As a program, Virginia Tech has spent most of the past two-plus decades playing football on a level ranging from above average to outstanding. However, while the days of Michael Vick and Tyrod Taylor leading the Hokies to conference titles and major bowl games aren’t exactly distant memories, most of the players and coaches on this year’s team don’t have a lot of personal ties to the glory days.
Perhaps quicker than expected, first-year coach Justin Fuente is making his mark on the program Frank Beamer built, moving ahead of schedule in his attempt to restore Virginia Tech to its once-lofty status.
The Hokies are 4-1 and 2-0 in the ACC, the lone loss coming on a neutral field to a top-10 Tennessee team. The thought of Virginia Tech playing for an ACC championship and in a top-tier bowl game for the first time since the 2011 season are not far-fetched.
That leaves Fuente with the challenge of not only coaching the team, but also getting it to handle success and evolving expectations.
“We try to keep it in perspective and address those things in terms of, let’s talk about the reasons that we have had success the last couple weeks,” Fuente said. “It’s because of the way we’ve practiced, the way we’ve prepared, ultimately leading to us playing well enough to win a few games here in a row.”
The Hokies are coming off a bye week after hammering defending ACC Coastal Division champion North Carolina in Chapel Hill. That’s brought the excitement level up a notch in Blacksburg, but Fuente and his staff have been stressing that the Hokies, who take on Syracuse this weekend, can hardly afford a letdown.
“We also talk about how fleeting that is,” Fuente said. “I mean, there’s a long season ahead of us. We can take pride in winning a couple games. There’s nothing wrong with that. But you’ve got to move past those things and get ready for the next one.”
For the Hokies, that means avoiding falling into a trap at Syracuse (2-4, 0-2). Virginia Tech has back-to-back Thursday night games against Miami and Pittsburgh on the horizon, but needs to take care of business against the Orange to stay alone atop the Coastal standings.
For his part, first-year Syracuse coach Dino Babers doesn’t think the Hokies’ hot start is a fluke, noting that defensive coordinator Bud Foster was a carryover from Beamer’s staff to bring continuity to the program while Fuente has rejuvenated the offense.
“I think when you look at the tradition of Bud’s defenses and the things he’s been able to do over the years, I think this year with the pass rush,” Babers said.
“I think that probably going against a different style of offense during the spring and during two-a-days and seeing some of the things that Fuente brought over from Memphis … I bet you that’s probably helped his growth, and that’s kind of hard to say on someone that’s been as good as he has for as long as he has been.”
Now the Hokies are once again combining electric offense with a disrupting defense, resembling classic Virginia Tech teams in the process.
If this formula can be sustained for another month and a half, the Hokies will once again deliver classic Virginia Tech results.