With Virginia Tech set to kick off their season vs. Liberty on Saturday in Lane Stadium, Head Coach Justin Fuente said during his weekly conference call with local and national media on Wednesday that he’s hoping to keep players from beating themselves.
“Anytime it’s the first game of the year, there’s always concern in terms of playing smart,” Fuente said. “You hear coaches talk about first game mistakes and we have tried to go to the ‘nth’ degree, in terms of addressing those things leading up to the first game. Whether it’s alignment and technique, or discipline on special teams, or on offense and defense. For me, that’s what I want to see us do. I’ll be pretty pleased if I see us minimize those first game things that can sometimes plague football teams.”
Fuente also said that the coaching staff has tried to keep Virginia Tech from overlooking Liberty, who finished 6-5 last season in the FCS and is replacing a bunch of talent on both sides of the ball.
“We make sure we address it,” Fuente said. “In any given week, we try to make sure that the focus is on ourselves and our preparation and the things that we can control. At some point, we do have to acknowledge the team that we’re playing and I think it’s important that we understand what we’re up against. I’m drawing on eight years of experience at that level, I know what it’s like for those kids.”
Jerod Evans, who was named the starter last week, will be making his first start at the FBS level on Saturday. Evans transferred from Trinity Valley Community College during the offseason, where he started eight games.
Even though Evans has limited experience, Fuente said he isn’t sure what kind of leeway he will have on the field.
“We’ll see how it goes,” Fuente said. “Long leash or short leash, Jerod isn’t going out there looking over his shoulder. If he were to come out for series, that doesn’t mean he’s not going to come back in. There’s some value in taking a guy out and putting another guy in, and letting the guy you took out watch from the sidelines and kind of see it from that perspective a little bit. We’re not going into the game saying that’s going to happen, but how it’s going to go or which way it’s going to go, I’m just not sure.”
Elsewhere on offense, the media and fans got their first look at the depth chart on Monday, which had players moved around in different positions. Bucky Hodges is listed as a wide receiver, while Sam Rogers is listed as the starting running back.
Fuente said on Monday that the lineup and playing time will depend more on what personnel groupings Virginia Tech employs, and he reiterated that statement on Wednesday.
“We try to come up with a number of players that we feel comfortable playing and then adapt our gameplan around those guys,” Fuente said. “Sometimes in my career, it’s been 18 or 19 guys. In some places, it’s been 12 or 13 guys. Whatever that number is for us, we’ll try and craft that to fit what we need to do to try and win the ball game. When you install an offense, it doesn’t matter what it is. There are a lot of good offenses out there. The two keys are, can you mold it to fit the personnel that you have, and can you fix it when it goes wrong? To me, that’s our challenge in installing a new verbiage and a new system.”
Fuente also said that he’s let Defensive Coordinator Bud Foster primarily handle the defensive duties and gameplanning this week and during camp. Fuente said that he’s tried to give plenty of authority and power to Foster and Offensive Coordinator Brad Cornelsen.
“I learned this lesson working for Gary Patterson at TCU. Gary was very involved with the defense, called the defense, was very involved in the gameplan, and he gave us a very broad structure of what he wanted on offense, but never once did he come in and tell us what to do,” Fuente said. “That didn’t mean that he didn’t come in and ask questions about why we were doing something or what we were doing. I’ve taken that approach my entire career at Memphis. We had Barry Odom as the coordinator and that’s the way we did it. He’s the head coach of the defense and the offensive coordinator of the offense and I’m the head coach of the team. We’ve taken the same approach with Bud. I figure if it was good enough for Coach Patterson at TCU, it would be good enough for me.”
“We’ve had conversations about it, but I do not believe in micromanaging the opposite side of the ball,” Fuente said.