One Tar Heel state foe down, one on deck for No. 13 Hokies

By Jimmy Robertson

BLACKSBURG – Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente begrudgingly admitted Monday that he wasn’t going to be able to keep stride with Greg Stroman on Stroman’s 91-yard punt return late in the first quarter Saturday against North Carolina.

“He’s a lot faster than I am. I know that,” Fuente said, smiling. “It was just fun to see him squirt out there, just coming from my view. We’ve made a huge emphasis on special teams in general, and that unit has taken a lot of pride and Greg is a special player and an easy one to root for to do well … He’s just kind of a special kid and to see him squirm out of the pile and come down the near sideline, it was hard to control yourself … I had no chance of catching up to him.”

Stroman was named the ACC Specialist of the Week, and his play was one of many big plays on a record-setting afternoon for the Hokies, who scored their most points in an ACC game and recorded their largest margin of victory in an ACC game. The 59-7 rout of the Tar Heels enabled Tech to move up a spot to No. 13 in both national polls.

Tech played its best all-around game of the season, scoring in all three phases of the game, including twice on defense – once on Ricky Walker’s fumble return and once on Reggie Floyd’s interception return. They, too, earned ACC weekly accolades this week.

Now the Hokies turn their attention to another struggling team from the Tar Heel state – Duke. After winning their first four games, the Blue Devils have lost four straight, including three at home. All four losses have been by a touchdown.

Fuente knows he needs to be careful when preparing his team this week. The Hokies have a showdown looming with unbeaten and eighth-ranked Miami the following week.

“I’ve got a tremendous amount of respect for David Cutcliffe and the job he’s done there – and everywhere he’s ever been,” Fuente said. “You don’t have to look at the film very long to realize they’re very well coached and a talented football team. I know they’ve lost a couple of close games here the last couple of weeks, but we certainly know that we’ll have to be ready.”

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

• Receiver James Clark and Phil Patterson returned to action Saturday after absences because of injuries. Clark caught two passes for 22 yards after missing three games. In the case of Patterson, he made his season debut after injuring his knee before the season. Their return gives Tech a little depth at two spots – both receiver spots – where the team desperately needs it.

“It’s good to get those guys work,” Fuente said. “Phil [Patterson] has got to keep coming along. He’s still young. I really feel for James [Clark]. I can’t remember if I talked about this after the game or not, but he has come here for the opportunity to play this last year and was well on his way to contributing, then he’s been a little bit beat up. But he has worked his tail off, [and] hasn’t missed a practice or anything. He’s continued to work hard and have a great attitude.

“You know, there’s a whole lot of ways a guy could go attitude-wise in a situation like that. I’m really proud of how he has continued to work. He is feeling better. He’s getting better. Hopefully, we can start to work him out there a little bit more.”

Steven Peoples dressed for Saturday’s game against North Carolina, but the coaching staff held him out to give him more time to recover from his undisclosed injury. The tailback has now missed three straight games, and his injury combined with Deshawn McClease’s absence because of sickness, has allowed Coleman Fox to get more work. Fox rushed for 58 yards on seven carries against the Tar Heels, and he actually ranks second on the team in rushing with 211 yards despite playing in just six of the seven games.

“I have been pleased with Coleman and what he has done when he is in the game and how he’s worked,” Fuente said. “So we will continue to push and bring him along. I’m not going to discredit what he has done because it was late in the game. When he has had his opportunities, he has done well … I don’t know what that will lead to when we move forward. We’ll see how this week goes, evaluate it and go from there.”

• Most people think of offense when talking about Cutcliffe and Duke, but the Blue Devils rank fifth in the ACC in scoring defense (20.7 ppg), and they rank second in the league in both interceptions (8) and sacks (23). Their defense has played well enough to give Duke a chance. In the Blue Devils’ four-game losing streak, they’ve scored at least 20 points once.

“I have seen them steadily improve,” Fuente said of Duke’s defense. “This wasn’t a one-time thing. They continue to improve athletically, through recruiting. They do some great things schematically. They’re able to play some man coverage. They get down and play tight coverage, competitive coverage. I think they’re gradually improved in terms of athleticism. I’m not exactly positive how they’ve evolved schematically, but they’re a fine unit.”

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