Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente took to the podium on Monday to address the media ahead of the team's first road game of the season at West Virginia.
“We’re excited for the opportunity and challenge to take this team on the road in front of a hostile environment and see how we can perform,” said Fuente.
The Hokies are sitting at 2-0 on the season after upsetting then No. 10 North Carolina 17-10 in the season home opener and knocked off Middle Tennessee State on Saturday 35-14.
Fuente opened the press conference announcing starting tight end James Mitchell is out for the season after having season-ending knee surgery. Mitchell opted to come back for his senior season (Last year's blanket redshirt waiver technically makes him a junior) instead of putting his name in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Then, he turned his attention to the game.
"It’s a rivalry game, a trophy game on the road. An incredible challenge for our football team, not just our first road game but to play in the environment we’re about to go play in against a quality team,” said Fuente. Coach Brown’s done a great job down there, and they’re a couple of turnovers away from being undefeated.” Also adding, “I know the environment will be electric and emotions will run high.”
Fuente likes what the Mountaineers have at quarterback in Jarret Doege and the offense.
“He’s a kid that can really throw the football. He’s coming from a football family. His brother came out of Lubbock years ago, back when I was at TCU,” he said. “You can just tell he’s got a really good understanding of what they’re trying to get accomplished. They’ve got guys on the outside that can make plays. A good screen team. He gets the ball out of his hands. They’ve made plenty of plays in the passing game. A dangerous dynamic group that can put points on the board in a hurry.”
Fuente sees a challenge along the defensive line, noting Preseason All-Big 12 Honorees, Dante Stills and Akheem Mesidor.
“To me, the defensive line stands out. Particularly 55 (Stills) and 90 (Mesidor). Very disruptive. Moving every play. They’re in the backfield - it seems like all the time. So, it starts with that, kind of a unique scheme, and bleeds through to the rest of their secondary and linebacker corps, but those guys up front, in my opinion, make the whole thing go.”
A topic of discussion was West Virginia receiver and kickoff returner Winston Wright Jr. He leads the nation in kickoff return yards (307) and yards per return (51.2) along with a touchdown.
“The guy they got back there is pretty special, pretty dynamic,” said Fuente. “I mean, he hits it about eight million miles an hour, makes guys miss. He really attacks the coverage team with reckless abandonment. I mean, he is hitting that sucker downhill. We’ll have to do a great job. If you give talented skill players like that just a little bit of a crease, the next thing you know, it’s a huge momentum-swinging play.”
Virginia Tech and West Virginia rivalry heated up once Frank Beamer took over the Hokies program in 1987 and started to become bitter once they both joined the Big East Conference in '91.
The Hokies took the first meeting in 1912, 41-0. Then, they met three straight seasons from 1915-17. They wouldn’t meet again till 1952 and ‘53 before the two programs met 12 consecutive seasons from 1957-68. Then, they played annually from 1973-2005. The series ended abruptly in ‘05 after the Hokies left the Big East for the ACC in ‘04 and could only work out an agreement for two seasons (2004-05). Since then, they have only met once (2017). The Mountaineers lead the all-time series 28-23-1.
“It’s kind of an interesting rivalry,” said Fuente. “It’s a rivalry that the players that are playing in the game don’t have a context to the rivalry because it’s not a recent one. Obviously, we played in ’17 on a neutral field, but it’s been a little dormant for a little while, at least for recent history. So, I think it’s incumbent to educate our guys on what it is like and what it was. We got several players that have been involved in the rivalry on our staff in various capacities that can help inform myself and our football team what it’s going to be like.”
West Virginia is 16-9 against the Hokies in Morgantown.
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