BLACKSBURG — Virginia Tech corner Jermaine Waller’s latest interception came with West Virginia a first down away from closing out a 27-21 win.
When the Mountaineers lined up on third and 10, Waller recognized the formation before the snap — it was a screen to a receiver in the flat they had successfully executed in the first half multiple times — and jumped the route.
It was the type of play coach Justin Fuente has seen from Waller numerous times throughout the offseason.
“He’s a smart football player,” Fuente said, the week before the game. “He understands football. And those guys can go play in the NFL for a long time because they’re so smart ... you can put him in the slot, he’s a willing tackler, he understands the game.”
Waller has one interception in each of Tech’s three games and all of those have come in the second half. He’s already tied the career high he set in 2019 with three interceptions, but that came in 13 games (10 starts).
The interception also tied him for the FBS lead, an achievement Waller shrugged off when he was asked about it on Wednesday.
“Of course it’s a blessing, but I don’t look at all that stuff, honestly,” Waller said.
Waller did crack a smile over the number three when he talked about it in relation to how many games he’s played this season. The soft-spoken defender only played in two games last year thanks to various injuries and he’s happy to have already surpassed that milestone.
He said being healthy this fall has been “amazing” and he’s feeling as comfortable as he was in 2019 when he earned All-ACC honorable mention honors.
According to Pro Football Focus, he’s played 150 snaps this season, the most of any corner and fifth on the defense overall. He has 16 tackles (10 solo) with two pass breakups. He’s allowed nine catches for 108 yards on 15 targets.
Teams haven’t been shy about throwing at Waller this season, and he doesn’t think his early season success will change that.
“That’s what people talk about, but I come into a game feeling as though I’m going to be tested,” Waller said. “I’m going to make sure I’m prepared and not feeling like, ‘Oh, he did this, so they are not going to come at me in the game.’ A lot of time I’m pressed up in man coverage and I’m in the boundary, which means there’s a lot of easy access throws. I feel like they are always going to come to the boundary.”
This week his main focus is on preparing for a Richmond team that has a talented quarterback in Joe Mancuso and relies on a lot of pre-snap motion to try to trip up opposing defenses. Mancuso, who is a capable dual-threat option, has thrown 4,687 career yards (61%) with 32 touchdowns.
Mancuso’s top targets this season both have some size.
Fourth-year junior Isaac Brown is a 6-foot-1, 202-pound receiver who leads the team with 12 catches for 193 yards and two touchdowns. Former East Carolina transfer Leroy Henley, who is listed at 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, is second with nine catches for 131 yards and a TD.
“A lot of the touchdowns are blown coverages and people not looking where they are supposed to look,” Waller said.
Waller knows the defense was a little anxious on the road against West Virginia, but he doesn’t anticipate the Hokies having any issues on Saturday when they return home.
“Every week we come to play,” Waller said.