Part of being a head coach is preparing for every scenario that an opponent might throw your way, but sometimes that opponent isn’t a player or a team; sometimes it’s the weather.
For Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente, that was the case this past Saturday, as the Hokies faced No. 17 North Carolina amidst Hurricane Matthew.
“I’m not sure there’s much you can do to get ready for that one,” Fuente said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “We practiced with wet balls during the week. We had managers out there soaking the footballs so we could throw and catch and run the ball, but that still didn’t do it justice. It was awfully wet. . . . I think kind of maybe more what we were shooting for was trying to improve the level of concentration in terms of throwing and catching the ball. I don’t think you can simulate what we played in, but I think we did want to kind of make the point even days before the game. One of the nice things was we did now that we were going to play in rain ahead of time. We just tried to simulate the attention to detail or the extra concentration it was going to take to hold on to the ball or catch the ball or throw the ball.”
In the end, the Hokies handled the hurricane just fine. They beat the Tar Heels, 34-3, to improve to 4-1 and rise from No. 25 to No. 17 in the AP poll. Virginia Tech rushed 66 times for 189 yards, with quarterback Jerod Evans running 21 times for 49 yards and a score. Evans also threw for 75 yards and two scores and has led the Hokies to three straight wins after their 45-24 loss against Tennessee at Bristol Motor Speedway on Sept. 10.
Virginia Tech led 14-0 that night but was outscored 45-10 the rest of the way. Evans and his teammates seem to have learned from that loss.
“He’s been pretty steady,” Fuente said of his junior quarterback. “I think as an offense and a defense and really as a team, we have learned a lot from that game in terms of managing our emotions, in terms of understanding what it means if we don’t protect the football. We were literally handing Tennessee the football at times. And also the discipline we’ve got to play with. We had some uncharacteristic penalties and just (didn’t play) winning football. I’m hopeful that our guys have learned the lesson of how important it is to take care of the ball, including Jerod and the running backs and receivers. As a group, we’ve got to play disciplined football regardless of the circumstances.”
Evans has thrown for 1,045 yards, 15 touchdowns and just one interception this season. He’s also rushed for 258 yards and two scores.
Virginia Tech, which is atop the ACC Coastal, plays at Syracuse (2-4) this Saturday at 3:45 p.m. ET before a monumental home game against No. 16 Miami (4-1) on Oct. 20.
The Hokies, who have finished 7-6 in three of the last four years, are on pace for their best record since 2011, when Frank Beamer went 11-3 and led Virginia Tech to the Sugar Bowl. While Fuente is taking things one game at a time, his transition from Memphis to Blacksburg has been fairly smooth.
“It’s gone really well,” he said. “A great portion of the credit needs to go to Coach Beamer. His reputation on a national level of someone that treats people the right way and does things the right way and really cares about Virginia Tech is absolutely true. I’m not sure you could fall into a situation or come upon a situation where you’re replacing somebody that, there may never be another person that means as much to Virginia Tech as what Coach Beamer has meant to this community, this school and obviously this football program and athletic department. It’s gone incredibly well. We’ve gone out of our way to make sure he feels welcome here; he’s gone out of his way to not make us feel like he’s standing over our shoulders, so to speak. He’s been incredibly supportive, and the transition has gone really well.”