By The Associated Press
Virginia Tech won its first game without nearly two dozen players and even some coaches unavailable due to a combination of coronavirus and injury issues. The question is whether they’ll be shorthanded again when they play Saturday at Duke.
The Hokies (1-0, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) beat North Carolina State last weekend despite missing 23 players and two full-time coaches, including starting quarterback Hendon Hooker and defensive coordinator Justin Hamilton. That came days after coach Justin Fuente had wondered aloud whether his team would have enough players to even take on the Wolfpack.
Fuente said preparation must include ensuring both coaches and players are ready to take on multiple roles if needed due to an injury, positive COVID-19 test, quarantine or any other potential issue.
“There’s no guarantee that we’ll have a full complement of everybody coming into the next week,” Fuente said. “So it was nice for us to get to do it. It was nice for us to play well. Certainly I don’t want to make too much of it. There’s plenty of things that we’ve got to do better that other people on our schedule, starting with Duke, will highlight if we don’t get fixed.”
The Blue Devils have their own problems, though. Namely, turnovers.
Duke (0-3, 0-3) has lost 14 turnovers in three games, the most among all 72 Bowl Subdivision teams who have taken the field so far this season. The Blue Devils committed five turnovers in a home loss to Boston College on Sept. 19, then followed with seven turnovers – four coming on interceptions – in last weekend’s loss at Virginia.
The Blue Devils led that game 20-17 entering the fourth quarter, but had a run of four straight turnovers starting late in the third as the Cavaliers pushed ahead.
“There’s not a play on the practice field, not one play, that we’re not coaching ball security better,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. Obviously, it’s not been done well enough on my part. … You might not believe this, but we’re close. And so we’re certainly not going to lose hope, we’re not going to run from the challenge. We’re going to run to it.”
Here are things to know about Saturday’s Virginia Tech-Duke game:
Fuente said this week that he expects Hooker to be available, but he didn’t say whether Hooker would start or even play. Hooker missed the opener and Braxton Burmeister started, while Quincy Patterson II also played – and threw for two touchdowns – when Burmeister experienced a hand cramp.
BRICE AND TURNOVERS
Clemson graduate transfer Chase Brice is having trouble protecting the football for the Blue Devils, throwing four interceptions in three games while also losing two fumbles.
“We’ve got to give him more time so he feels more comfortable in the pocket,” offensive tackle Casey Holman said. “So he can move around, he can go through his progressions and he can make the throws we all know he can.”
The Hokies ran for 314 yards in their opener, with five players running for at least 40 yards.
Kansas graduate transfer Khalil Herbert led Virginia Tech with 104 yards and a score on six carries. Receiver Tre Turner also had a 51-yard burst on a jet sweep, while Patterson (47 yards) and Burmeister (46) provided production from the QB position.
Duke won last year’s meeting 45-10 on the road. That performance included 21 second-quarter points, two second-half touchdown runs of at least 30 yards, a successful fake punt with a 38-10 fourth-quarter lead and a defensive effort that held the Hokies to 259 yards.
Virginia Tech responded by winning six of seven before reaching a bowl game.
“We were a different team for the better after that,” Fuente said, adding: “We have an opportunity now to see if we have improved.”
Duke is 0-3 for the first time in 13 seasons under Cutcliffe and 0-3 in ACC play for the first time since 2016. The Blue Devils hadn’t started 0-3 overall since an 0-12 season in 2006 under Ted Roof.