After enduring a stressful short week to prepare for Georgia Tech, the Virginia Tech football team has had a restful week of practice to get ready for the visiting North Carolina Tar Heels.
Saturday’s Homecoming matchup with UNC will be a meaningful ACC contest, and the team has prepared for it amidst the return of a star, an intriguing position shift and some good injury news.
When cornerback Antone Exum tore his ACL in the offseason, his first goal was to come back in time for the season opener against Alabama.
Obviously, that didn’t happen.
But after another month of rehab, doctors cleared Exum to resume full contact activities this weekend, and he plans to jump right in.
“I need to play in a game,” Exum said. “That’s probably my biggest rehab at this point — playing in a game and getting that experience, so I look forward to it on Saturday, getting some game plays under my belt.”
While game experience might be important, the Tar Heels represent a challenging opponent.
UNC runs a fast-paced spread offense, led by quarterback Bryn Renner.
“They like to throw it around. They’ve got a couple weapons and a good quarterback,” Exum said. “So it’s definitely a test, I came back right in time to get tested. I know they’ll come at me.”
But with a full week of practice ahead of him, Exum should have plenty of time to return to his 2012 form.
“He was good on some things, he’s got a little rust to shake off,” said defensive backs coach Torrian Gray.
Although the Hokies lost last year’s game to the Tar Heels in a blowout, Exum was still a key cog in the defense, recording two big pass breakups. But Gray warns not to expect that level of play quite yet.
“You look at last year against North Carolina, he made some unbelievable plays,” Gray said. “It’ll probably be a week or so before you see that Antone again as he works himself back in, he’s knocking off some rust.”
Exum might not be his old self just yet, but if he’s close to full health, he’ll start at cornerback.
That will push Brandon Facyson, the nationwide leader in interceptions, out of the starting lineup, but coaches are hoping the two players will split time at the position.
“It’ll depend on practice, but he’ll play half the snaps and Facyson will play half the snaps and we’re evaluating through the week,” Gray said.
Some have speculated that Exum could move back to his old position of safety to replace the struggling Detrick Bonner and keep Facyson on the field.
Yet, both the coaches and Exum himself insist that he’s staying put.
“We’ve got two very good safeties, Antone’s a corner and that’s his position,” Gray said.
Instead, the coaches have devised a different solution to keep Facyson on the field.