Fuente, Hokies readying for No. 2 Clemson

By Jimmy Robertson

BLACKSBURG – Virginia Tech head football coach Justin Fuente has his team at 4-0 on the season, rolling through the non-conference schedule, and now all focus is on No. 2 Clemson, which comes to Blacksburg for a Saturday night battle at Lane Stadium.

The game serves as the ACC opener for the Hokies and also a rematch of the 2016 ACC Championship Game, one won 42-35 by Clemson after Tech quarterback Jerod Evans threw a fourth-down interception deep in Clemson territory late in the game. The loss bothered Fuente all offseason, but the Hokies aren’t using that game as motivation for Saturday. Both programs are much different than the two teams that met last December.

“We haven’t talked about it,” Fuente said. “We won’t talk about it. Everybody handles those things differently on an individual basis.

“My message to the team was that that was last year’s team – last year’s Virginia Tech team versus last year’s Clemson team. This is a completely different situation. We’ve got guys who played in that game who are no longer here, and so do they. We won’t use it as a reference point for this week.”

Fuente spent chunks of the 14-minute news conference answering questions about the Tigers’ defense, particularly its defensive line, quarterback Kelly Bryant and handling the impact of ESPN’s College GameDay coming to Blacksburg for the first time since 2007. GameDay’s appearance doesn’t really affect the team’s on-field preparation, but the show does serve as an infomercial of sorts for both Virginia Tech, Blacksburg and the football program.

Therein lies all of Fuente’s focus – the football program. There is little time for anything else, as the Tigers represent the toughest task so far in this young season.

“When you’re playing the talent that we’re going to, it’s like defusing a bomb,” Fuente said. “Just one small snip of the wire that’s incorrect, and ‘boom,’ you blow your hands off. That’s just how talented and good they are.

“Making sure that we’re on point with everything we’re doing, crystal clear in our directives and our assignments, being able to play well because everything will be difficult … a first down will be difficult, a defensive stop will be difficult, punting the ball and covering the punt will be difficult. It’s just all amplified.”

Here are a few other notes from Monday’s news conference:

• It sounded like Clemson’s defensive line was Fuente’s top concern, as the Tigers feature a deep, talented unit. Clemson leads the ACC in scoring defense (9.3 ppg) and with 17 sacks, but the Hokies have allowed just four sacks this season.

“They’ve got almost an embarrassment of riches over there on the defensive line,” Fuente said. “I know some of the guys over there that they’ve recruited, and they’re not on the two-deep roster. I mean, they are just really talented. There’s an element of an attacking style, there is an element of fundamentals and power, and they do a great job scheme-wise.”

• Fuente singled out defensive end Vinny Mihota for not only his play on the field, but also for being a great teammate. He cited an example from the East Carolina game to make his point.

“The game is out of hand, and our second-team offense is on the field, and A.J. [Bush] has a run around the edge and gets tackled over there by our sideline,” Fuente said. “Here’s one guy over there yelling and screaming and pulling him up, genuinely excited for the second-team offense, and that’s Vinny Mihota. That was a great example of Virginia Tech football and selflessness and what we’re trying to get across.”

• Fuente delivered bad news Monday when he announced that backup free safety Divine Deablo was out of for the season with a left foot fracture. Deablo injured himself after intercepting a pass in Saturday’s 38-0 win over Old Dominion. Khalil Ladler, a redshirt freshman from Stone Mountain, Georgia, moves into Deablo’s spot behind starter Terrell Edmunds.

• The Virginia Tech-Boston College game time was announced Monday, and the Hokies and Eagles will square off at 7:15 p.m. in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts on Oct. 7. The game will be televised by ESPN2.

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