty pleased with how Josh Jackson played. Jackson put up impressive numbers in his debut, totaling 336 yards and two touchdowns. Jackson also took care of the ball, and didn’t commit any turnovers. Jackson was not only able to manage the game efficiently, but he also made big plays.
“I mean, there were some times when things weren’t just perfect, and he didn’t turn them into a bad situation for us, or a game-altering play for West Virginia,” Fuente said of Jackson. “He obviously valued the football, he was calm and collected out there, throughout the entire game, and he made some plays. Everybody talks about the quarterback position and managing the game, well I mean you can’t just go out there and take a knee every snap. You’ve got to eventually go make plays, and Josh did a good job of making plays. He manufactured a few plays.”
Still, for Jackson, there are things to improve on.
“There’s definitely some little things as an offense, I think we’ve got to improve on, like third down and redzone,” Jackson said. “We’ve got to make sure when we get down there, we turn all of those into touchdowns, and on third down, just converting better is what I think we need to work on. Myself, maybe flipping protections, getting the ball out quicker on some plays, and location, I guess you could say.”
This will be Jackson’s first time preparing for a collegiate game on a short week. Jackson redshirted in 2016, and knows that this week he’ll have to put in some extra time on his own.
“We just have less time, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to cut anything out,” Jackson said. “We’re still going to prepare for them just like we did for West Virginia, just in a shorter amount of time. Just even more film I’ve got to watch, just on my own a lot more. It’s just going to be a lot more mental. I don’t know if it will be as grueling physically during practice, just more mentally and making sure everyone knows what they’re doing.”
Hokies hoping to substitute more on defensive line
A less physical week of practice might benefit Virginia Tech’s defensive line, who was admittedly gassed in the second half vs. West Virginia. Trevon Hill, Vinny Mihota, Ricky Walker and Tim Settle played an overwhelming majority of the snaps on Sunday night, while the backups played sparingly.
“That was definitely a different track meet,” Settle said. “We were practicing on the tempo all week for West Virginia, and I think we could’ve done a little better. Their tempo is definitely different than we practiced, but that’s probably the fastest I’ve ever seen. Every time they got a first down, I put my head down and just got to running.”
Fuente and defensive coordinator Bud Foster said on Tuesday that West Virginia’s tempo made it difficult to get guys on and off the field, which forced the starters to play more reps than previously planned.
“Those guys are operating pretty quickly, and that’s part of the advantage of operating like that,” Fuente said. “Sometimes it makes it harder to get guys on and off the field. I think that was part of the reason why the second group of guys didn’t get a few more snaps.”
“This offense was a lot more to the tempo of Syracuse, than it was of maybe a North Carolina or something like that,” Foster said. “We had a hard time. I would’ve loved to get more into our 30-packages and done some blitzing, we tried a pressure early, but it just makes it tough to substitute your people in there without getting caught on the field with that.”
Settle and Walker were particularly gassed. Backup defensive tackles Jarrod Hewitt, Jimmie Taylor and Xavier Burke didn’t see the field very much, and Settle and Walker knew that they couldn’t come out of the game for a breather.
“Me and Ricky (Walker) looked at each other and was like, ‘Man, we can’t get out the game anymore,’” Settle said. “At the start of it, they really couldn’t run the ball when we were in there. They couldn’t even get a push. So we were like we just have to man up and stay in there.”
In those limited reps, Foster liked what he saw from the backup defensive linemen. Now that everyone has gotten their feet wet for this season, maybe the backups will see more time against Delaware on Saturday.
“I saw some guys do some things that showed some encouragement,” Foster said. “When it was all said and done, they were limited. You’re talking single digits. We would like to get more of that.”