Virginia Tech went from being in the top 20 to dropping completely out of the latest Associated Press rankings.
But the Hokies didn’t lose last week.
In fact, they delivered a resilient performance in their season-opening 45-24 victory over North Carolina State despite having 23 players and four coaches out due to either COVID-19 positive tests or contract tracing.
But multiple Big Ten teams and Pac-12 frontrunner Oregon vaulted Virginia Tech (1-0, 1-0 ACC) in the rankings. The Hokies, still ranked No. 23 in the coaches poll since Pac-12 teams have yet to be included in those rankings, will try to climb back up starting Saturday when they face struggling Duke in Durham, N.C.
The Blue Devils are 0-3 (all conference losses) for the first time in the 13-year tenure of coach David Cutcliffe. They are allowing 30.3 points per game and scoring just 13.0, which is tied for sixth worst among the 72 FBS schools that have played thus far.
Duke has committed 14 turnovers, with seven of those coming in last week’s 38-20 loss at Virginia.
“Yes it’s been challenging and it’s going to continue to be challenging,” Cutcliffe told reporters this week. “When you alter anything, you have to increase the quality of everything you’re doing. … You may not believe this, but I think we’re close.”
Duke junior quarterback Chase Brice, a Clemson transfer, threw four interceptions on 16-of-36 passing to go along with 246 yards and two touchdowns. Brice has been sacked nine times and is 59 of 115 (51.3 percent) for 722 yards.
Backup quarterbacks Gunnar Holmberg and Chris Katrenick made appearances in the fourth quarter of last week’s game, but Cutcliffe said after the game he didn’t think it was time to consider a change at the position.
“We work all three of those guys every week,” Cutcliffe said. “We certainly will always be looking at that position just like any other position. But I don’t need to create anything just yet.”
Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente didn’t say if new defensive coordinator Justin Hamilton, who is taking over this season for Bud Foster, or linebackers coach Tracy Claeys would be back this week.
First-year cornerbacks coach Ryan Smith assumed temporary coordinator duties against N.C. State and the Hokies limited the Wolfpack to 5.1 yards per play.
“I think we’re going to have to have that mentality as we go throughout this season that we’ve got to do our best to get everybody prepared — and that’s coaches and players alike — to play multiple roles because we could find ourselves very easily in that situation as soon as this week,” Fuente said.
Fuente is expecting to have redshirt junior quarterback Hendon Hooker (1,555 yards passing and 13 touchdowns last season) available this week.
Quarterbacks Braxton Burmeister and Quincy Patterson II combined for 181 passing yards and two touchdown passes and ran for 93 yards. Patterson directed two scoring drives that built a 31-10 halftime lead after Burmeister was forced to leave the game with a cramping hand.
Still, Hooker’s presence should provide a boost to an offense that totaled 314 rushing yards led by Khalil Herbert (104 yards and a touchdown on six carries). The Hokies amassed 495 yards overall.
“Each week is different, and there is no guarantee that we’ll have a full complement of people coming into the next week,” Fuente said. “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.”
–Field Level Media