When the topic of Wake Forest running back Josh Harris came up Tuesday during his news conference with reporters, Virginia Tech safety Antone Exum barely flinched. Harris, you’ll remember, torched the Hokies for 241 rushing yards, including an 87-yard touchdown run, when Virginia Tech beat Wake Forest, 52-21, a year ago. It was the most yards an opposing running back has ever had against a Virginia Tech defense, and the Hokies haven’t forgotten about it.
“We have it on our mind. That won’t happen again this year,” Exum said.
What Exum may not realize, however, is that Harris’s status is in doubt for Saturday’s game. He suffered a hamstring injury during the third quarter of the Demon Deacons’s 35-30 upset over Florida State after gaining a season-high 136 yards. Coach Jim Grobe said Wednesday during the ACC’s weekly teleconference that Harris practiced on Tuesday, but the hamstring was so tight, “we really couldn’t do much with him.”
“I think our trainer kind of feels like by Saturday he’ll be full speed and ready to go,” Grobe said. “My problem is if he can’t practice, are you gonna be able to play well on Saturday, and that’s the key. . . . If you haven’t gotten any practice time, it’s hard to go and play well. We want to get Josh healthy, certainly, but he needs to get some reps if he wants to play Saturday.”
That, though, doesn’t mean Hokies defensive coordinator Bud Foster isn’t preparing for Harris. On Tuesday, Foster said he’s been talking about Harris’s record day since last week, when the Hokies were getting set to face Miami’s Lamar Miller.
Foster thinks Harris is the same caliber back as Miller, but that Harris is faster. He currently has 412 yards rushing and two touchdowns this season.
Harris also shares something in common with Virginia Tech running back David Wilson – he pulls double duty as a member of Wake Forest’s track and field team. He was clocked at 6.81 seconds in the 60-meter dash and 10.70 seconds in the 100-meter dash last year.
That certainly doesn’t bode well considering Miller picked up 166 yards, including 146 in the second half, against a depleted Hokies defensive front last week.
Foster said the big problem with the run defense this past Saturday was not recognizing Miami’s blocking schemes (zone or man-to-man), which left linebackers and safeties out of position as they came up to the line of scrimmage to support against the run. Foster also mentioned Miami “threw the kitchen sink at us,” with some plays and formations they had never previously used.
“That’s gonna happen against people of this caliber. We can’t just go out there and throw shutouts every week,” Foster said. “That’s just not gonna happen. It doesn’t happen at the next level and they’ve got the best players in the world.”
Exum said Foster is being realistic in the defensive meeting room this week as well, because with all the injuries the unit has suffered through of late, “he understood we had young guys in there so with young guys being on a big stage like this, mistakes are going to happen,” Exum said.
“In our room, when we watch film, and [Harris] breaks for long runs and we see the speed that he has, it just reminds us of last year when he was breaking for those long runs,” he added. “It’s going to stay in the back of our minds. We’re going to treat him just like we try to treat every other running back. Hopefully we keep a good running back from having a big day.”