With a Thursday night victory in Pittsburgh, a place they had traditionally struggled, the Virginia Tech Hokies took firm control of the ACC Coastal Division and showed they are conclusively ahead of schedule with their rebuilding process.
For first-year Hokie coach Justin Fuente to have this team on track to play for a conference championship is quite remarkable. It’s not as though former Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer left the cupboard bare. There were certainly talent and resources waiting for Fuente when he got to Blacksburg, but the almost seamless transition is a bit surprising.
A position that was once a huge question mark, quarterback, is now the Hokies’ greatest strength. After throwing for more than 400 yards in the 39-36 victory at Pitt, junior college transfer Jerod Evans should now at least be on the fringe of the Heisman Trophy discussion.
Defensively, Virginia Tech has been able to come up with stops when it has really needed to. So far the honeymoon with Fuente and longtime Hokie defensive coordinator Bud Foster has been a smooth one. It was fair to wonder how the relationship would develop when it was widely known Foster wanted the head coaching job, but as long as Tech stays solid on both sides of the ball it seems there’s not much to worry about if you are a Hokie supporter.
Fuente is certainly showing why he was a highly-coveted coaching prospect after turning around Memphis. Quick turnarounds are becoming something of a specialty. He quickly made Memphis a contender in the American Athletic Conference and now has Virginia Tech in a similar position in the ACC.
It certainly helps the Hokies managed to avoid both Clemson and Louisville on the league schedule, but they could get a shot at one or the other in the ACC title game if they keep winning.
Perhaps most scary for the Hokies’ ACC Coastal rivals is that there is room for improvement, both this year and beyond.
The Hokies simply didn’t show up earlier this month in a loss at Syracuse, and Virginia Tech’s running game has been inconsistent. A dominant performance on the ground at home against Miami was followed by a Pitt game in which Evans had to move the ball mostly through the air.
The offense could still get better at finishing drives. The Hokies moved into Pitt territory in each of its first five possessions Thursday, but only managed three field goals in that span.
“You talk a little as coaches about what we are running and what we are doing to see if there is something else we can do to try and score a touchdown,” Fuente told reporters after the game. “We just kept plugging away, trying to get an answer to get it in.”
Amazing games and circus catches by Virginia Tech receivers Bucky Hodges and Isaiah Ford bailed the Hokies out to a degree.
The bottom line: Virginia Tech is now 6-2 with only a single loss in conference play. The amazing 24-year streak of bowl eligibility is intact. The Hokies not only didn’t take a step back in the post Frank Beamer era. They’ve stepped up to take hold of a Coastal Division that was up for grabs.