Here are a few takeaways from defensive coordinator Bud Foster and offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler.
1. In this episode of “As the Exum Turns,” Foster thinks his senior cornerback is finally ready to play.
It’s all but certain cornerback Antone Exum will be back in the lineup Saturday.
“He tells me he’s ready to go. I believe him,” Foster said. “Now he’s got to go play a game now and be consistently good. He’s going to be tested, I’m sure, when he’s in there.”
Foster said Exum is still a little rusty and that “there’s a big difference in practice and then playing in a game.”
“I’m sure the juices will be flowing,” Foster said. “Tone has to make sure he plays for us and all those kind of things. Which he will.”
That’s important because …
2. Cornerback Brandon Facyson didn’t practice again Wednesday because of a concussion suffered Sunday.
The Hokies held the freshman out of practice for a second straight day. Tuesday and Wednesday are generally the most intense practices of the week, which would put him behind in getting ready for Duke.
Still, Foster didn’t know what his status would be Saturday, calling him ‘day-to-day” right now.
“We’ll see,” he said. “Hopefully he’ll be ready to go [Thursday]. So we’ll see.”
3. Foster has a high respect for what David Cutcliffe is doing at Duke.
Cutcliffe, who’s earned a reputation for being a quarterback guru for his work with the Mannings in his career and some of the productive players he’s churned out at Duke, is held in the highest regard by this Hokies staff.
Frank Beamer has gone out of his way to praise the 59-year-old coach. Foster did likewise Wednesday.
“To me this is the best coached offensive football team we’ll see to date,” he said. “I have the utmost respect for David Cutcliffe and his staff. They’ve got good enough talent and right now they’re putting up what, 460 [yards] a game and 36 points a game?
“And they’re probably the most efficient. Alabama’s got great talent. These guys have good talent but great coaching. They’re good at what they do. They’ve always got an answer for whatever you’re doing, to come back.”
Count Foster among those who think Duke is a legitimate threat.
“They’re not the Duke of old,” he said. “They’re the new improved version. This is a big-time game for them and it’s a big-time game in the league for us. … They feel like they control their own destiny so they don’t just feel like going to a bowl game, they want to go win a championship, which I wouldn’t expect anything less. That’s how they’ve built the program since Dave’s been there.”
4. The Blue Devils do some things in the passing game that will challenge the Hokies.
Tying into that last point, Foster thinks Duke’s quarterbacks are well-trained to get rid of the ball quickly when facing pressure.
“They can get rid of the ball and find your soft spots and you’ve got to mix that up,” he said.
Duke will test teams with deep passes, but it will also throw plenty of screens, especially to receiver Jamison Crowder, who leads the ACC with 56 catches and 731 yards. The Blue Devils use him in a somewhat similar way they used former standout receivers Conner Vernon and Donovan Varner.
“This guy’s got a little bit more juice,” Foster said. “They run a lot more screens with him and dynamic player. Got great hands and great movement, great speed. Just a really good football player.”
5. Backup Duke quarterback Brandon Connette will be someone to prepare for in addition to starter Anthony Boone.
Connette stepped in for an injured Boone for a few weeks, but Duke hasn’t shelved him now that Boone is back.
Against Virginia last week, Connette twice gained a yard on fourth down to keep drives alive and threw a short pass that broke free for a 47-yard touchdown on another fourth-down play.
He’s thrown for 1,069 yards and 12 touchdowns this year, but he’s also run for 233 yards and seven touchdowns.
“They feel that [Boone] can probably run their whole package, where [Connette], obviously, they’ve won a couple games there with him and he can do some things,” Foster said. “Last year they motioned the quarterback out. They haven’t done that. I’d expect to see that maybe this week but we’ve got a plan hopefully when [Connette’s] in the game.”
1. Duke’s defense is disciplined.
Sensing a theme here? Loeffler called Duke’s defense, which has gone from being ranked 105th nationally last year (469.2 ypg) to 55th this year (383.1 ypg), an “extremely disciplined group.”
The Blue Devils have been especially good in the red zone, tied for 24th nationally by allowing points only 73.9 percent of the time.
“You can tell that they’re smart kids,” Loeffler said. “Well-coached.”
2. The o-line was plenty beat up heading into the bye week.
How banged up?
“We had [center David] Wang, every time he touched a guy a stinger occurred,” Loeffler said. “So [the bye] came at the right time.”
“We were fighting tooth and nail to stay healthy,” he added.
3. In fact, everyone benefited from a health standpoint — physically and mentally — on the bye.
Loeffler didn’t talk much with quarterback Logan Thomas over the weekend for a reason.
“He needed to get the heck away from me, to be honest with you,” Loeffler joked. “He needed to get away. We all needed to get away. …
“We’ve been grinding away and we need to step away from it. Whenever you’re trying to find ways to win, you’re here together for that amount of time. It was time to get away, for sure. Yeah, I only texted him during the FSU game and just said, ‘Time to get back to work.’ But that was it.”
Coming off a bye has positives and negatives.
“Positives are you’re fresh,” Loeffler said. “Negatives are you haven’t played football in three days. … You wish you could practice every day, but that was unrealistic.”
4. Freshman Bucky Hodges might be doing scout team work at tight end, but he’s still a quarterback.
The Hokies first began using Hodges, a 6-foot-6, 235-pound quarterback, as a tight end to simulate North Carolina’s Eric Ebron a couple weeks ago. He’s since stayed in a No. 85 scout team jersey, doing some work as a tight end during practice.
But asked point blank if that’s his new position, Loeffler was clear: “No.”
“He practiced at quarterback when we scrimmaged on Sunday,” Loeffler said. “But no, [Hodges at tight end} is not permanent. Not at all."
5. Receiver Charley Meyer's missed time in August put him way behind.
The redshirt freshman got plenty of preseason love as being a potential breakout at receiver, but a pair of hamstring injuries in August set him way back. Willie Byrn stepped in and got those reps and has taken off in the offense.
"[Meyer] didn’t get to practice football in probably the most critical time that you practice,” Loeffler said. “Almost half of your football season occurs in training camp, believe it or not. You have 30-some odd practices. And anytime you miss that time, that’s really critical. Especially with a young player. You’ve got to be in training camp.
“And whenever you’re in the season, you really only have two major work days, and that’s really hard to catch up.”
Meyer is finally back to 100 percent, although it took until about Week 4 to do so.
“So he not only missed training camp. He missed four weeks of the season,” Loeffler said. “Even when you’re a great player and you miss training camp and you miss four weeks of the season and not practicing full speed, that’s tough. That’s hard to get in the fold.”