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McFarling: Hokies' no-quit spirit to be tested

McFarling: Hokies' no-quit spirit to be tested

Virginia Tech West Virginia Football (copy)

Virginia Tech offensive lineman Tyrell Smith (left) blocks West Virginia defensive lineman Taijh Alston during their September game in Morgantown.

Effort is not a given.

We feel like it should be. Beyond the compensation college football players receive — scholarship money, NIL funds, free Helen of Troy hair dryers at select bowl games — consider the investment they’ve made just to have a chance to play.

A lifetime of practicing. Hours of summer weightlifting and running. Early morning wake-up calls while normal students are sleeping off a night of revelry.

The games are the rewards, a dozen guaranteed adrenaline jolts per year. Every contest, then, should be a max-effort exercise, regardless of the team’s record, the quality of opponent or the atmosphere surrounding the program.

It isn’t. And we all know the fall-off when we see it.

Here’s hoping we don’t see it Saturday at Lane Stadium.

The best thing that can be said about this Virginia Tech football season — other than a festive prime-time victory in the opener — is that the Hokies have given everything they’ve had when it comes to effort. Intensity wasn’t the problem in losses to West Virginia, Notre Dame, Syracuse and even Pitt.

Last week was the first time the players’ emotional fortitude showed any signs of cracking. While it’s impossible to know what’s in their heads and their hearts — offensive struggles have a tendency to make teams look lethargic, no matter how hard they might be trying — the result (17-3 Boston College) was ugly and the reasons for it equally as troubling.

When coach Justin Fuente performed his video autopsy of that game, he identified two problems: blocking and tackling. While there’s technique involved in both of those tasks, they also hinge largely on desire.

Fuente’s not going to call out his team’s effort publicly. In his current position, that’d be the easiest way to get the fan base even more upset with him. But disappointment in his team’s effort level might further explain why his demeanor was so much different after the BC game than the others.

Fuente didn’t go out of his way to praise his team’s effort, as he (justifiably) had in previous games. He was soft-spoken and reserved. That’s disappointment, sure, and maybe that’s all it is. But maybe he’s also starting to wonder how much more his players are willing to give.

We’ll find out in short order. On senior day in Blacksburg, in comes a Duke team riding a five-game losing streak in which it has been defeated by an average score of 43-14. The Blue Devils look a lot more like a Ted Roof outfit than anything David Cutcliffe has put on the field during his remarkable tenure in Durham.

In other words, max effort should be more than enough for Tech to win. If only it were a given.

Déjà vu

Prime-time slot, ranked opponent, juiced-up home crowd and the biggest game of the year not being this one, but the one sliding the donut onto the bat in the on-deck circle.

Sound familiar? Yep. Virginia’s situation this weekend feels awfully similar to the one the Hokies faced Oct. 9.

Same opponent in Notre Dame, which has climbed seven spots in the AP poll since defeating the Hokies 32-29 in come-from-behind fashion that night. Same challenge on the horizon: a game against Pittsburgh the following week that has serious Coastal Division ramifications.

The major difference here is UVa’s quarterback situation. If Brennan Armstrong is healthy enough to play, by all means, he should play. A win against the Irish would be one whale of a pelt for Bronco Mendenhall & Co.

But if Armstrong does get out there and shows diminished skills? Mendenhall should sit him immediately. As much as the Cavaliers want to win this one, they have a more critical hurdle ahead.

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