It’s crunch time for the Virginia Tech football team. The Hokies are 4-6 going into this weekend’s game against Virginia and two of their longest streaks are at stake. Tech needs a win this weekend to keep its 14-year win streak over UVA alive, and they’ll need an additional win against Marshall to keep the 25-year bowl streak going.
As the team prepares for the challenge that lies ahead on Black Friday, head coach Justin Fuente, defensive coordinator Bud Foster and members of the team took to the podium on Monday to discuss the happenings around the program.
Fuente addresses recent departures
Fuente started off his press conference on Monday by addressing the two players who have recently announced their plans to transfer from the team. Linebacker Rico Kearney made his announcement on Sunday before wide receiver Sean Savoy announced on Monday that he would be leaving the program.
“Obviously we had two recent departures,” Fuente said. “We’ve been through a lot with both of them. A lot more than most people know. Nothing bad with their behavior, just trying to help them grow up and mature.”
“I know it’s not indicative of our entire football team.”
Both players had been serving as backups this season. Kearney saw significant playing time against Boston College, leading the team with 18 tackles in the game. Savoy made an impact last season as a freshman, but has had a limited role this season. He made 18 receptions for 188 yards and two touchdowns for the Hokies in 2018.
Rivalry week is here
It’s rivalry week in college football, which means Virginia Tech will play its annual game against in-state rival Virginia this Friday. The Hokies have not lost in the series since the 2003 game in Charlottesville, but the team is having a down year this season while Virginia is playing better than expected.
In recent years, though, even when Virginia Tech has needed a win over UVA to become bowl eligible, it has somehow found a way to pull off the victory.
“This is my favorite game of the year,” defensive tackle Ricky Walker said. “No matter what, they always think they’re better than us and we just keep on winning.”
Walker’s offensive teammates recognize the importance of the rivalry as well. Offensive lineman Kyle Chung wore a shirt to the press conference with the Commonwealth Cup on it that said “4,382 days and counting…” Quarterback Ryan Willis, who is only in his second season with the program, acknowledged how much this game means in the grand scheme of the season.
“Fourteen years is a long time for a winning streak,” Willis said. “We want to win this game more than anything in the world.”
The players weren’t the only ones to address the rivalry this upcoming weekend. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster was asked whether the UVA streak or the bowl streak is more important to him, and he acknowledged the significance of both.
“They’re both extremely important, without a doubt. Obviously you’ve got to take care of the first one to get to the next one,” Foster said. “That’s always how it’s been throughout the course of this series and our bowl streak. They’ve always been in our way as far as our opportunity to extend our season.”
Scouting the competition
While Foster and the players talked about the meaningfulness of the rivalry game, Fuente was focused more on the analysis of the upcoming opponent. He started out talking about the Cavaliers’ cornerbacks, specifically Bryce Hall.
“I saw him chase down number 24 from Miami on film,” Fuente said. “It was pretty impressive. He can really run.”
One of the bright spots on Virginia Tech’s offense this season has been the receiving corps, who have dealt with plenty of youth but are still putting up impressive numbers. They’ll be tested in this week’s matchup, though, as UVA has a strong group of DBs.
“They’ve done a good job mixing up coverages and also playing man coverage and letting those guys just go cover people,” Fuente said. “It should be a fun matchup, a fun challenge for us.”
“Part of the reason they’ve had success, you look at them statistically, it’s been a pretty impressive performance defensively. Part of the reason is because they’ve been able to cover down so well in the back end.”
While the defense will present a challenge for Virginia Tech this weekend, UVA’s offense has been impressive as well. Quarterback Bryce Perkins has thrown for 2,213 yards and 19 touchdowns, while also running for 730 yards and nine touchdowns this season.
“He does not look like he’s trying very hard. He’s such a smooth athlete. He never looks like he’s straining.”
Fuente went on to describe Perkins as a catalyst for the UVA offense, saying that once he gets in the open field, he’s hard to bring down.
“The amount of tackles that have been missed, or that he’s made people miss when getting outside and running around is pretty astounding.”
Seniors to be honored this weekend.
With this weekend’s game potentially being the last home game of the season, Virginia Tech will honor its seniors before kickoff. There aren’t a whole lot on this year’s team, but one of the seniors that will be honored has had a big impact during his time in Blacksburg
Ricky Walker is one of two seniors on the Hokies defense, and an anchor on the defensive line. When a large number of starters left after last season, Walker was looked to as the de facto leader of the defense. He has become a role model to the younger guys on the team with his attitude, dedication and the way he plays the game.
“Ricky’s been fantastic and its been fun to see Ricky develop along with several of the other seniors,” Fuente said. “Steven’s (Peoples) role changed from purely a special teams player to special teams and a little bit of offense to essentially the starting tailback.”
Fuente’s praise for Walker goes deeper than the football field. He stated his gratitude for the way Walker approaches not only the game, but life as well.
“Ricky is the kind of guy that does whatever you ask him to do. He’s going to do whatever you ask as hard as he can,” Fuente said. “I felt like for several years now he’s been an adult. He’s a grown up. He makes grown up decisions and lives a grown up life. Having those guys around is comforting.”
Team to have Thanksgiving dinner on Wednesday
Due to this weekend’s game being on Black Firday, the team will celebrate Thanksgiving together on Wednesday after practice. Coach Fuente acknowledged the significance that Thanksgiving has in the football world.
“Thanksgiving and football kind of go together,” Fuente said. “It’s kind of how all of us in this business were raised.”
Fuente said his family has traditionally had a Thanksgiving meal with the football team, and they’ll continue to do that this season.
“For me and my family, Thanksgiving meal has always been with the football team. That’s what we’ll do on Wednesday because of the Friday game,” Fuente said. “After we finish practice the whole team will come up and all the families. We’ll have a Thanksgiving meal. It’s always an enjoyable time.”
While Hokie Nation celebrates Thanksgiving this Thursday, the team will be back at practice, getting ready for UVA at 3:30 p.m. on Friday.
Photo Credit: Harley Taylor