After so many questions surrounding the timetable of Antone Exum’s return from a torn ACL over the past 10 months, the redshirt senior cornerback’s season debut last week was rather anticlimactic.
In Exum’s case, no drama was a good thing. Virginia Tech’s first ever loss to Duke in Lane Stadium overshadowed the largely successful return of Exum.
“He played well as far as his man-coverage technique and running with the guys and everything,” said secondary coach Torrian Gray. “(He) didn’t get a lot of balls thrown at him, if any. The one play, James Gayle ended up hitting the quarterback (and) he was actually in position to get an interception on that particular play, but it never materialized.”
Earlier in the year, the Hokies had a wealth of talent and depth at defensive back, making Gray’s biggest puzzle what to do with all the talent.
The impending return of Exum was supposed to mean that the Hokies would have an embarrassment of riches at corner, too many talented players to get on the field at once. But after Kyle Fuller injured his groin and Brandon Facyson sustained a concussion in the week before the Duke game, Exum was pressed into duty without a security blanket.
But to his surprise, and the surprise of many, Exum wasn’t tested often against the Blue Devils.
“To be honest, I didn’t expect that,” Exum said about Duke not throwing at him much. “I thought they would at least take one, two, shots. They did try to throw to me one time but I think Gayle sacked the quarterback. But I thought they would throw at me a little bit more, the coverage was pretty tight to my side, so I think they just went the other way.”
The Blue Devils did go the other way, and Kendall Fuller made them pay with three interceptions.
With Exum returning to his old field-corner position, the true freshman moved to cover the short side of the field.
“I would say the first one or two days it’s kind of tough,” Kendall Fuller said on making the transition in positions. “You’re kind of lost because you’re thinking about the field corner and what you do there, but once you go one or two days, one or two practices, you start to get the hang of it.”
Tasked with covering Duke’s Jamison Crowder, Kendall Fuller limited the wide out to a season low in catches (four) and tied his low in receiving yards (38). Fuller also came away with three interceptions, though the total could’ve been significantly higher.
“(Kendall Fuller) had three picks but could’ve had five,” defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. “You know, he probably had the two easiest ones go through his hands. I can’t say enough about how those kids have played.”
The last time the Hokies came away with three interceptions in a game was Jayron Hosley against Russell Wilson and North Carolina State in 2010.
The youngest Fuller, a former five-star recruit and the nation’s No. 1 high school cornerback, is tied for the FBS lead in interceptions.
The sample size is small, but the Hokies' defense didn’t miss a beat while integrating Exum back into the starting lineup. The defense held an opponent to 10 or fewer completions for the fourth time this season, allowing seven completions to Duke and none in the second half.