CHARLOTTE — Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente was mindful of the wear and tear on his true freshmen offensive linemen going into the Belk Bowl.
Fuente decided to start Zachariah Hoyt in place of Bryan Hudson at center and T.J. Jackson for Doug Nester at right guard in a 37-30 loss to Kentucky. Nester ended up rotating with Jackson after the first quarter.
The freshmen linemen weren’t limited when the team practiced at Mallard Creek High School in Charlotte on Friday during an open viewing window for the media, but Fuente was cautious about adding to the heavy workload the duo had this season.
“You know, those two freshman linemen are just, they’re at the end of the year,” Fuente said. “…They’re not injured and out, they can play, but they’re true freshman guys that were at the end of the year and those things kind of took a toll on them.”
The Hokies turned to members of the 2019 signing class to shore up their struggling offensive line all the way back in Week 2 against Old Dominion. Nester started the game at right guard and Bryan Hudson came into the game after halftime at center.
Hudson, a four-star signee out of Scott County in Kentucky, played pretty much every meaningful snap the rest of the regular season. Nester, a one-time Ohio State verbal commit that flipped to Tech on signing day last year, rotated with Austin Cannon at times, but started 8 of 10 games.
While Fuente rarely discusses injuries, he offered some details about the physical beating Hudson took this year.
“Bryan has a broken right thumb and it’s been broken for a while,” Fuente said. “He’s been trying to handle snaps, his ankle is banged up.”
Tech quarterback Hendon Hooker said Hudson epitomized the team’s “hard, smart, tough’ approach this season.
“He’s a trooper,” Hooker said. “In our program, no excuses and no feelings. So you just got to push through everything.”
Hoyt started nine games last year (seven at center), but his only start this season came in the opener against Boston College. The fourth-year junior suffered an injury in the game and played sparingly the rest of the regular season.
The Belk Bowl was the first time Hoyt snapped to Hooker in a game.
“It’s not really new,” Hooker said. “Me and Hoyt, we’ve been together since I came in, with the twos. So just being with him is not really anything new. Being with Hud, it wasn’t anything new. Just getting reps with everyone has been the main thing over time. So it was no problem.”
Tech’s line held up well against Kentucky’s stout defensive front. The Hokies allowed only two sacks (one in each half) and the offense had 33 carries for 219 yards averaged a season-high 6.6 yards per carry.
“We were off balance,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. “I think that’s a credit to them… It was one of the more aggravating games of the year for us. And you have to credit them, they did some good things and kept us off balance.”
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