BLACKSBURG — Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente offered a brief scouting report of Virginia at the top of his press conference on Monday.
The first player he mentioned was a bit of a surprise.
Fuente discussed all the ways that talented dual-threat quarterback Bryce Perkins can beat opposing defenses, but that was after he noted the Cavaliers “fantastic” wide receiver slash kick returner Joe Reed.
Reed has returned 21 kicks for 743 yards and two touchdowns this season. His 35.4 average is ranked No. 2 in college football. He’s returned 16 kickoffs 20-yards or more and three of those have gone for more than 70-yards.
“They have really helped their team not just with points, but field position,” Fuente said.
The receiver isn’t a one hit wonder either.
Reed is a four-year starter at the spot with 2,989 career kick return yards (29.0 yards per return). He is the only player in FBS history to have 2,700-plus career kick return yards and a career average per kick return of 28-plus yards. He has five career return touchdowns.
With 11 more kick return yards he will become only the 10th player in FBS history with 3,000 kick return yards. Trying to come up with an effective strategy to slow Reed down isn’t easy.
“It starts with a great kick, but I think what has separated them in their kickoff return unit is...most of the time we know where the ball is going to be kicked, so sometimes people will try to kick it across the field or sky kick it or whatever to kind of mix up your returns,” Fuente said. “To me what they’ve done is hurt people when they try to do those things, which has only added to the danger for their return units.”
Virginia Tech will rely on kickoff specialist John Parker Romo to help neutralize Reed. Romo has 42 touchbacks on 55 kickoff attempts (76%) and averaged 64.2 yards per kick. If Romo can’t send it through the back of the end zone then Tech’s coverage units will need to do their job.
Opposing teams have only averaged 17.7 yards per return this season (No. 15 out of 130 teams).
“Winning with speed down the field is paramount, avoiding with proper leverage is really important, it’s going to take a group effort,” Fuente said. “It’s going to be all 11, the kicker is going to play a role in it too.”
Virginia Tech’s secondary will also have to keep an eye on Reed, who leads Virginia with 61 receptions and six receiving touchdowns. He’s third on the team with 561 receiving yards.