As if peering down the line at what may very well await Virginia Tech, fifth-year senior defensive tackle Ricky Walker answered a question about the pressure of extending the Hokies’ 25-year bowl streak by referencing its other notable run – the 14 straight victories over rival Virginia.
What did Walker learn in 2014 and 2015 about staring down the potential end of the bowl streak?
“One thing I learned was to beat U.Va.,” Walker said after Saturday’s 31-21 loss to Boston College left the Hokies (4-4, 3-2 ACC) needing to win two of their final three games to reach six victories and guarantee themselves a spot in the league’s bowl lineup.
In three of former coach Frank Beamer’s final four seasons coaching the Hokies, Tech’s sixth win came in the regular-season finale against rival Virginia.
Walker was on the roster for the final two of those. In all, just six players remain from the 2014 team, and just over a dozen from the 2015 squad, the last one that felt the burden of two-plus decades of postseason appearances falling squarely on its shoulders down the stretch.
For most of Tech’s young roster, the iconic bowl streak was one of the recruiting lures the Hokies used to reel them into Blacksburg.
“It’s definitely a big thing, because it shows how elite this program’s been for such a long time,” said sophomore tight end Dalton Keene. “That was definitely something cool I thought about when I was coming in here.”
“I thought the bowl streak was an amazing thing,” sophomore safety Divine Deablo, who moved to whip for Saturday’s loss, said. “And I wanted to come here and keep it alive.”
Deablo and his teammates get the chance to do just that, starting with Saturday’s game at first-place Pittsburgh (5-4, 4-1). After that, Tech hosts disappointing Miami (5-4, 2-3) and then surprising Virginia (6-3, 4-2), which is already bowl eligible for a second straight season.
The Hokies need to improve a run game that ranks 10th in the 14-team ACC, averaging 166.9 rushing yards per game, and gets just 4.3 yards per carry, the fourth lowest mark in the league.
It has to inject life into an offense that has been going listless after halftime. Tech has been outscored 49-7 in the third quarter of its last four games, losing three of those.
And it has to continue to bring a long a young, inexperienced defense, even as injuries mount on that side of the ball.
Monday, third-year Tech coach Justin Fuente said cornerback Bryce Watts (forearm) may be done for the season and indicated the team isn’t sure if leading tackler Rayshard Ashby, an inside linebacker and former L.C. Bird star, will be back for Saturday.
There is still a pair of wildcards in all of this. The Hokies had their Sept. 15 game against East Carolina cancelled due to a hurricane. ECU has since scheduled a game against North Carolina State on Dec. 1, ACC championship weekend.
If Tech can find a 12th game, it would give itself one more shot to get win No. 6.
Also, if there aren’t enough bowl eligible teams to fill all the myriad bowl games, 5-7 teams can get invited, based on their APR scores.
Of course, either of those routes would lead to criticism of the streak being artificially extended. There would be talk of an asterisk next to the 2018 season.
The Hokies can avoid that by winning two of three down the stretch.
“I’m not worried about that at all,” Walker said. “I believe in these guys. I believe in this coaching staff. I believe in this team.”