Hokies moving on after big win over West Virginia

By Jimmy Robertson

BLACKSBURG – Fresh off a win over then-No. 22 West Virginia on Sunday and a subsequent ascent upward three spots to No. 18 in The Associated Press poll on Tuesday, the Virginia Tech football team got back to work Tuesday, with meetings and a practice scheduled for later in the evening.

The Hokies now face a different sort of challenge, as they prepare for the University of Delaware, an FCS team that rolls into town for the Hokies’ home opener Saturday afternoon. Tech gears up for Delaware with one less day to prepare than normal, which means head coach Justin Fuente needs to get his players in the right mindset after Sunday evening’s big win.

“We’ve got a short week of preparation after what was a tough ballgame that went late into the night and was hard fought until the last play,” Fuente said. “But we’ve got to get our guys by Saturday good and knowing what to do and ready to play for the next one.

“We can handle all 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’ve got to handle all those things and get ready to play what I believe to be a very tough and disciplined football team in Delaware."

Fuente said that he and his staff wouldn’t cut out any portion of the regular game-week practice schedule. Instead, they would spend less time in certain areas.

It helps Fuente that he knows how to prepare for an odd week. At some of his previous stops – specifically TCU and Memphis – he served on staffs that coached in numerous mid-week games, and thus, he knows how to deal with an irregular practice schedule.

“The one thing that I’ve had through my stops as an assistant at TCU and at Memphis was playing odd weeks,” he said. “I’ve got a lot to draw on in terms of our schedule and what Gary [Patterson, TCU’s head coach] did at TCU and how we decided to approached it at Memphis. We’ve got some background there with short weeks.

“The thing is there is a little bit less of physical-ness in practice to get the guys feeling better – to get their bodies healed and their legs back, that sort of stuff. We’ll cut back just a little bit out of necessity, not because I want to. I just feel like that’s the best way to get guys back ready to go.”

Here are some other tidbits from Tuesday’s news conference:

• Lost in all that went on throughout Sunday’s game was the play of Virginia Tech’s special teams. Yes, kicker Joey Slye missed two short field goals, but he also recorded six touchbacks on kickoffs. West Virginia finished with no kickoff return yardage and minus-3 in punt return yardage. Also, Oscar Bradburn averaged 10.5 yards more per punt that West Virginia punter Billy Kinney. In the end, Tech won the field position battle, which helped it hang on to win.

“I thought it was huge,” Fuente said of Tech’s special teams advantage. “I’m going to probably miss the numbers, but we had 93 kickoff return yards to zero. In the punting game, we averaged about 10 more yards per punt. Our punt returner did a good job of fielding the punt. We didn’t have a lot of return yards, but we did a good job of fielding punts.

“When you accumulate that throughout the game – and that’s one of the things we’ll talk about today – you get out-gained by 120-some yards, but you can make that up through field position. I think our average field position was 11 or 12 yards further down the field than West Virginia’s. Think about that over 15 possessions. Those are big numbers.”

• Tech’s 31-24 victory over the Mountaineers enabled Fuente to improve to 4-1 at Tech in games decided by seven points or less. The only loss came in the ACC Championship Game last year against Clemson – which went on to win the national championship. Fuente said he and his staff put the team in late-game situations, and he credited the players for being tough enough to finish close games. But he also knows that success can be fragile.

“I’m proud of that,” Fuente said of the 4-1 mark. “I’m happy for that, but that doesn’t guarantee that the next close game we’re in, we’re going to win. You got to understand that each one of these is individual. You’ve got to find a way to make the plays, whether you’re in four-minute offense or two-minute offense or two-minute defense. You have to find a way to get it done.”

• Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster said that the backup defensive linemen played less than 10 snaps each against West Virginia, and he liked what he saw from the unit during that limited action. However, he knows that he needs to get that group on the field more to get them experience. He said West Virginia’s up-tempo style made it difficult to substitute.

“This offense was more to the tempo of Syracuse than it was North Carolina or someone like that,” Foster said. “I would have loved to have gotten into more of our ‘30’ package and done some more blitzing and things like that. We tried to pressure early, but it just makes it tough to substitute your people in there without getting caught on the field with that.”

Tech’s defense gave up nearly 600 yards, and WVU quarterback Will Grier threw for nearly 400. The Hokies only recorded two sacks, though they got some pressure on Grier on the final drive.

“We had two busted coverages, and in the running game, we had two plays that popped that were just basic plays … Those are things we can correct, but those are things that we practiced, too, which was disappointing,” Foster said. “At the end of the day, I saw a stat somewhere, if you’re out of the Big 12, you’re probably thinking that Virginia Tech played really, really well … Would we like to have a couple of plays back? Sure, but I can’t fault our kids’ effort. They gave a winning effort for 60 minutes in all aspects. That’s what we’re looking for.”

• Tech faces a Delaware team that is coming off two straight losing seasons, but won its season opener against Delaware State on Thursday evening to give new coach Danny Rocco his first win. Tech fans probably recognize the name – Rocco used to work as an assistant under former UVA coach Al Groh.

Rocco knows how to win, having enjoyed success at both Liberty and Richmond as a head coach. So the Hokies should not be complacent heading into their home opener.

“I think that’s going to be very big this week,” Tech quarterback Josh Jackson said. “We’ve got to make sure we’re working just as hard as we did for West Virginia. We have to prepare like this is West Virginia or another big-time team. No matter who it is, getting better ourselves and making sure we’re better is what we’ve really got to focus on this week. Just making sure we don’t take a day off or a rep off, stuff like that because it might not be a West Virginia, but anybody can get beat on any day, so we’ve got to think about it that way.”

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