Hokies readying for stretch run, starting with Saturday's game at Miami

By Jimmy Robertson

BLACKSBURG – November essentially serves as the “money” month for college football programs, as the weather gets colder, the games get bigger and the stakes get higher.

For the second consecutive season, the Virginia Tech football program finds itself in the middle of the ACC fray. The Hokies enter November in the hunt for the ACC’s Coastal Division crown, and they head to Miami this weekend for a game against the Hurricanes that carries major implications. The winner has the inside track toward the divisional title and a spot in the ACC Championship Game.

“We know we have a tremendous challenge as a football team this week to go on the road and play a very athletic, well-coached and undefeated Miami team at their place,” Tech head coach Justin Fuente said Monday at his weekly news conference. “We had a good workout yesterday. The kids are obviously off today, and I’m hopeful we’ll have a great week of preparation.”

Miami enters the game with an unblemished 7-0 record and ranked No. 9 in The Associated Press poll and No. 6 in the USA Today coaches poll. The Hokies head to South Florida with a 7-1 mark and ranked No. 13 in both polls.

The two teams possess a lot of similarities – freshman quarterbacks, stingy defenses, and incredible ball security. The latter of those usually represents the difference in wins and losses, and neither team coughs up the ball with any regularity.

In fact, the ’Canes and the Hokies both have turned the ball over just six times each this season. Miami ranks sixth nationally in turnover margin per game (1.43), while the Hokies stand at tied for 19th nationally in the same category. Fuente knows that, for Tech to win, it needs to continue taking care of the ball and not allow the focus to be on Miami’s gold “turnover” chain, which goes to the player who forces a turnover.

“By all accounts, they do get excited about it, and you know something they take pride in,” Fuente said. “They understand the importance of taking care of the ball and taking the ball away and probably one of the biggest reasons they are in the situation that they’re in right now.”

Both teams also enter this game with injury issues. Miami lost its leading rusher, Mark Walton, for the season in the Florida State game several weeks ago. Monday, Fuente listed left tackle Yosuah Nijman and tailback Steven Peoples as day to day.

The last time these two teams met while ranked this highly in the polls came in 2009 when Tech, then ranked No. 11, knocked off then-No. 9 Miami 31-7 at Lane Stadium. The Hokies grabbed a 21-0 lead and never looked back.

A much more difficult task awaits the Hokies this time around.

Here is more from Monday’s news conference:

• Tech’s staff inserted fifth-year senior Parker Osterloh into the lineup after Nijman’s injury, and according to Fuente, the Williamsburg, Virginia native acquitted himself very well.

“I thought he did a good job, I really did,” Fuente said. “I was proud of him. It’s nice to have him back. We haven’t talked much about him, just all of the things that he’s been through to try and get back this season. It’s been a long journey for him, and it was nice obviously that he’s back and secondly we called upon him and he was ready to go play. I’m awfully happy. He’s obviously a guy we trust.”

The 6-foot-8, 325-pounder, who has played every position on the line with the exception of center, would be making his first career start if Nijman is unable to go.

• Fuente was asked Monday about the play of starting left guard Wyatt Teller, and he revealed that he and his coaching staff delivered a rather stern message to the entire line following its performance against North Carolina. Tech put up 59 points on the Tar Heels and rushed for 181 yards, but Fuente wasn’t pleased.

“We made no bones about it,” he said. “We were not pleased, Wyatt included. I’m not singling Wyatt out, but just in general, as a group, it was unsatisfactory two weeks ago, and last week was much better. Wyatt would be included with that. I think he had his best game last week. He answered the challenge, which is certainly what you want. Hopefully as a group and Wyatt individually, they will continue to accept the challenge.”

• Tech has rushed for at least 180 yards in five of eight games this season, but none of the Hokies’ tailbacks has rushed for 100 yards in a game, and Fuente revealed Monday that he still wants to see more consistency from the group.

“We’re always nitpicking and trying to find different ways to try different things for us to give ourselves a chance at success,” he said. “I’d like to make the safety in the hole miss a few more times if we could. We’ve been able to get the ball to the unblocked hat at times, and at times, on Saturday.

“Eventually, you’re going to have times where we’re going to run into somebody that we can’t block, and we were able to get the ball to that person on a little bit more consistent basis last week. I’d like to see us make some bigger plays out of those. But yeah, I like where we’re headed.”

• For the fifth time in eight games this season, a Virginia Tech player earned recognition from the ACC. Terrell Edmunds was named the ACC’s Defensive Back of the Week after recording eight tackles and an interception in the Hokies’ victory over Duke. The occasion marked the second time in his career in which he earned an ACC weekly honor.

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