Things to watch, as Virginia Tech football attempts to rebounds against No. 9 Miami


By Jimmy Robertson
BLACKSBURG – Now what?
That’s the question that Justin Fuente has been asking his football team over the past several days, as they try to rebound from a heartbreaking 38-35 loss to Liberty at Lane Stadium last Saturday.
The Hokies endured a tumultuous past week, seeing references to the loss on social media, hearing their friends and other fans talk about it, and answering questions about it from media members. Now, their upcoming matchup against No. 9 Miami offers an opportunity to put the Flames’ loss in the rearview mirror and register a much-needed victory over a talented, top-10 foe.
“No matter how we feel, Miami is coming into our house, no matter what just happened,” Tech defensive tackle Jarrod Hewitt said. “So we’re going to have to turn the page. We only have two choices – to either turn the page or not. It’s going to be evident what we decided to do on Saturday when we go play Miami.”
Fuente agreed.
“I got this text from a friend of mine, and he’s 100% right,” he said. “When you go through a bad event, you have this time that you scream at the moon and slam things down, and you’re mad and all that sort of stuff. And then when that’s over, it’s kind of your ‘now what?’ moment. What are you going to do now?
“Setting a clear vision for why bad things happen and what we’re going to do to try and fix them, kind of drawing in, it’s a little bit of a personal challenge. What kind of person are you? When things go bad, are you the type that crawls under a rock and hides, or are you going to be the type that stands up and says, ‘Let’s go try to fix this thing?'”


Tech enters the game with a 4-3 record, having lost two of their past three games. Miami comes in with a 6-1 record and having won three consecutive games.


Fuente is disturbed by the Hokies’ play of late, particularly after their impressive showing against BC – a 40-14 victory. That win left Tech at 3-1 and feeling good about itself after overcoming a lot of injuries and COVID-related issues.


Since then, though, Tech has been up and down. The offense struggled in a loss to Wake Forest, and the defense allowed 35 and 38 points to Louisville and Liberty, respectively. 


“One of things we’re trying to get emphasized is becoming more consistent,” Fuente said. “You watch us play on both sides of the ball and go through the film, and we just seem to be a very inconsistent football team. We’ve got to get our execution level much higher.”


They certainly do to beat the ‘Canes in what stands as the most important game of the season for the Hokies. What will it take to win?


Well, here are some things to watch:

Tech’s rush defense – This game really comes down to how well this group performs Saturday afternoon. The Hokies have allowed at least 418 yards in five of their seven games, and four of the past five opponents have rushed for at least 198 yards. Not coincidentally, Tech lost three of those games.


Now, the Hokies face a Miami offense that has amassed at least 444 yards of offense in five of its seven games this season under offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, who implemented his quick-tempo attack. Only two teams have held Miami under 30 points this season, and the ‘Canes are coming off a 620-yard effort in a 44-41 victory over NC State.


“They go very, very fast, and they have very, very good athletes everywhere,” Tech linebacker Dax Hollifield said. “You see on film, they’re moving so fast that when they get a first down, the chains aren’t even set. They’re just moving and moving and moving, and that’s where they get people off beat. You’ve got to be locked in and focused every play.”


The key to stopping Miami may well be stopping its rushing attack. In losses to Clemson and Virginia, Miami ran for just 89 and 122 yards, respectively.


Can the Hokies bring forth similar results? Therein lies the key question for this game. Tech needs more consistent play from its defense, and Tech’s players feel that consistency is coming.


“We’re very close,” Hollifield said. “We’ve just got to execute those crucial downs to get off the field, and that’s where we’ve got to do better. Third down, fourth down, those are the most important plays. We’ve got to get off the field. Got to execute those downs.”

D’Eriq King – Miami has been plagued by inconsistent quarterback play over the past several seasons, but not so this season, as graduate transfer D’Eriq King weekly seems to put together incredible performances.


Last week, he threw for 430 yards and five touchdowns and rushed for 105 yards, becoming the third ACC quarterback ever to throw for 400 and rush for more than 100. He has thrown for 1,831 yards, with 16 touchdowns and just four interceptions, and he’s rushed for 406 yards.


Tech has struggled with quarterbacks like King. Louisville’s Malik Cunningham and Liberty’s Malik Willis both enjoyed huge days against the Hokies – and King, a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate – is better than those two.


“This guy is explosive and can throw the football,” Fuente said. “It’s not like a guy that they just put back there to run around. This guy can really throw the ball, and they are certainly going to try to push the tempo. They have some electric skill players on the outside that can really hurt you in one-on-one battles. To say that it’s a daunting task is an understatement. This guy is a big-time player.”


But teams have been able to put pressure on King of late. In the past four games, Miami has allowed 16 sacks, including five each in the losses to Clemson and Virginia. The Hokies rank fourth in the ACC with 24 sacks. If they can get King on the ground and put Miami in second- and third-and-long situations, they greatly improve their chances of winning.

Hendon Hooker Few realize this, but Hooker has played at an elite level for the Hokies over the past two games since a subpar outing in Tech’s loss at Wake Forest. He’s completed 30 of his past 37 pass attempts, and he’s rushed for 224 yards and four touchdowns.


The Hokies may need more of the same Saturday. Actually, they may need even bigger numbers because no one knows about the status of Khalil Herbert, who left the Liberty game after the opening kickoff with a hamstring injury.


Tech’s staff likes Raheem Blackshear and Jalen Holston as Herbert replacements. But the Hokies are 4-3 and facing the No. 9 team in the country. They need a win, and one knows that the coaches will rely heavily on Hooker again.


In stating the obvious, for the Hokies to win Saturday, they need a great game from their quarterback.

Who scores first – The Hokies really aren’t a team built to come from behind. They thrive best when they get out to a lead and then use that big, experienced offensive line, along with Hooker and Herbert, to grind on teams.


Some of that stems from the Hokies’ lack of depth in the receiving corps, but Fuente teams usually run the ball despite the perception of his offense. His teams are 42-14 when leading after the first quarter, including a 26-5 record at Tech. In fact, the Hokies are 32-3 under him when leading at halftime and 32-6 when leading after three quarters.


The Hokies gain much-needed confidence when they lead early. Remember, they led 17-0 against NC State and 17-7 at halftime against BC. Even last year, they jumped to a big lead against Miami and held on.


They need a similar script Saturday – maybe get a turnover or two, convert those into points, and gradually pull away, eating the clock to keep their defense off the field.

In closing: The Hokies and the ‘Canes square off at noon. The game can be seen on ESPN.


Show More

Related Articles

Back to top button