Four Down Friday: Hokies Hope To Bedevil Blue Devils

Virginia Tech travels to Durham for a primetime showdown against Duke.

[Mark Umansky]

This is how last week's column ended:

Do the Monarchs pull the upset?

Nope. The Hokies head out of Norfolk sitting at 3-0 on the season and a date with Duke on the docket.

... so about that.

After their shocking loss to Old Dominion, Virginia Tech sits at 2-1 (1-0) on the season. The Hokies subsequently dropped out of the AP Poll. Tech travels to Durham, NC this week, a city in which the Hokies are 6-0 since joining the ACC in 2004. Duke is ranked No. 22 in the AP Poll after starting off the 2018 campaign with four-straight wins. Raise your hand if you thought this matchup would feature one ranked team and that ranked team would be Duke.

Put your hands down, you liars.

First Down: Josh Jackson's Injury

Fuente made the announcement on Monday afternoon that Jackson suffered a fractured fibula against Old Dominion. Jackson had surgery on Tuesday, and will start through the rehab process. Because there are so many questions surrounding said process, Fuente added that there is no set return date for Jackson yet.

"The timetable, I'm a little uncertain on, I mean obviously it's going to be a little while," explained Fuente. "As we get through it, if it [Jackson returning] becomes an issue that we need to talk about, we can talk about it then. It's going to certainly be a little while before he's able to get back out there and play."

So in Jackson's place, Ryan Willis will trot out as QB1. Willis transferred from football powerhouse Kansas, originally as a walk-on. Willis earned a scholarship this fall, and now has a chance to prove himself. The Hokies, by the way, currently have the same amount of wins as Kansas.

The 6'4", 223 pound redshirt junior can sling the pigskin. Willis threw for 2,530 yards on 432 passes at Kansas, good for 5.9 yards/attempt. However, he tossed only 11 touchdowns alongside 17 interceptions. Those polar opposites were on display in Norfolk, as Willis threw for 130 yards and a touchdown but also had several ill-advised throws that were closer to Monarchs than Hokies. To be fair though, that was towards the end of that game, and the Hokies needed to air it out.

"He's [Willis] not much different than Josh is," explained Brad Cornelsen. "We've got confidence in him to come in and continue to do what we're doing on offense I thought he did a good job in the game in that situation. He's obviously been in that situation before. So that helped."

"He's competitive, he's been training, and working for this opportunity," added Fuente. "It's up to everybody else to step up their game as well. And help him out and support him."

Jackson was tagged as the starter early on in fall camp. Because of the early decision, the quarterback conversation turned to who would be QB2.

"[Willis and Hendon Hooker] both did a great job," noted Cornelsen. "Ryan, it was his ability to go operate the offense and play in and play out. He's a little more experienced. That's what we expected out of him last week, was to come in and be able to go help us win the game. And that's what he did, give us a chance to move the ball and make some plays."

Willis is excited for the opportunity to take the reins.

Kind of stinks how it happened," said Willis. "[Jackson's] a great guy, very unfortunate incident. But it's the next man up, got to be ready to go, got to get prepared for Duke and go 1-0 this week."

You thought you were going to avoid the 1-0 drinking game this week? You thought wrong.


Back to the real stuff.

When talking to the media, Willis' demeanour immediately stood out. The excitement to be a starter was apparent, but it was also clear that he was aware about the positions volatility.

"I knew I was one play away," explained Willis. "Got to prepare like you're the starter no matter what. Got to be ready to go, you know?"

Time will tell if Willis is the right choice going forward. If not, Hooker is waiting in the wings.

"Well, that's something we'll certainly look at during the week," explained Fuente. "Hendon's closer to playing. He's played a little bit, couple weeks ago, and did well. Had the long touchdown run. Something we'll certainly look at in trying to evaluate it as we go through. It may be a scenario where it does mean he plays a little bit or not. It's certainly a conversation that we're going to have."

"Hendon is a guy that just keeps getting better," added Cornelsen. "I think as the year continues to go, and who knows, finding a way to get him in there. He's an excellent athlete. He keeps getting more comfortable."

Second Down: Trevon Hill Dismissed

In case you hadn't heard about Jackson's injury, you probably haven't heard about this either. Brace yourself. Trevon Hill seems to have found the breaking point with the Hokies' coaching staff. Hill was dismissed from the team the day after the ODU loss.

"I've been in close conversation with Trevon," said Fuente. "Just finished visiting with him and his family. We've been continually monitoring and talking about things since we've been here. There's no individual particular incident. Trevon knows how I how feel. We had very frank and honest conversations. Those conversations will remain private. It's not one event."

So there you have it. A textbook example of how a program's outlook can go from sky high to down in the dumps in a matter of hours. Starting quarterback, hurt. Stud defensive lineman, gone.

How do you replace that level of production, especially on a defense that was already hurting for experience?

"Well, that's going to be important," said Bud Foster. "We need some guys to step up. And that's part of it. Whether you have an injury, whatever the situation may be when you lose somebody, there's going to need to be somebody to step up."

That's a whole lot of coach speak. For most coaches, that's where the answer would end and the fanbase would be left to ponder who he was thinking of. But gosh darn it, this is Bud bleeping Foster.

"Obviously House [Houshun] Gaines has shown he can do some things, but we need a guy like Zion DeBose, we need Emmanuel Belmar, we need Tyjuan Garbutt, we need Nate Proctor now," said Foster. "Those are guys that all of sudden are going to be throw in the mix that now I want to see them play fast. Nate's shown some things. Tyjuan has been the guy that I've really been impressed with particularly in practice but he gets to the game and it's like a freshman, he's a little afraid to make a mistake. That's going to be the message to our guys. Let's go pin our ears back and play and have some fun. Let's not worry about making a mistake, let's just go play and worry about those kind of things. Those guys have some abilities. We just need to get them out there. Obviously, the best teacher is going to be experience. And every snap they're going to get better and move forward. We'll grow with those guys and continue our development."

Out of all those players that Foster mentioned, Belmar won the sweepstakes and spoke to the media on Tuesday. The main talking point was, obviously, about replacing Hill.

"It really is exciting," said Belmar. "It's unfortunate that Trevon had to go ... It's a big step for me. Proving what I can do. Showing what I can do."

And while the loss of Hill leaves a void on the line, Belmar is ready to step in and fill it with swagger. He's got plenty of it.

"I don't feel pressure at all," declared Belmar. "I feel confident in what I do every day."

Third Down: Out Of The Frying Pan, Into The (ACC) Fire

I can only imagine how hard it would be to get up for any game right after such a devastating loss. But the next one up for the Hokies isn't just any game. It's a crucial divisional conference game against a ranked team on the road.

The defensive backs struggled against ODU's talented wide receivers. There's no debating that. With those shortcomings on film, it would be surprising if Duke doesn't try to exploit those weaknesses. So the question has to be asked: What does this Tech team take out of the shocking loss as they prepare for Duke?

"Some of it is just, you need to trust the process," explained Brian Mitchell. "We need to go back and talk about position mastery, the fundamentals of the technique, that have gotten them in the position to make plays. And they went away from that. Some of that may be on the job training. And that's what it was Saturday. They got stressed, and reverted back to some things that weren't going to work in this scheme. So we've gotta get them back to the fundamentals and technique that will get us to be successful."

Foster chimed in with his interpretation of what happened in Norfolk, and how to use that in preparation for Saturday night.

"It comes back to technique and fundamentals more than it comes back to personnel," added Foster. "Those are things that we have to continue to work on. Again, you've got a group of kids, that was game number three. I'm not making any excuses. But every snap is a learning experience. I told you, the best teacher is experience. Right now, they're gaining it every snap. But again, there were some lessons learned."

Duke can throw the ball pretty darn well. The Hokies' defenders know that, and realize the task ahead of them is not easy.

"They have some good receivers," noted Kahlil Ladler. "TJ Rahming [5'10" WR], he's pretty good. He's an electrifying player for them. Number five [6'0" WR Johnathan Lloyd], I know is pretty good. They have a nice quarterback, very versatile. He can run the ball and throw the ball. We have to be locked in and know what we're doing. Just play our football."

"They're very fundamentally sound," added Ladler. "You can tell on film that they're very well coached. There's not too many mishaps they have. They know what their coaches want them to do."

The ODU loss stinks. Plain and simple. But in the long run, it was a non-conference game. A big goal for this Hokies' team is still in reach: an ACC championship. The next step towards Charlotte starts in Durham.

Fourth Down: Duke FAQ

What has Duke done so far this season?

No. 22 Duke started off quickly this season, beating Army (34-14) and Northwestern (21-7) handily. However, the fast start hit the brakes just as quickly as it started. Here's the current injury list, taken from Sports Reference:

  • First-team All-ACC CB Mark Gilbert is out for the season (hip surgery).
  • WR Aaron Young is out with a hamstring injury.
  • Star QB Daniel Jones is out with a fractured clavicle (non-throwing shoulder). Although a Thursday report suggests Jones, who practiced this week, may return to action against Tech after only three weeks pending medical clearance.

To add insult injury to injury, Duke has five other players listed as "questionable".

Long story short, the Blue Devils are a little banged up. But I think they've made a deal with the devil because they haven't missed a beat. Even when backup QB Quentin Harris got injured last week against North Carolina Central, QB3 Chris Katrenick stepped in and threw a touchdown of his own.

What should the Tech faithful expect to see in Lane South?

Uh... your guess is as good as mine. It's entirely possible that the ODU game was an absolute fluke. Foster's defense might come out and shut down Duke. Maybe the Lunch Pail Defense gets its lunch money taken again. Maybe Willis is the next Vanilla Vick. Maybe the fans are all yelling "what are you talking about doing, Willis?" by the second quarter.

I can guarantee that points will be scored this weekend. But that's about all I can guarantee.

Who wins and why?

There is no clear pick for this game. This is a sequel to the Florida State game. Nobody, outside of the coaching staff, knows how the defense will perform. The offense all of a sudden has question marks again.

If we're going purely off of statistical trends, the Hokies are undefeated against teams from the state of North Carolina under the guidance of Fuente. That seems good to me.

Gun UVA win in November to my head though, I would say Duke in a close, albeit Big 12 style, shootout.


I have no idea what's going to happen this game and I lost my UNC bet last night by a lot, gotta recoup. Hokies straight up.

Speaking of this where'd the betting (not halfwits) thread go this week.

(add if applicable) /s

I was posting those. Unfortunately, I've been pulling double shifts at work (and actually working!) the last two weeks and haven't had time to put them together.

Warning: this post occasionally contains strong language (which may be unsuitable for children), unusual humor (which may be unsuitable for adults), and advanced mathematics (which may be unsuitable for liberal-arts majors)..

Dang, where were you compiling the lines from? I'm usually not actually working and might be able to help out.

(add if applicable) /s

I was actually doing it by hand. I tried a bunch of betting sites to see if any could output to an intelligent CSV format, but none of them did. Highlighting and copying and pasting into excel still required a ton of cleanup so it was just faster to go down the list and type them by hand.

Warning: this post occasionally contains strong language (which may be unsuitable for children), unusual humor (which may be unsuitable for adults), and advanced mathematics (which may be unsuitable for liberal-arts majors)..

Better than betting on Miami!

If you're reading the above post and thinking, "is this guy serious?!?," you can safely assume I'm not.

It's been two years since Willis threw all those pics at Kansas. He's been working and learning - more mature now. I gotta think we've got a much better O-Line then those guys out there in Kansas too. Let's hope that when he airs out the ball he finds Hazelton and Savoy (the guys in the maroon helmets) not the bad guys. We won't be asking this question on TKP next week!!



Not directly related, but I'm going to piggyback on your comment.

What would the reaction be to Willis throwing more downfield passes than JJ at the expense of more interceptions? Could it be that JJ was starter in the first place not because he throws a better ball, but because he makes fewer risky throws? We already know how the coaching staff feels about expected outcomes and ball security.

The Orange and Maroon you see, that's fighting on to victory.

I had this thought as well. What if he throws 1 or 2 more picks in a game but 5 more plays of 25+ yards? I know its all situational but I might be ok with that knowing the playmakers we have out in space...

Situationally, I'd be ok with 1 INT if it meant 5+ offensive TDs with a salty and angry LPD & DBU.

Let's Go


Literally everyone on this site would be happy trading 1 pick per 5 TDs. Pretty sure any coach would too. Which would mean Fuente doesn't believe this is the likely outcome of replacing Jackson with Willis.

Agreed, and that's what scares me. I have never been impressed by JJ. He's a coaches son and plays like it with a very heady game. But he doesn't have any freakish athletic gifts. He doesn't have a big arm and he is not fast. He's a game manager. The staff figured that the Hokies could win with a manager at QB and let the rest of the talent win. Willis has a better arm but what flaw was keeping him on the bench? I hope he isn't a turnover machine.

I think that depends on what our points per drive average is and how the defense is doing. Turnovers if the defense is awesome don't matter as much.

QB's got to be smart. Know when to hold onto the ball and scramble for a 3 yard gain...or when to throw the ball out of bounds. If he's too rattled to figure out the risk benefit ratio when looking downfield and starts throwing pics, either because he's throwing into tight coverage...or just doesn't have the accuracy...then the coaches make a move.
Maybe this is crazy talk...but in some situations a 35 yard third down interception isn't much worse than having to give the ball to the Aussie.


Wasn't there some running joke that if brewer threw a pick we were guaranteed a win?

Warning: this post occasionally contains strong language (which may be unsuitable for children), unusual humor (which may be unsuitable for adults), and advanced mathematics (which may be unsuitable for liberal-arts majors)..

Science isn't a joke.

The Orange and Maroon you see, that's fighting on to victory.

Where's FlatEarther?

Another piece for context, Kansas had terrible skill position players that probably did Willis no favors.

I'm guessing from the sack totals, his offensive line wasn't something to brag about, either.

I watched video of the first half of the 2015 TCU game. And the offense of line looked horrible. Bad blocking and tons of offsides penalties. They were going to go for it on fourth and seven at one point. They got two consecutive offsides penalty's and ended up putting on fourth and 17. They were averaging 2.3 yards per rush that year against big 12 opponents .

We are a Dr Jeckle and Mr Hyde team right now. We need to get consistancy to earn our ranking. I agree with Bud's statement

Let's go pin our ears back and play and have some fun.

Let's wake up from the nightmare of last week.

I love this new addition to TKP. Thanks for writing!

If I'm being a tad nitpicky...

The offense all of a sudden has question marks again

I think the offense has had plenty of questions dating all the way back to the Spring. I may be in the minority, but I don't think those question marks are "all of a sudden".

Is it basketball season yet?

The Hokies, by the way, currently have the same amount of wins as Kansas.


Coach Fuente and Coach Foster...because you're doubly f***ed

one less game played. if that makes you feel any better.

twitter @smithey_daniel
head scout BSP scouting specializing in north florida/ southern GA highschool football scouting

Although a part of my soul died when VT lost to ODU....I still made the executive move to drop $84 on TKP this morning. Thanks for being there in my time of grief.



Danny Coale Caught That Ball!!!

dear henry:
you can not start a story with one of the most hood gifs of all time, and then in same thread write "what are you talking about doing, Willis?" it is what'chu talkin bout willis /sssss

great write up as always! appreciate everything you do and your coverage!

twitter @smithey_daniel
head scout BSP scouting specializing in north florida/ southern GA highschool football scouting

Let's Go


I just can't imagine a Foster defense, especially one with this talent even this young, plays that bad in consecutive weeks. I think this game determines where our season goes. We either get together and start playing our brand of football or we crumble and hope to squeak out 6 wins.

Bud didn't have them ready for whatever reason last week. I don't see it happening again this week. If it does, grab the bourbon, it's gonna be a long year.

Vols Fans are more delusional than LOLUVA

Hokie in Tennessee

I remember our defense looked like swiss cheese a few times early in 2012, and then over the last 5-6 games of 2012 he turned that defense into a unit that averaged allowing like 200ish yards a game and that including our game against Clemson and FSU. He's worked magic before from what looked like a bad situation. He will find some adjustments.

I want to believe the ODU loss ends up just being one of those crazy unprobable flukes; a case of two teams respectively having their best and worst days ever.

I have vivid memories of that 2015 4OT game. I hope we don't see a similar game tomorrow. Hopefully the D will be back on track. I think the offense will do ok.

Take the shortest route to the ball and arrive in bad humor.

Kendall had 3 picks. Unbelievable

You will see this game, this upset and this sign next on ESPN Sportscenter. Virginia Tech 31 Miami 7

That one was the 2013 game. God that one sucked too

Virginia Tech School of Architecture Class of 2014
Fan of Hokies, Ravens, NY Giants, Orioles

Thanks for the correction. And yes it did suck.

You will see this game, this upset and this sign next on ESPN Sportscenter. Virginia Tech 31 Miami 7

Hokies by a million...

Bleeding burnt orange and chicago maroon

What in tarnation


FOSTERS: Australian for defense

Decent cover considering their ages. I think the drummer is pretty good.

Ut Prosim Ad Dei Gloriam

Pretty good. .... Makes me want to pick up my guitar again.

See if this helps

The second video, I cannot speak for, but I believe the first video comes from one of those villages in a developing part of the world that use the internet to raise money by delivering custom messages. I know awhile back one of the Tennessee Vol boards got together to pay some kids to learn to read, and their message was "[Username] is the board peen."

It was kind of dumb because it was an inside joke that didn't make sense to those kids or anyone not on that board, but the fact that money was exchanged over hemispheres of the globe so that kids could call someone a penis is pretty damn hilarious.

Yo am I fucking high??

I think this game goes the way of the Duke game last year if we win.

But for the first time in a long time I have no idea about this team and am concerned. I like a lot of people on here I guess can see this game going either way. Unless we blow the doors off of them I think I'll be like "meh"

If you don't want to recruit clowns, don't run a clown show.

"I want to punch people from UVA right in the neck." - Colin Cowherd

You know, over the years I have learned to invest less passion into the team. After last week's FUBAR; I find myself not interested.

"Hey Bud, you wont have to hold the opponent to 17 points anymore."