Things to watch as Tech takes on Delaware

By Jimmy Robertson

BLACKSBURG – In several hours, the Virginia Tech football program will open its 2017 home schedule with a non-conference game against the University of Delaware, a Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) program out of Newark, Delaware.

The Blue Hens and Hokies enter the game at 1-0, with Tech beating then-No. 22 West Virginia 31-24 at FedExField in Landover, Maryland on Sunday night and the Blue Hens besting rival Delaware State 22-3 on Aug. 31.

By virtue of its win over West Virginia, the Hokies moved up three spots in The Associated Press top-25 poll to No. 18. Quarterback Josh Jackson paced the Hokies with 235 yards passing and 101 yards rushing in the victory.

Tech and Delaware are squaring off for the first time. Here are some things to watch once the game kicks off:

State of mind – Tech is coming off a tough, physical game in which it returned home Sunday morning at 5:30, and it had one less day to prepare than on a normal game week. Plus, the Hokies enter the game as a heavy favorite. So what will Tech’s state of mind be at kickoff? Physically, the Hokies should be fine, but mentally, they need to be careful. Select FCS teams possess the ability to knock off an FBS program (ex.: JMU over ECU last week).

Quick start – Tech would do well to jump on the Blue Hens right from the start and seize the early momentum. The Hokies have shown an ability to do that to opponents under head coach Justin Fuente. In his tenure, Tech is 10-0 when it scores first and just 2-3 when it doesn’t. Tech fans would like to keep that trend going Saturday afternoon.

Playing more backups – The coaching staff pretty much went with the starters against West Virginia at nearly every position and particularly on the defensive line, which is understandable considering the opponent, and from the defense’s perspective, the tempo. Yet Tech’s defensive line starters played nearly 80 plays against the Mountaineers. That’s a little much, even for the most fit of players. Expect the staff to rotate in guys like Jarrod Hewitt, Jimmie Taylor, Houshun Gaines and Emmanuel Belmar early in the game. They need to gain experience now before the meat grinder of conference play arrives.

“We would like for the other guys to get in a little bit more,” Fuente admitted Monday at his news conference.

Back to form – Everyone knows the Hokies’ tradition of excellence on defense, but that unit gave up nearly 600 yards last week against the Mountaineers. For sure, they want a better performance in Tech’s home opener, and it starts with a mentality of getting stops against Delaware. That may not be as easy as many might think, considering the Blue Hens ran and threw for more than 200 yards in their season opener. Still, Tech’s defense figures to be salty after Sunday’s performance.

“I think we’re the last on the [NCAA and ACC] list in everything right now after game one,” Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. “I always tell our kids that it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish, and we’ve been there before.

“That [the WVU game] still doesn’t change what I think about this team, this group of kids. Do we have depth issues? Yeah. And is there a drop off after our first unit? Yeah. But that’s a part of it, and we’ve got to bring some guys along.”

Dominating run game – There is a perception out there that the Hokies sling the ball all over the place, but the numbers tell a different story. Tech ran the ball 45 times against West Virginia and only threw it 27. Last season, the Hokies ran the ball at least 40 times in 10 games. In fact, they ran it more than they threw it in every game except for three (Pitt, Georgia Tech and Clemson). Tech features a big, physical, and good offensive line, and it wouldn’t surprise to see the Hokies try to take advantage of that matchup against Delaware’s smaller defensive front.

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