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No. 20 Hokies shorthanded for opener against Wolfpack

By Hank Kurz Jr.

AP Sports Writer

Virginia Tech finally begins a season of high expectations as the No. 20 Hokies face North Carolina State in a battle of teams that each had to postpone a game after COVID-19 outbreaks.

Hokies coach Justin Fuente, however, still has many questions about his team.

Fuente expressed concern as he started his game-week preparations knowing his players still had two more rounds of COVID-19 testing — the last will be today. The team will not have a full roster, he said.

“Ultimately I don’t know that I’ve been this close to a game and felt as uneasy about who we were going to actually have in the game as I do right now,” Fuente said.

“There is great excitement,” he said. “… I probably don’t have the same tone in my voice when you are heading into your first game. We are excited. We are anxious to play. We are tired of practicing and it’s just from the organizational standpoint of putting it all together — it creates a little bit of angst.”

The teams were originally scheduled to play Sept. 12, but the game was pushed back by coronavirus clusters that emerged involving Wolfpack athletes and elsewhere on campus. The outbreak caused the school to temporarily pause all athletics activities, which sidelined the Wolfpack program for eight days late in preseason camp.

N.C. State (1-0, 1-0 ACC) took the field last weekend and walked away with 45-42 win against Wake Forest, ending a three-game skid in that longtime instate series. The Hokies, meanwhile, had to postpone their game with Virginia scheduled for last Saturday after an outbreak shut the Virginia Tech program down for four days.

Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren said he prepared this week like there was no question the game will be played, and he expects both teams to have a few surprises in the game plan.

“There’s going to be things we don’t prepare (for), and there’s going to be things that they don’t prepare for because we haven’t shown everything either,” he said. “And you just have to adjust.”

Stout defense has been a hallmark of Virginia Tech football and the Hokies ranked sixth among Power Five programs last year by allowing touchdowns on just 54.8 % of opponents’ red zone trips. There’s plenty of experience back under new defensive coordinator Justin Hamilton.

N.C. State went with Bailey Hockman at quarterback for the opening win against Wake Forest instead of expected starter Devin Leary, who missed extensive practice time while under quarantine. Hockman will get the nod again after throwing for a TD and running for one against the Demon Deacons.

“He had a laser focus throughout the week and he did a really good job prepping,” offensive guard Joe Sculthorpe said.

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