The Hokies climbed back into the Top 25 for the first time in over a year. Excuse them for not celebrating. The last time they were in this position, they lost handily to the team coming to Lane Stadium on Saturday.
Virginia Tech (5-1, 2-0 ACC), which hosts Pittsburgh this weekend, starts the second half of the season in as good of a position as it could have asked for before the year, on a five-game winning streak and ranked 24th by the Associated Press and 25th by the coaches.
“For me, we’re in the top 25, but we’re used to being in the top 10,” quarterback Logan Thomas said. “For me it doesn’t feel any different than it has all year. Going out here, we’re going to prepare the same way. We’re going to practice hard the same way, we’re just going to keep playing.
“I guess we’ve cracked it but the way we feel is we still have a lot of work to do.”
That’s especially true considering the opponent coming up on the schedule has beaten the Hokies four straight times dating back to 2001. That included a good old fashioned whupping last year at Heinz Field, when the Panthers dealt then-No. 13 Virginia Tech a reality check, knocking the Hokies from the polls with a 35-17 win in which they racked up 537 total yards.
What stands out from that game?
“Dang. Everything,” said linebacker Tariq Edwards, who was a spectator because of a knee injury. “Watching that game, it’s kind of disgusting just to watch it. Just like last week, watching us against UNC. Just watching how both teams ran the ball on us, that’s one of the first things. We want to stop teams from running the football, and to see them constantly be able to run the ball and score off it just looks horrible, like the whole game.”
Head coach Frank Beamer noted that recently, Pitt (3-1, 2-1 ACC) is the only school that’s beaten the Hokies four straight times, something Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M, Clemson, Florida State and Miami can’t currently say.
“The facts are that they’re talented, they’re well-coached, they’re very, very tough, physical,” he said. “And that’s what you’ve got coming in here. That’s what it is. And video doesn’t lie. You turn it on and see all those things. So we’ve got a lot of respect for this team and understand that we’ve got a tough, tough ballgame coming up.
While the Hokies have things to look forward to, like the bye after this week and a Nov. 9 matchup at Miami that looks like it might play a huge role in determining the division champion, they are trying to focus on the task at hand of beating a Pittsburgh team that has given them trouble.
“Sometimes with football, you don’t want to use the revenge word,” Edwards said. “But revenge is a must as far as I put it right now.”
Here are some more notes and quotes from Monday’s press conference …
– Pittsburgh head coach Paul Chryst said at his press conference today that quarterback Tom Savage has been cleared to play after suffering a concussion against Virginia on Sept. 28. The Cavaliers sacked him seven times in the game. Savage has thrown for 1,052 yards this season, with 10 touchdowns to six interceptions.
– A few injury updates for the Hokies: Thomas said the ab strain that he’s been playing with is about 95 percent healthy. He was still in the walking boot he wore last week because of a mild foot sprain, saying it’s a little sore. He’s been limited in practice the last two weeks because of it.
“I don’t think I feel any less sharp,” he said. “I think I do a pretty good job of staying mentally prepared. I still do all my reps, maybe not at full speed and maybe not in the team huddle, but I do it outside, doing my footwork stuff, going through my progressions, doing the things that I know I should do if I was in the huddle. It’s not tough from that standpoint. It’s tough not being in there with the guys leading them along.”
Receiver Willie Byrn said his knee is about 85 percent and hopes it will be all the way back by Saturday. He suffered an MCL sprain against Georgia Tech on Sept. 26.
“I really only got hit on it once, and that was in the second half,” he said of the UNC game. “It feels a lot better. It feels surprisingly good considering I played a whole game on it.”
Beamer said the report on fullback Sam Rogers‘ ankle is “much better today than yesterday.” He went on to compliment what Jerome Wright has done in the offense, so that might clue you in to how healthy Rogers is right now and his availability this week. We’ll see what jersey he’s in at practice Tuesday.
– Beamer said he thinks cornerback Antone Exum (knee) will try to get back for this week, although he’s not sure what Exum’s knee will allow him to do.
“He’s going to try,” Beamer said. “I think he wants to get back. He needs to be full speed before he gets back. And that’s just the bottom line. I think we’re very fortunate that we’ve got a guy back there that’s playing at an extremely high level in [Brandon] Facyson.”
Edwards went through something similar last year, when he was trying to get his knee to 100 percent.
“It’s very tough,” he said. “Emotionally, just knowing physically you don’t want to rush it, but you still want to be out there with your brothers on the football field. It’s just putting yourself in a bind if you don’t want to go out there early, and then you’re not able to perform as well as you wish you could.
“And me and Antone talked about that. I asked him, ‘Are you ready?’ He felt like he was ready, but he just didn’t want to push it too early. I just look forward to seeing him out there soon.”
“I think it’s a little of this and a little of that,” Beamer said after watching Saturday’s film. ”Blocking wasn’t so good at times. Running wasn’t so good at times. You’ve got I think to give the other team credit. They’ve got good players. So it’s not like you can just go put your finger on one thing and say, ‘That’s it.’ I think it’s just a combination of things that we as a group have got to get better.”
– I plan to write about receiver Willie Byrn later this week, but Beamer had a great quote about how integral the former walk-on has been to the Hokies’ offensive success. “A guy that walked on right now is a guy that we can’t do without,” he said.
– Byrn said he remembers that Pitt’s cornerbacks were very physical with Virginia Tech’s receivers at the line of scrimmage, something the Hokies will have to contend with this year.
“They want to put their hands on you, and they pretty much set the tone early with their physicality,” he said. “So we see that in them and you can also see that there’s maybe also some exploits that you can have. You can attack them certain ways, but it really just comes down to us executing. Again, I think that starts and ends with how we play against any opponent.”