Bye week over, Hokies ready to move on to second half of the season

By Jimmy Robertson

BLACKSBURG – Following a week of limited practices and a weekend off, the Virginia Tech football team returned to the practice field Sunday afternoon and began preparations for Saturday’s tussle with struggling North Carolina at Lane Stadium.

Tech entered its bye week with a 5-1 record, but Boston College, Old Dominion and East Carolina have combined to go 6-14 this season, and Delaware, while 4-2, is an FCS program. Those wins make it hard to gauge exactly where the Hokies truly stand at this point in the season.

The bye week certainly offered the opportunity to get a little healthier, but it also provided some valuable time to perform some self-analysis.

“We set out objectives to accomplish during the week,” Fuente said. “One of them is to take a good look at ourselves in all three phases of the game, what we’re doing well, what we’re not doing well. If there is anything we can do to help those things, tendencies, so on and so forth, we take some good time there – along with focusing on some key teaching or scheme points to make through the week and also a little bit of preparing for the next opponent.”

A weekend of upsets in college football allowed the Hokies to ascend one spot in The Associated Press poll and three spots in the coaches’ poll. Tech is No. 14 in both, as it gears up for the second half of its season, starting Saturday with the Tar Heels.

“It’s a tremendous challenge moving forward looking at our league, particularly our side [Coastal Division],” Fuente said. “I think anything can happen. To me, it’s going to be about our ability to grind it out every single week. I don’t think there’s going to be anybody that is that much better than anybody else. As we go through time, that may prove to be different. There may be a team or two that is quite a bit better than everyone else. I don’t know yet.

“Every single week is going to be hard. It’s going to be really difficult. We’ve got to have enough grit and determination to do the little things week in and week out to give ourselves a chance to win, so I’m anxious for it.”

The bye week certainly came at a great time for the Hokies, who played at Boston College without tailback Steven Peoples and receiver C.J. Carroll. Also, Cam Phillips, the leader of the offense, injured his foot early in the game and missed the final three quarters.

Fuente is normally guarded with injury information, but at Monday’s news conference, he said he honestly was unsure of the status of those injured.

“I guess day-to-day is the best way to say it, particularly at our offensive skill positions,” he said. “I’m not really sure who’s going to play on Saturday, quite honestly. None of them are major things – we usually tell you guys when we have big, huge season-ending [injuries] or things like that. None of them are like that, but we’re just dealing with a bunch of those right now, and that’s part of football and part of the season.”

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

• Fuente went into more explanation as to why he and the staff decided to play freshman Drake Deluliis in the Boston College game. The appearance marked the first of the season for Deluliis and prevents the young man from taking a redshirt season. The tight end/receiver became the 11th true freshman to play this season.

“First of all, we were in the situation in the game two weeks ago [against BC] where we didn’t have a lot of a choice [because of injuries], but we had been preparing him for that [to play],” Fuente said. “He has been working on the outside. Long term, I think he’s going to be a tight end, but he has a unique skill set.

“I would prefer, but sometimes it’s beyond our control, obviously the later you get in the season to not burn those guys, but our plan for him when we did decide to play him was that he would continue to play a role. It wasn’t just throwing him out there to block a couple guys. We feel good about him and his development.”

Sean Savoy reported back to campus after missing this past week to be with his family in Washington, D.C., following the shooting death of his older brother. The tragedy occurred early Sunday morning just hours after Savoy registered career highs in receptions (nine) and receiving yards (139) in the Hokies’ 23-10 win over Boston College.

“I don’t want to put words in Sean’s mouth, but I do think it’s somewhat therapeutic to get back around his friends and his teammates,” Fuente said. “Those of us that have been through things like that or can only imagine what it’s like to go through things like that … it’s going to take time and Sean knows that we’re here for him and whatever he needs, and that we genuinely love and care about him and want to help him be the best at everything he does, but also know that he’s going through a lot of emotions that come with something like that.”

• After struggling with turnovers for much of the 2016 season, the Hokies have been more careful with the football, having turned the ball over just six times in six games. Fuente and his staff made valuing the football a point of emphasis during spring practice and in August practices, and the players appear to have gotten the message.

“I think the first thing is we have adjusted a slight tweak in technique that I think has been good,” Fuente said. “We’ve made it a huge point of emphasis, not just in our drill work, but [also] in our team settings. I think the guys have embraced that part of it.

“Maybe we’ve done a little better job as coaches drilling it into them not just during drill work, but during big team settings and then we’ve been able to create a little bit of depth. I think guys know that it’s tied to playing time. I think guys know that, for us to have a chance to win, this has to happen, and if you want to stay on the field, you certainly need to take care of ball.

“I think Josh [Jackson] deserves some credit for it. Josh has been pretty judicious in his decision making and done a pretty good job of taking care of the ball.”

• Fuente hinted at the possibility of tailback Travon McMillian receiving an increased workload going forward. He enjoyed his best game of the season in Tech’s win over BC, rushing a season-high 17 times for 88 yards. He leads the Hokies in rushing with 279 yards, and he’s averaging 5.1 yards per carry.

“I certainly anticipate that he’ll be the guy that runs out there this week [against UNC], and if continues to play well, then he’ll continue to stay in there,” Fuente said. “That doesn’t mean if he makes one mistake, he’s never going to play again – that’s not what I’m saying. Some of it is where we’re at in the season and who is available, and some of it is I think playing well is really important to Travon, and we appreciate his work ethic and how he’s tried to approach things.”

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