CHARLOTTESVILLE — Virginia Tech fans in attendance at Scott Stadium scratched their heads when the defense took the field to start the game without starting defensive back Caleb Farley.
Just minutes earlier they had watched Farley participate in warmups and take reps with the first-team defense, but back spasms kept the All-ACC caliber defensive back on the bench in the 39-30 loss.
“He really wanted to go,” Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente said. “His back has been stoved up for the last couple of days. It was just one of those deals. He’s been battling it the whole season. He’s really been a tough competitor the whole time. He wanted to play, but couldn’t.”
Redshirt freshman Armani Chatman knew there was a possibility he could start, but didn’t get final confirmation until minutes before coming out of the tunnel.
“Caleb tried to give it a go,” Chatman said. “He said he wasn’t good, so I said I’ll step up and just do what I can, you know. I feel like I did the best I could do.”
Fuente praised Chatman’s play, but Tech clearly missed Farley, who came into the game with an ACC-leading 16 passes defended (No. 6 nationally) and four interceptions. According to Pro Football Focus (an analytics website), the third-year sophomore has the highest coverage among all Power 5 defensive backs this season.
Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins completed five passes of 25 yards or more in the second half and two of those went for more than 40 yards. Perkins was the fourth quarterback this season to throw for more than 300 yards against Tech’s defense.
“For a swing there, it was chunk play after chunk play,” Fuente said. “They did some nice things in coverage, won some one-on-one battles.”
Defensive coordinator Bud Foster pointed to some blown coverages in the second half where Farley’s experience would have come in handy.
Farley has weeks to prepare for Tech’s bowl matchup — players won’t find out their destination until December 8 — in a game that could potentially be his final one in a Hokies uniform, a possibility Chatman acknowledged when discussing the injury with Farley this week.
“We were talking yesterday in the hotel, also. I was just telling him it’s a draft year,” Chatman said. “He had a big year right here, but you know, after football, you have a life. So, I was like, ‘If you don’t feel comfortable with this one, you can sit it out and I’m going to step up.’ I feel like the coaches supported him with whatever he wanted to do, but you could really tell it was really hurting him.”