No. 19 Virginia Tech taking nothing for granted vs. Middle Tennessee

NCAA Football

As far as Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente is concerned, the challenge this week is simple.

“Turn the page,” he said.

That’s because the Hokies can’t bask in the laurels of their 17-10 season-opening win over then-No. 10 North Carolina any longer. There’s another game this week as Middle Tennessee comes to Blacksburg, Va., for a Saturday matchup.

And this is the type of game that Virginia Tech, which entered the Associated Press poll Tuesday at No. 19, has tripped up on in recent seasons. More than once after winning a big game against a Top 25 team, it’s followed up with a stupefying loss.

There was a 49-35 defeat at Old Dominion in 2018 less than three weeks after a dominating season-opening win at then-No. 19 Florida State. And a 31-17 loss at lightly regarded Syracuse back in 2016 after the Hokies routed then-17th-ranked North Carolina 34-3 the week before.

That’s why Fuente has an extra sense of urgency this week.

“Just take last week and put it in the bank, put it to the side and focus on our nonconference schedule,” he said. “You play nonconference games for postseason recognition, and it starts with Middle Tennessee this Saturday.”

Regardless of who the Hokies play, if their defense plays as fast and as firm as it did against North Carolina, they’ll give everyone fits. Second-year coordinator Justin Hamilton’s unit looked a lot like a Bud Foster defense, recording six sacks and intercepting Sam Howell three times.

Chamarri Conner recorded the game-clinching interception with 37 seconds left, topping off a performance that saw him record a team-high eight tackles. He was named Atlantic Coast Conference Defensive Back of the Week.

Offensively, Virginia Tech wasn’t spectacular, but did keep the ball for nearly 35 minutes as it got an efficient performance from quarterback Braxton Burmeister. He was 12-of-19 for 169 yards and an 11-yard touchdown pass to tight end James Mitchell late in the second quarter.

Meanwhile, Middle Tennessee opened last week with a 50-15 victory over FCS opponent Monmouth, although the final score doesn’t indicate that the game was competitive for three quarters.

The Blue Raiders never trailed but led just 28-15 early in the fourth quarter before putting the game away with 22 points. They cashed in four turnovers for 27 points and also scored their first touchdown on Jaylin Lane’s 70-yard punt return 16 seconds into the second quarter.

Middle Tennessee used three quarterbacks against Monmouth. Bailey Hockman started and threw a pair of touchdown passes in the last two minutes of the first half to snap a 7-7 tie. The Blue Raiders managed just 360 yards of offense.

Coach Rick Stockstill says this week provides unique obstacles for his team, including a seven-hour bus ride Friday from Murfreesboro, Tenn., to Blacksburg, Va.

“We’ve got to be able to handle that and then be ready for a loud stadium,” he said. “They were extremely loud last week against North Carolina, and we expect the same things this week.”

This will be the first meeting of the programs.

–Field Level Media

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