Isaiah Ford is certainly making a strong case that he's the one of the best receivers to ever put on the orange and maroon, but WRs coach Holmon Wiggins thinks there's one thing Ford could stand to address: his passing skills.
Ford's failure to connect with TE Chris Cunningham on a trick play is just about the only thing that went wrong for the Hokies on offense against ECU, and Wiggins wasn't afraid to let Ford know that he isn't a match for QB Jerod Evans just yet.
"I told him, 'We're dealing with a tight end, you wanna put it right on him, anywhere in the vicinity, kinda lay it up,'" Wiggins said with a grin. "I know he has a basketball background, I was saying, 'You could have alley-ooped that thing to him.'"
The ever-smiling Ford had fun with it after Tuesday's practice, and didn't mind deflecting a little bit of blame for that particular failing.
"I told him, I was like, 'C'mon, man, you've gotta make me look good or something, man,'" Ford said. "He just ran out there with his arms out and made me look bad."
Ford added that he's been lobbying OC Brad Cornelsen for another chance down the line, though he confessed that "it's not looking too good for me" in that department. Recalling his similar bad luck trying to hook up with fellow WR Cam Phillips in overtime against Duke last year, Ford lamented that a certain quarterback who so ably doubled as a receiver back in 2014's Military Bowl isn't still on the team.
"I guess I need (Michael) Brewer back," Ford said. "Brewer is the only receiver that caught the balls for me."
But outside of the lighthearted mood during the team's bye week, there's still plenty for the offense to focus on if it wants to keep pace with UNC.
Although eight different Hokie wideouts have caught a pass this season, there is still some concern with the depth of the unit overall.
"It continues as the season progresses," Wiggins said. "You figure out what guys can and can't do and where they can help you at. Never satisfied, so we're gonna continue to kinda pluck away and these guys are starting to follow suit and figure out what we're trying to do and how fast we're trying to go and what's expected."
Two of those younger players who have seen some time on the field this year are a pair of highly-touted true freshmen in Divine Deablo and Eric Kumah. The early enrollees were able to participate in spring ball, and Wiggins thinks that extra time on the field is slowly starting to pay dividends for them.
"If you were to ask me in the spring, I probably would have said, 'No, (they're not ready)," Wiggins said. "It was a slow spring for those guys. It's a good thing that they did graduate early, 'cause the spring actually helped them with the experience and the speed of the game and kind of what to anticipate and how fast we were going and the speed of college football.
"Then fall camp came, and those guys — you could see it kind of start to sink in a little bit and the game's starting to slow down for them a little more. They started to make plays. They weren't paralyzed by analyzing the plays. They were actually knowing what to do, knowing where to line up and actually going out there and executing."
Ford, who was once in their shoes playing as a true freshman, is hoping to use experience to help them along.
"Every time they come off the field, I'm in their ear trying to tell them some of the things I see and when I see some of the mistakes (that) they've made that I made when I was a freshman," Ford said. "The future is bright for them. It's really bright."
Indeed, while those two have seen their time on the field increase, fellow freshmen Phil Patterson and Samuel Denmark both have yet to play this season. Naturally, Wiggins is starting to think about redshirting the pair.
"You hope to get to that," Wiggins said. "You hope that when you get about halfway, you've got a general idea of who you're using and what you have. Knock on wood that nothing drastic happens and we are fortunate enough to be able to do that. They still know that they need to continue to progress and get ready and stay ready."
Evans, who stands as the only quarterback in the nation with 13 touchdowns and fewer than two interceptions, says he has confidence no matter who the coaching staff decides to put on the field with him.
"I'm confident with anybody on the field besides those three guys that you guys always mention: Bucky (Hodges), Isaiah (Ford) and Cam (Phillips)," Evans said. "I feel comfortable with Deablo. I do feel comfortable with Devin (Wilson). I do feel comfortable with Eric. I do feel comfortable with Sean (Daniel), C.J. (Carroll), I feel comfortable with those guys in the game. There's no surprise to me when they get in and they're playing and doing pretty good in there. It doesn't surprise me."
Working on the deep passing attack will be a focal point for Evans for the remainder of the season. Although he was unhappy with his performance in practice Tuesday, Evans remains steadfast in his confidence in his arm and his ability to get the ball to his playmakers deep downfield.
"Just complete them — it's that simple," Evans said. "Going to the game, you just see things differently than you would see in practice. The scout guy might open up a certain way so you would get adjusted to the wide receiver a certain way. In the game, the actual opponent might do something different so you've gotta adjust on the fly.
"My deep balls, I'm very confident in my ability. Some of those I just want back. Some of the deep balls, I know I should have completed (them). That's just something that you work on in practice. You go in practice and you go and work on those little mistakes that you make in the game and just adjust to your wide receiver better."
In the meantime, Ford won't be shy about letting his QB know when he needs to air it out in his top receiver's direction.
"Sometimes it just happens," Ford said. "My competitive edge will take over. We'll be in the middle of the play and I'll be like, 'Jerod, throw me the ball this play.' His job is to trust me, and my job is to trust him. When I beg him for things like that — like when I'm screaming his name and yelling things like that — when he comes to me, I have to make sure I hold my end of the bargain. That's what it is. It's me trying to hold my end of the bargain when he does come to me."
ON HOW MANY FRESHMEN HAVE PLAYED:
"There's been two. Divine Diablo and Eric Kumah. Those are the two freshmen that have played."
ON WHY SOME OF THE OTHER YOUNG GUYS HAVEN'T COME ALONG AS QUICKLY:
"It's a range of things for all of them. The one thing, when you bring those guys in, you wanna make sure that they're able to hold up — especially academically — physically and mentally, that kind of stuff. It's gonna be a long season. Some guys kind of pick it up a little faster than some. For some of them, there's a little more reps to be taken, a little more experience to be had. My job is to try to get those guys equipped and sometimes it's breaking old habits and cleaning up some technique. Instead of sitting there and putting the guy out there when he's not ready, we're gonna make sure that guy's equipped and has a chance of going out there and being the best 'him' he can be."
ON IF HE'S CLOSED THE BOOK ON THOSE GUYS WHO HAVEN'T PLAYED THIS YEAR:
ON JAYLEN BRADSHAW:
"He's progressing a whole lot, that's why you're starting to see more of him. Everyday he gets a chance to go out there and either show that we can trust him or show that we can't trust him. He's doing a better job of being consistent and understand what we're doing, what's expected. He's actually going out there and making some plays."
ON C.J. CARROLL:
"I hope that people that are at the games are starting to see that (he is progressing). He is a guy that has some tools, he has some ability. He's taking advantage of those opportunities. Of course I trust him. He knows what we are doing, he plays fast. He's doing a good job, when he does get those reps, of going out there and showing that he belongs out there."
ON HOW FORD HAS RESPONDED TO WIGGINS' CRITICISM AFTER THE LIBERTY GAME:
"He's been awesome. Of course he's a great kid. He's competitive, probably just as competitive as I am. He understands where I'm coming from. He expects more from himself. We can sit down and kind of have a conversation and say, 'Hey, here's some things we need to clean up. This is what we can do better. And this is what you're doing an awesome job at and we need to continue to do that.' He knows, and he sees the film. He realized that his cup is not full. He still has some things that are attainable."
ON IF HE EVER THINKS ABOUT WHERE FORD IS RANKED IN SCHOOL HISTORY:
"No. At the end of the day, the biggest stat that we worry about is winning. We try to get those guys to understand (that) this is the best team sport ever. We're gonna be team driven, and selfless, and unselfish. Those guys need to understand, as long as we're going out there and having fun — there's probably gonna be a game that we're gonna go out and we're gonna have to run it 40, 50 times a game. Those guys have been told that. We're gonna go out there with the same workman-like attitude, the same smile on our face, and ready to get the job done."
ON IF IT WOULD BE COOL TO END UP COACHING THE SCHOOL LEADER IN RECEIVING:
"Of course it would. But I'd love to be in some other places with this team doing some things that we think are pretty dang special."
ON IF THERE ARE ANY THINGS THE RECEIVERS CAN DO TO HELP WITH DEEP PASSING ACCURACY:
"We all have to be on the same page. That's why we go out there and practice. We practice those balls and we have to be good at getting off the press. He has to get an idea of where we're at. We want him to just give our guys a chance to make a play. Some of those we wish we had back. We're gonna work like heck these next two weeks to make sure we're on the same page."
ON HIS FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF FORD:
"You can tell when you get out there and he's able — there's a few guys that you can sit there and go in a meeting and say, 'Ok, here's the things we're gonna do, blah, blah blah,' and you go on the field and they're able to go out and do those. That's what makes him special. Along with the ability that he can run and he can jump and he can play the ball well and he has great ball skills. He has a great football IQ. You can sit there and put him in different spots and he can control his body. Seeing him take what we do in the meeting room and go out there and actually not miss a beat is pretty remarkable."
ON HOW HE EVALUATES HIMSELF AFTER THE FIRST FOUR GAMES:
"How do I evaluate myself? I don't know. Some good, some bad. Again, I'm a perfectionist. So there's a lot of things that y'all might say (are) good that I don't think (are) too hot. Some things that I missed that I don't think should have been incompletions. To evaluate myself, I do that every day. That was kind of like — I don't know how to answer that. Like today, (I) missed a lot of throws that I should have made. That was a very broad question."
ON IF HE HAS GOTTEN A SENSE OF WHAT THE COACHES HAVE LIKED ON OFFENSE VS. WHAT THEY HAVEN'T LIKED:
"Not so much. I know that we wanna work a little bit more running game; different ways, get different looks. I know that was a big emphasis that Coach (Brad) Cornelsen told me about that he wants to try new things — well not so much new things, but different things to do with the same formation or different formations. Just trying to get the ball to run better."
ON IF THE COACHES HAVE A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF HIS SKILL SET:
"I think the whole nine months before the first game, that's what they (were) doing the whole time. Of course you get real, live game simulation where you've gotta be out there in front of everybody, you've got the running back out there in front of everybody, wide receiver, etc. out there in front of actual other opponents, so they get a (better) feel of who can do what. I think they had a great feel for nine months before the first game of the season."
ON IF C.J. CARROLL AND JAYLEN BRADSHAW HAVE WON OVER THE COACHES:
"They're getting in the game more, so I would assume they're definitely getting the coaches' trust, as far as Coach Fuente and Coach Wiggins. I've been having their trust for a while, especially C.J. and Jaylen, I've been having their trust for a while. It's good to see (those) guys come in and get some live reps and get more confidence as the game and as the season comes along."
ON IF HE FEELS HEALTHY AFTER THE FIRST FOUR WEEKS:
"There's a saying, 'If you're not feeling anything, you're not playing football.' As the season goes along, you have nicks and nacks and bruises and all of that, that everybody goes through. But how you maintain and how you go to the training room and maintain the nicknack bruises that you get during week in, week out basis, is how healthy you will stay. Do I have some nicknacks? Yeah. But that's what the bye week is for."
ON IF HE WORE A BOOT AFTER THE ANKLE INJURY:
"No. I'm practicing on it right now. I've been walking on it. They tell me that (wearing the boot) will stiffen it up. I don't wanna stiffen it up. I've been walking around freely."
ON IF HE GETS TO A POINT WHERE HE JUST THROWS IT UP AND EXPECTS FORD TO CATCH IT:
"I don't just throw the ball up, for one. Yes, I do expect him to catch the ball every time. That's kind of crazy for me to say, but that's what kind of player he is. (When) the ball is in the air, I expect him to come down with it — just nine out of 10 attempts — I expect him to come down with 10 out of 10. It doesn't surprise me if he drops a ball here and there, 'cause we're all human and we all make mistakes. He's just a heck of a player. I don't expect (anything) less of him at all."
ON IF FORD ASKS FOR HIM TO THROW IT UP FOR HIM:
"Yeah. I wouldn't say 'throw it up', but he does beg me like, 'Hey man, trust me.' I'm like, 'Dawg, I trust you. Trust me.' That's just his way of saying, 'Hey, I'm gonna make a play for you.' That's his way of telling me that, but I already know that. That's something I already know he's gonna do. I just try to put it in the best position for him to go get that ball, whether it's outside (or) inside. If I threw a bad ball, he's gonna try to get it regardless, but I'm gonna try to make his job be easier, as far as if the guy's inside, I wanna throw it inside. If the guy's outside, I wanna throw it inside. Little stuff like that. But yeah, he's a heck of a player."
ON IF BUD FOSTER'S DEFENSE GETS TO HIM WHEN THEY SCRIMMAGE:
"Yeah, today they got to me. Extremely frustrating...He's a heck of a coach. He puts his guys in the right position every time. You got some guys on that side that are just ballers, straight ballers. Chuck (Clark), Mook (Reynolds), Adonis (Alexander), you got Terrell (Edmunds), the list goes on, you've got the front seven. They (are) just some dogs out there. They make my job hard, but at the end of the day, if I can complete passes on them here and there, then it makes the game a little more easier just because of what they present and how they change things up on the fly. They gave me some fits today. I haven't practiced against them in a while. It was kind of new for me again. I'll be out there ready to rock and roll tomorrow."
ON WHO GOT HIM TODAY:
ON WHAT HE'S SEEN FROM BRADSHAW AND CARROLL:
"I just see two individuals that are hungry. Like I said before the year started, they've heard all the noise about the receiver depth and that we need depth. They've accepted the challenge. I think that their play is starting to back that up."
ON IF HE WORKS WITH DEABLO OR KUMAH:
"I do. Every time they come off the field, I'm in their ear trying to tell them some of the things I see and when I see some of the mistakes (that) they've made that I made when I was a freshman. The future is bright for them. It's really bright."
ON IF HE SAW THIS KIND OF OFFENSIVE EXPLOSION COMING ON THIS EARLY:
"A little bit. We feel very confident in our offense. We feel like when we execute, that no one can stop us. We feel like that's what we show them. We're going out and executing and we don't kill ourselves with turnovers and things like that. The sky's the limit for us."
ON HIS FIRST THOUGHTS ABOUT EVANS:
"He's a kid that thinks like me from the standpoint that he wants to be a workaholic. He's a perfectionist. He expects everything to be done a certain way. He wants everything to be perfect. I was excited about that because, (he's) someone that I can call at midnight if I want to and be like, 'Hey, let's go get some work in,' and he wouldn't be like, 'Naw man, I'm tired.' He'd get up and be ready to work. I was excited. He was someone that brought a type of swagger to the team that tI felt like we needed that gives us a lift."
ON IF HE THOUGHT EVANS WOULD PRODUCE THE SAME NUMBERS AS HE DID IN JUCO:
"When I put on his tape, I was pretty impressed, I'm not gonna lie. Everyone knows there's a difference between junior college and division-1 football. We knew there was gonna be some time for him to have to adapt, but it was quick. He adapted quick. I think that's why he's playing so well now."
ON IF HE'S EVER CALLED EVANS AT MIDNIGHT TO THROW THE BALL:
"I didn't do that — not at midnight, at least. I called him late a couple of times. I asked him to get some work in. He was always ready."
ON IF HE HAS TO DO ANY LOBBYING TO THE COACHES TO LET HIM THROW ANOTHER PASS IN THE GAME:
"I talked to Coach Cornelsen (on) Sunday. We were walking to go meetings and he was like, 'Hey man, I worked on this trick play all this time and you blew it!' I was like, 'I know man.' I don't know, we'll see. Hopefully they'll give me another chance later on down the road if we need it. It's not looking too good for me...I told Cam, too. I threw a pass to Cam against Duke in OT and he didn't catch it, so I guess I need (Michael) Brewer back. Brewer is the only receiver that caught the balls for me."
ON IF HE OR SAM ROGERS WILL THROW THE NEXT PASS:
"I don't know. It might be Sam. You never know. Sam played quarterback in high school. He always jokes around with the quarterbacks, he'll say he's the most accurate quarterback on the team. The times they'll throw the ball around, hit trash cans and things like that, Sam's really accurate."