Tech Talk Live Notes: Wet Weather Preparation

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Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech got experience playing in the rain against Duke last season. (Photo by Ivan Morozov)

Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente was Monday night’s guest.

On the 28 days for two games mentality in camp…

Early on in camp I wanted to try to paint the picture of the urgency in which we had to prepare, I mean we knew that we lost a lot of guys that had played a lot of snaps, mostly on defense, but also on both sides of the ball and special teams.  We had to get a group of guys ready to play really quickly.  Historically, we’ve been allowed 29 practices to play our first game, and through the new rules we were only allowed 25 practices before our first game. Then we had an added dimension of a short week for week two, so we started off with we have 28 opportunities to get better for two games. It’s really kind of staggering when you think about it, when you used to get 29 practices for one, we had 28 to play two games…everybody obviously was circling the Florida State game, we understood as a conference game, a road opener in a hostile environment on national television, regardless of what happened we had to turn the page to the next game in very short order.  We couldn’t go out and sleepwalk through the week, regardless of what happened, then in turn let one performance turn into another.  I wanted to try and inoculate ourselves a little bit, for lack of a better term, and prepare for the second week as well.  We just tried to paint like this Fall camp, we’ve got to get better right now, we don’t have time to waste.  We have enough time, but we don’t have too much time.  We don’t have time to waste, we don’t have practices to waste, and our preparation, every walk-through is important, every meeting is important as we prepare for 28 for two.  It worked out really well, I was really pleased with the guys, obviously we go on the road and get the win and then come home in short order and get our guys out there and they take care of business there pretty quickly, so it worked out pretty well. 

On the newcomers getting prepared for the week…

Yeah, no question, we try everything we can to simulate it the best that we can, but there’s still no substitute for experience.  Our kids handled all of that really well, and I think part of that is because of the older guys that we do have set a good example, for lack of a better term, took the younger guys by the hand and kind of led them through what’s expected.  I can tell them, but it doesn’t do us any good if I tell them and we’re not doing it.  The older guys set the example and bring those guys along. Then getting ready to go play on the road, like you said, in a tough environment, then right back home immediately. 

On having a regular schedule this week, outside of the weather…

That was the king of all short weeks, because of some of the places I’ve been, when I was at TCU, we were in the Mountain West Conference, and we played more Thursday night games.  We’d have two a year.  Then going to Memphis and being in the American Conference, we had several Thursday night games.  I’ve had some experience with making those schedules.  In retrospect, I talked about this in the press conference today, in retrospect, it was a super short week.  I’m not sure I quite understood exactly how short it was going to be until I was in the middle of it.  With the late return from Florida, and the earlier kickoff, usually you play an earlier game on Saturday, hopefully you’re at home, and then you turn around and play a night game on Thursday.  Well, we played a super late game on Monday and then a relatively early game on Saturday, so it was really condensed, we ended up chopping things out of the practice schedule as we went along. We got through it, and now we’re into some mode of regular operation, which is kind of nice. 

On getting younger guys in against William and Mary after struggling to do so against Florida State…

Credit the starters for taking care of business and letting us get guys in the ballgame and get them some experience.  I think it’s a great teaching tool for some of those inexperienced players to get in and play.  I probably lean sometimes to a fault more towards getting them in the game than not getting them in the game, and I weigh those decisions heavily whether it’s the quarterback or the free safety.  Trying to get guys experience, but you don’t want to let things slip up on you also.  It was nice for them to take care of business and allow us to get those guys in the game.  As much as the game experience is important, and the teaching off the film, I think there is a realization when you’re out there, too.  Coach Cornelsen and Coach Foster and Coach Shibest are all basing their calls off of the game plan, not necessarily the calls from Fall Camp or from two-a-days or from the Spring.  They’re calling gameplan specific things that you have to go out and execute, or it’s not going to look very good.  I think there is a little realization that, ‘Oh I need to be prepared every week even though I may not be the first person in line, but I’m one play away from getting in there and when I do get in there, there’s a level of expectation for my performance when I fill in for those people.’  I think it was a really good teaching experience for them. 

On changes how the coaches handle being up by so many points…

In week two, I’m so superstitious that I don’t want to talk about that opportunity until we shut all the doors in the staff room and say, ‘Hey, if this happens, let’s make sure we’re planning for what we’re going to do and who we’re going to go with.’  We talk about it and then nobody says a word about it the rest of the time.  We hope that we take care of business and those things get to transpire.  It’s a little bit calculated, take just the quarterback position for example.  You’ve got a couple of guys that deserve to get in and you want to try and let them do the things that they’re good at. Ryan (Willis) can really throw the ball, but you really don’t want to be up by too much and have a guy in there throwing the ball all over the place out of trying to do the right thing.  You try and pace that out a little bit.  Hendon (Hooker) throws the ball well, but is, as we all saw, a very good athlete running down the sideline.  I don’t know, we just tried to mix it all in there and have a good conversation about it and cross our fingers that we get to that point. 

On ball security…

It was really poor.  It’s a huge point of emphasis for us.  We’ve been fortunate that we’ve only lost one so far, but the ball is on the ground on the opening kickoff.  In my opinion, and I’m not just talking about Caleb [Farley], I’m talking about as a group, as people that are taking care of the ball, that’s a poor level of discipline and readiness to play.  Sure, we took care of business, and all those sorts of things, but that’s not indicative of what a good team does.  A good team doesn’t do those things, a good team has a discipline to have attention to detail at all times in terms of taking care of the ball.  There are going to be times when guys make plays and things like that happen, absolutely, but it’s something that if we don’t rectify it will rear its head in an inopportune time and cost us.  I told them in the middle of the game, ‘you guys can feel good and pat yourself on the back all you want, but the bottom line is, let’s watch these plays and there are plays from special teams, plays from defense, and plays from offense. If we don’t fix these things right here, these are on all of us, it’s going to hurt us, it’s going to hurt us bad.’  I’m not trying to take the air out of your balloon or make you not feel good about winning games, but I’m the reality check here and I’m the truth teller.  The bottom line is, if these things don’t change, if we don’t make a conscious effort to change them, whether it’s communicating in the backend on defense, or taking care of our assignments on special teams, or taking care of the football, then we’re all going to be in here on a Sunday and we’re going to have frowns on our faces.  We’ve got to do the best we can to prevent that. 

On taking away playing time as punishment for turnovers…

The ultimate thing, one of the things that we have is playing time.  When you have other capable people, it should create competition, it should create a pressure to perform and do things the right way.  It gave us the opportunity to take some people out of the game and limit their opportunities to contribute and have them watch the team still have success without them.  At the same time, we’re not flushing them down the drain either.  There has to be a learning experience there, there has to be a trust experience.  Every guy has made a mistake on the field, I made mistakes that nobody talks about because we won handily, but I still made mistakes, too.  We have to learn from those and use them as teachable moments and move forward with them. 

On the competition at punt returner…

Damon [Hazelton] did a good job when he went in there, and you know CJ [Carroll] has game experience, I just think he was just a little anxious to make a play, trying to do a little too much before he had the ball.  He’s got good hands and we trust him back there.  It’s certainly not a situation where he’s been removed from that opportunity.  We’re going to continue to evaluate it, look at it, and I’m sure, quite honestly, the weather will probably play a little bit of a factor in our decision making moving forward, like this weekend, depending on what the conditions are, and all of that sort of stuff.  It may be a little bit situational as well, as we move forward with it. 

On issues with snapping for Zachariah Hoyt…

I’m so proud of the improvements he’s made, and I don’t know where this has come from, quite honestly.  We go all Fall camp and all Spring and there’s no issue, and he’s really a productive player.  We’ve just got to get it ironed out, that’s the bottom line. We’ve got to get it figured out, and get it fixed, and get him comfortable again, because he’s got a chance to be really special in the middle.  He’s in a really hard spot and he’s really smart, he doesn’t talk very much, but he’s really smart and he has a chance to be really, really good.  But, we have to be able to handle the football first and foremost.  As we go through this week, we haven’t been on the field very much since the game, hopefully we can get it rectified so that everybody, you and me both, feel better about it. 

On dealing with issues that are mental rather than physical…

I don’t believe that’s a yelling and screaming thing.  That’s a, ‘let’s try and get this thing fixed, let’s try and solve this problem.’ There are situations that probably are yelling and screaming things.  Those types of things are not them, trying to get a guy comfortable and feeling good about whatever he’s doing. Whether it’s snapping the ball or throwing it or catching it or whatever it is.  Through practice, I believe confidence comes through practice and through repetition.  That’s why it’s kind of an odd deal, it’s not like this is a guy who’s just moved in there from playing left tackle.  This is a guy that has done it ten million times.  We’re just trying to get him comfortable again. 

On the different offensive line combinations they’ve used and how training players at multiple positions is beneficial…

I believe that.  Everybody would love to have the same five guys, and they all play the same and they all play next to each other every single snap, and they play for four straight years.  That just doesn’t happen. You don’t have a one group and a two group.  What you have is eight guys you believe can play at a high level.  Then you have to go about creating two offensive lines out of those eight people.  In order to do that, people have to cross train, in order to make sure your best five are on the field.  What you don’t want to have is your fifth-best lineman on the sidelines because he plays the same position as your second-best lineman. That doesn’t make sense.  Continuing to cross train those guys that can handle it, and we don’t do it with true freshmen and those kinds of guys, but as they get older in the program, they should be able to be versatile and give us what we call artificial depth.  Not true numbers of people, but it does let us be two-deep or sometimes three-deep at different positions because guys are flexing. 

On the performance of Terius Wheatley and Steven Peoples… 

Steven ran really hard, as would be expected.  I’ve never seen him do anything not full speed, it’s just what he does. He was hard to tackle, he’s got great pad level, he runs so hard and plays so hard.  Terius has just got a smooth, gliding gear about him that we really felt comfortable with. That’s why we started trying to get him the ball a little bit. 

On Damon Hazelton…

I’m proud of the development he’s made, I think he continues to get better.  I think he’s still learning to play without the ball, he’s still a young player.  As big and as strong as he is, as good-looking of a guy as he is, and some plays he’s made against good, quality competition, he’s still learning to play every snap and play without the ball.  When he figures that out, he has a chance to be a pretty dominant player out there on the perimeter. 

On the message for this week…

Well for us this week, we’ve got to be more accountable, we’ve got to take it upon ourselves as individuals and get ourselves better prepared to go play.   What I mean by that is, all of the things we’ve talked about in the previous segment, those mistakes we’ve made, it’s time for us to grow up a little bit, and start working towards eliminating those. We’ve got to take some individual accountability. Simply put, we have to just do our job.  Let’s focus on what our responsibilities are, let’s make sure we’re prepared to go do those, and that’s what we need to be focused on.  We don’t need to be focused on the weather, or who played last week, or who’s playing next week, or who’s going here or what’s going on. We’ve all been on the road, we’ve all been at home, we’re now in repeat performances, let’s dial in and get focused. There’s no more excuses of youth, or ‘I’ve never done it.’  There’s no more of that stuff anymore, let’s get dialed in on what we’re supposed to do and go do it as well as we can. 

On games that have been delayed or postponed…

I’ve had a couple of lightning delays at Memphis.  We had a couple games, I know my very first one as a head coach, we had a three-hour delay.  That’s about it, I haven’t really lived in a part of the country, quite honestly, that played its games on the east coast where this is a factor this time of year.  Most of it has been in the middle of the country, where it hasn’t really been a factor. I’m a little bit new at that whole deal, but I’m learning each year, they’re kind of indoctrinating me into it between North Carolina two years ago, and it wasn’t a hurricane with Duke, but it was a lot of rain, I know that, and now what we’re dealing with going forward. 

On the amount of wet ball practice.. 

Quite a bit, looking at the weather forecast, I think we’ll do that quite a bit.  What we do Thursday after practice, we do wet ball snaps, throw wet balls.  Whether it’s supposed to rain or not.  We do snap, hold, kick with wet balls, etc.  In my opinion, the cumulative effect of that is beneficial because you don’t always know when it’s going to rain, or when it’s not going to rain. When we’re facing a situation like this, much like we did a couple of years ago with North Carolina, we will bring that into practice.  What we won’t do is go for a full two hours with sopping wet balls.  It does affect practice, as you can imagine, it is a little bit harder.  There are some things we have to get done without doing that, but we’ll segment some time out and devote it solely to making sure we’re handling, or throwing and catching, or handing off, or whatever we’re doing, snapping and holding with wet balls for the game. 

On not punting on Saturday… 

I don’t recall one [game] where we didn’t have to punt.  I like that, it was a good thing…Oscar [Bradburn] didn’t! I don’t know that I can recall another one.  It was in the third quarter where they had that long drive, where they held the ball for nine minutes or something like that which took a big chunk out of it, but it’s pretty good when the punter doesn’t have to go out there. 

On Hendon Hooker being anxious to play… 

I will say this about Hendon.  First of all, you can always tell how players feel about other players when you get into that point of the game and someone makes a play, in the way that the sideline reacts to those guys.  The whole sideline made a beeline down there to congratulate him and he had a smile on his face that I could see right through that facemask.  That was a smile for the ages, I’ll remember that, he could not be happier.  He’s kind of a sheepish guy sometimes, but the smile he had was pretty cool. 

On this year’s East Carolina team… 

When I watch this team this year, offensively I think it’s the same.  They have players who can make plays on the outside, their quarterback has got two starts under his belt and he’s playing better, they can run the football, they have weapons, they’ve always had a plan there.  They’ve struggled in the last couple years defensively, by my estimation, they’ve struggled mightily.  They’ve hired a new defensive coordinator, you can see instantaneously as soon as you turn on the film that they have a plan, that they know what they’re doing, that they’re playing hard, and they’re much improved on the defensive side of the ball.  The result versus North Carolina was not a fluke, it wasn’t a one off, they played them toe to toe and they dominated the second half.  Their first game was a crazy game, when you see the score you have this thing in your mind of what happened, and then you watch the game and see how it happened, and it was really unbelievable.  I’m not trying to take anything away from North Carolina A&T, but some of the things that had to happen for them to win that game were remarkable to say the least.  They certainly got it turned around the next week for the North Carolina game and they’ll be ready to play this Saturday. 

On the East Carolina/North Carolina game… 

I wasn’t surprised because I had no preconceived notion going in, I hadn’t seen North Carolina play yet. You just never know who’s going to be perceived as good or bad, and the old ‘on any given Saturday’ deal.  They really dominated the second half, and I don’t remember what the statistics are, but in the third quarter North Carolina didn’t move the ball hardly at all. They got out on them, and then North Carolina was forced to throw the ball.  That fed into what they wanted to do, and the rest was history. 

On how practice can go up a notch after players get game experience…

Well that’s what we hope for, we hope that the possibility and the realization that you may play, or you actually did play, or you didn’t grade out as well as you think you would have because the last game you played was in high school. You have this understanding now that this preparation deal that these coaches keep talking about is actually important.  That understanding the schemes we’re trying to teach and the techniques we want you to use will benefit your individual success if you do them and learn them and operate them correctly.  That takes work and that takes discipline.  My hope is that as guys get in the game, as they get a little more seasoned, as there is a little hope for playing, or maybe getting a chance to rotate, or to earn that opportunity, that practice quality increases.  That’s why I always liked playing multiple people when I was in charge of the offense many years ago, was because the practice was better.  Guys knew they were going to play and they knew we could hold other people accountable because we had quality depth.  If guys weren’t doing it right, you just slide another guy in there, or if one guy was really hot you just leave him in there. 

On Reggie Floyd… 

He’s really done a good job and he should, he’s been there the longest, he’s got the most experience of anybody back there.  He’s set a good example, he’s always been a physical player, he’s always kind of relished contact.  He plays really fast, going downhill towards the line of scrimmage.  He continues to improve, and we try to demand more out of him as he continues through his career so he can be the best Reggie Floyd that he can be. 

Update on Ricky Walker and Christian Darrisaw… 

They’re doing well and we’ll know more as the week goes on.  I know that those guys are going to play if they can, and I know they want to play, they’re tough guys that will do whatever they can to get out there.  I just don’t know if that’s going to be this week or not.  That’s the truth. 

On Khalil Ladler… 

Khalil is developing an ability to play on the perimeter that requires some savvy.  You can tell a guy to keep his outside arm free all of the time, but that’s not always true.  If you can come inside and make the play, we’re okay with it, and Khalil has found that balance of quickness and intelligence and tendency reading and anticipation that’s really helped us on the perimeter.  I thought it was huge in the Florida State game.  They want to run the football, throw the football on the perimeter, which is kind of like running the ball outside, and chuck it deep, and do all of that as fast as possible.  There were times when they had numbers on us in terms of the perimeter screens, the plays where they’re just catching it and whipping it out there to the perimeter and they’ve got numbers, but Khalil is just whipping his guy and making the tackle, or they’re having to use two guys on Lad, so that somebody else is making the tackle. That’s pretty valuable.  

On unwinding after the long week… 

We drove home and I put shorts and a t-shirt on, I had a high school friend that was in town and he and his wife and kids, and they came over to the house and we turned the TV on, the kids played, we sat there and ate some pizza and relaxed for a little.  I watched somebody else sweat out third down and five for a little while. 

On the transition from gameday to relaxation…

I’m usually pretty tired.  By the time that thing is over, and Friday night before the game I’m ready to go to sleep. Then after the game is over, I’m ready to go home and just kind of relax.  Having the girls around playing and they’re getting, the older two at least, are getting into football and want to ask questions and are always curious about the rankings and all of that sort of stuff.  It’s fun to watch the games with them because they ask good questions, they’re into trying to figure out what’s going on.  It’s such a big part of their life, I think they’d like to know what’s happening.  I always like the fact that they ask those questions. 

On the karaoke during the game and whether his mind wanders during games… 

Not usually…it certainly wasn’t wandering against Florida State when we got stopped on the one-yard line, I can promise you I wasn’t looking around at what promotions they had going on. I was thinking we could have made it three scores and we went for it, but anyway, last week there was some opportunities to enjoy the environment and just kind of look around.  Brad Wurthmam’s doing some cool things with promoting the program and we’re tying it into some of our sayings on a weekly basis, and I think that’s really neat.  Our kids kind of like it because people are saying the same things that we’re talking about, which I think is kind of cool, so I did get to enjoy that. 

On missing the radio show for the short week… 

Oh definitely the worst part of the short week. No question.  I don’t know where we would’ve put it if we had it. It was pretty crazy.  I laid down at four, woke up at six and we were hitting it running.  It was pedal to the metal for a few days there. 

On the people of Blacksburg… 

People are awesome here, they’ve been incredibly respectful because I’m with my kids most of the time, or I’m either at home or at work.  If I’m out I’m with them, I’m not just saying that because they’re all sitting here, but the people have been incredibly respectful of our personal space.  Parenting in public is an interesting endeavor and the people here have been fantastic and I really appreciate it. 

 

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1 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. I found the last paragraph on “the people of Blacksburg” very interesting. Coach Fuente seems to be a man that enjoys his family life as much or more than coaching football. The ability to be able to have a releatively normal family life in a community that let’s him do this seems to be an important benefit in his life and a big selling point for him & VT.
    That isn’t the case in a lot of these blue blood towns & cities. A lot of these coaches can’t even go out to eat without being pestered by their fans. So when they start calling because they have an opening, don’t be surprised when he turns them down. He can reach his football and family goals at VT without the pressure and detrimental family life that comes with the blue blood programs….

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