Tech Talk Live Notes: Breaking Down the Duke Win and Previewing Notre Dame

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

Justin Fuente was Monday’s guest.

On how the team responded to the ODU loss against Duke…

We certainly put out a much better product, and not just because we won the game.  I just think everything from our sidelines, our emotion, our discipline level was improved dramatically in my opinion.  Our level of play was better, it was indicative of that.  I was happy to see our guys respond.  Our coaching staff did a great job getting the guys ready to play, and then our kids went out there and executed the plan that we put together.  All that being said, it doesn’t take that long watching the film to realize we still have a long way to go.  We have a lot of improvement to make, and that teaching cannot stop with our guys.  When you have a youthful group or an inexperienced group, we’re literally walking them through everything still.   I’m hoping that we can continue to retain that information, and sometimes it’s a little bit like the old movie, Fifty First Dates.  You get something taught, and they go home and get some sleep and the next morning they can’t remember any of it.  We’re kind of going through that, I’m hoping we can start to retain some of that going forward, but all-in-all a much better product.

On being a little more fired up on the sideline…

I don’t know if I was or wasn’t, but I do think that there is a level of this team needing some of that.  I think my first team here didn’t need any of that, maybe they needed that behind closed doors.  I felt like that maybe my role needed to change a little bit, trying to help those guys out and teach them what was competitive.  That was the thing that kind of bothered me the most in the game two weeks ago was, we thought in our minds what we were being competitive and what we were doing was not what true competitors would do.  Trying to teach them that, maybe I took that for granted after the first game, there’s just been some self-evaluation that I should do a better job with that, so I tried.

On gauging how much energy the team needs from him…

Well, it’s difficult.  You make some mistakes trying to figure it out and sometimes you just don’t know.  I think my overall feeling was in pregame meal, and our pregame meal is a little different than most people’s, it actually turns into a meeting so it’s very serious, our walkthroughs leading up to traveling through the game, I couldn’t really tell.  I was trying to judge where we were at emotionally.  I was really concerned that we were going to be scared to make a mistake, of course I can convince myself of everything good or bad, if I think about it long enough.  That was what was starting to go through my head, are these guys really ready to play, or they so uptight about what happened last week that they’re going to be scared to make a mistake?  They weren’t, they were ready to play, and you’ve got to kind of feel your way through it sometimes.

On having so many Tech fans in the stadium down in Durham…

It was really neat, and I’ll tell you why.  Two years ago, we went down there and I was in awe of our attendance two years ago in 2016, that was really my first experience. I don’t know how the games felt, but that was a beautiful day and it seemed like we had a whole side of the stands, it was really impressive.  Coming into this game, coming off of the ODU game, I thought it was a pretty impressive performance by our fans picking themselves up off the mat and getting themselves excited to go help our team try and win the ball game.  They were into it right from the start.  It’s just a huge reward for our kids because these kids really do put a lot of time and energy, make a lot of sacrifices to try and do the best that they can, and it’s a great feeling when they’re rewarded with support.

On the applause he received coming into TTL last week…

When you walk out on stage after what happened two weeks ago, you don’t know if you’re going to be dodging food or what. We certainly appreciate it.  We know what’s expected, I try and be honest.  It doesn’t mean you’re going to win every game, but it is our obligation to participate in the event in the right way and I really felt like we did not do that two weeks ago. To kind of be propped up along the way helps a lot.

On cornerback Jovonn Quillen’s performance on special teams…

We challenged Jovonn from the week before.  It was the entire team, I’m certainly not singling out Quillen, but his performance was much improved from a week ago on special teams, which led him to getting more reps at corner.  He’s an aggressive, physical guy.  We were really concerned about punt coverage in that game.  There’s going to be a lot of elements to that, but that punt returner was really special.  We did a good job of getting the ball up in the air, and Jovonn did a good job, and Divine [Deablo] once or twice, of getting down there and getting on him before the thing could even get started.  There were some times they had double teams on our guys, some dents in the coverage lanes, if we didn’t get it covered up quickly and he makes one guy miss, we could be in trouble.  Really pleased with the speed with which he played and hoping we can continue that moving forward.

On Rayshard Ashby’s performance…

He really played well.  I’ll tell you the play in my mind that really sticks out standing on the sidelines, we’re in our drop eight stuff and we have five guys in the box and they’re in their spread look and run a little fold draw in there.  They have enough blockers in there for everybody and he knifes under the pulling guard and makes the tackle right at the line of scrimmage.  When you can do that and cover in the back end, that’s a huge advantage for the defense.  I thought he played exceptionally well, just flying around.  He’s wise beyond his years, he really is a mature person and has been really good for us this entire year.

On playing three down with one stand-up pass rusher…

It started out as, it was going to be something we did in one or two looks.  Then, we started to have success with it all over the field so we ended up calling it much more.  I don’t think we went into the game thinking we were going to run it that much.  That makes everything else better too, gives you a wide range of diversity elsewhere too. When you can get pressure on the quarterback only rushing three, and hold up in the run game, and cover down, it’s a lonely tough feeling when you’re an offensive person and those things are happening because there’s not a lot of answers.  It’s a little bit like what Delaware did to us last year offensively, they played the same type of umbrella, soft coverage with three down lineman and head up techniques.  They were very stout and we didn’t move the ball very well at all that game, but they’re still covering down on the outside and it’s a frustrating feeling. 

On Tech answering the late Duke touchdown with one of their own on the Phil Patterson catch…

A big catch by Tre Turner down the sideline on third down, a good throw by Ryan, and good protection.  Basically, the offense had sputtered, it’s one of those hard situations when you’re up in a game and the defense says, ‘we’re not going to let you run the ball’ numbers wise and you’re forced into throwing it when you’re up, it’s kind of an uneasy feeling.  To get that extra score and answer and shorten the game and kind of wipe off that touchdown was really huge in the game.

On the receivers making active play on the football…

We knew that going in, they were going to play press man.  If we couldn’t make plays on the outside, it was going to be a tough day.  We missed our first couple, but I felt really good about it because we were getting clean releases, we were in good position, I liked the way our receivers were moving down the field.  I felt like we were going to be okay, but you’ve still got to hit them, and we hit a couple and got rolling a little bit.  To see those guys make those plays was big because we didn’t make those plays last year.  Cam [Phillips], who was as good of a player as we’ve had here, as the season went along through his health and his inability to handle press coverage, we did not make those plays.  To go out and make those plays against good people makes you feel much better.

On Ryan Willis’s first start with the Hokies…

Well needless to say, everybody is giving him a hard time about the slide.  That’s been a pretty regular thing that’s been brought up any time anybody sees him.  He was pretty embarrassed about it, but it’s a good teaching moment.  They mark you down, you’re protected, but you’re marked down where you start to slide.  Obviously he had the first down and slid and they marked it short.  He was pretty embarrassed, his face was all red when he came over to the sideline, he was pretty upset, but he did play well. He threw the ball accurately and on time, he protected the football. We did have a couple issues we need to get cleaned up, we had a fumbled exchange recovered, we had another mixed exchange when the back was on the other side.  Really pleased with him and happy for him more than anything. It’s not like I’m going to be mad at the kid, everything he’s ever done is everything we’ve asked him to do since he’s been here.  When you get to that point with those guys when they’re there every day and they’re working hard and they’re trying to do everything you ask them to do, you get to the point where you want to put them in a position to have success because you know what it means to them and what they’re teammates mean to them.  It was pretty cool to see the kids interact with him and be happy for him as he went out there and played. He’s such an excitable person.  Josh is so laid back and focused and concentrated and competitive. Ryan is like a puppy dog, he’s so excited and fired up.  He’s standing next to me like, ‘I’m having so much fun, I just can’t believe it, this is so much fun to be out there on the field, this is so much fun I love this.’  I’m like, ‘Ryan, be quiet. This is my turn to talk.’  You can’t help but love him because he’s just got such a great outlook, he’s been through all kinds of difficulties throughout his career.  I’m really proud and happy for him.

On the Hokies’ inability to get the run game going against Duke and how that put more responsibility on Willis…

Early in the game, Duke was really rotating their two-high and their one-high stuff and we ran the ball pretty well into their two high stuff and hurt them a couple times.  They said enough of that, we’re loading the box, we’re going to make you throw the ball to win the game.  Even with that, we had a couple things in the run game we could have really hurt them with in my opinion that we didn’t.  To see it fall on his shoulders, to have to go make plays to give us a chance to win the game.  I felt good, he can throw the ball, he’s got talent, he’s certainly not out there void of any ability to make plays, and he’s a lot better athlete than people give him credit for, he runs pretty well.  When you go through your career and go through what he went through, which is playing early on a team that struggled mightily, it can break your sword, it can hurt your confidence, and for him to get a fresh start and get an opportunity and play well is pretty rewarding.

On Josh Jackson’s injury and Hendon Hooker’s involvement in the offense…

Josh is doing well, surgery went well.  He’s around the office, he’s on crutches, so I’m reluctant to have him on the sidelines, I don’t want him to get rolled up on, he can’t get out of the way.  He’s healing well, everything is going well, he’s got a great outlook and a positive attitude. He wants to still contribute on the football team, which he will.  He still has a role to play and he’s going to do a really good job of that.  Hendon, Brad and I talked going into the game about, not pulling Ryan out for an extended period of time, but maybe it would be a good idea if we did work Hendon in a little bit in case he has to go full time.  It wasn’t a situation where he only has three or four plays, he’s the backup quarterback, he’s working on the whole game plan. We just felt it would be wise to go ahead and work him in and give Ryan a chance, I talked about how he’s an excitable kid, to come out and get a cup of water and take a deep breath and let Hendon go in there and play a little bit.  I haven’t talked to Brad about this particular week, but that’s something we’ll talk about on a week to week basis.  Hendon performed well and got plays called and people lined up and executed at a high level when he was in there. 

On the punt returner situation…

We’ve always felt pretty good about CJ [Carroll], he’s just got to get that confidence that he had a couple years ago back there back.  I felt like the other night was good for him, he had one where he took a couple steps to the right and put his foot in the ground and got north and south and got positive yardage.  My deal with Damon [Hazelton] is fair catch the ball man, the ball is up in the air forever, we can’t hold them out of there forever.  He’s just got to continue to get a good feel for that.  The problem with that is you’re not looking at the guys coming down the field, we don’t want them looking at the ball, looking down, looking at the ball, looking down, so there is a little bit of feel for that and a sense of timing.  Quite honestly, we’ve been spoiled with Greg [Stroman] back there the last couple years, he had good decisions, good judgement, good hands, and he obviously could take it to the house.  I was pleased that CJ got in there and did a good job and we’ll want to keep bringing him along.

On the fake punt he ran early in the game…

Did you like that one? How about that?  Mike, you’re awesome at bring up such good memories.  So we’ve been practicing that since camp started.  We had it for the Florida State game, we had it for the second game, we’ve had it forever.  I’m going to say this on Ricky [Walker] because I love him, but Ricky is in charge of it, he’s supposed to send the guy in motion and snap the ball.  He runs out there and just snaps the ball and doesn’t send the guy in motion.  So we’ve got an extra guy over there.  We’ve been practicing this for two months, one play, we only run it one way.  So he doesn’t send the guy in motion and Caleb runs out there and falls down basically, short of the first down.  So I walk over to Ricky, and he has this look of almost a second grader who just spilled glue all over the floor.  He looks at me and I just said, ‘Ricky, just go play defense dude. Don’t worry about it, it’s over.’ They went out there and got a turnover and got it back and all was right with the world, but golly what a mess.  You all want to know why my hair is grey? Why I’m overweight? There you go.

On Terius Wheatley on kick returns…

He’s got a good feel for it.  We were really close, one block away by a true freshman who just lost his guy over the top, from taking that one to the house, or at least putting him on the kicker.  He’s really got a good feel, he had two returns the other night.  One of them we had a guy in the hole and he made him miss and we got an extra ten or fifteen yards and he’s got a little bit of patience, he’s got enough strength and speed, he’s kind of a glider, he never seems like he’s trying very hard, but he’s running at a good rate, I promise you.  I feel really good about him, he’s going to continue to get better as his career goes on, as he continues to get stronger, his body has changed a little bit already, it’ll continue to change.  He’s got a change to be a really good player for us, and not just on kick returns, but on offense as well.

On the Notre Dame Fighting Irish…

Very talented across the board.  They’ve played great defense the entire year, I forgot what the number is, but they’re giving up an average of something like nineteen points a game against some good people.  In the last two weeks they’ve exploded offensively with the change at quarterback.  I expected to turn on the film and see a guy standing in the pocket throwing it all over the place, but that’s not what I saw, I saw a good athlete back there that can throw the ball.  He’s made a few plays with his feet, I don’t mean like quarterback run game, I mean he’s dropped back to pass, guys have been covered, he’s moved to the right and dumped it off and found ten yards, or he’s scrambled around and got six yards, when everybody is covered.  He’s kept them on the chains and they can run the football too, they’re really talented in all areas.  I think they’re defensive line stands out the most to me just in terms of their ability to control the line of scrimmage.  Handling movement will be important just like it was last week.  It’s a little bit like Duke, in that this group likes to move around quite a bit.  We’ll get some more tight coverage in the back end, we’ll get some man coverage, and they’re very good on special teams, so it’s going to be a heck of a challenge.

On the excitement and atmosphere of a game like this and how it affects preparation…

There’s a lot of layers to that, we’ll have an unbelievable recruiting event.  For the elite players, draw a big circle, I don’t know, within five hours, this is the game.  They’re all coming, so it’ll be a really special event from a recruiting standpoint, many of the other sports use those as well, I’m sure they’ll have big turnouts.  Then you have your own personal people that show up and need stuff, Jenny does a great job handling that stuff for me because that drives me nuts.  There is a lot of stuff, but you have to remember there’s a tremendous amount of work to be done.  You can imagine the players too, they’re going to class, they’re studying, they’re trying to prepare for a game, they’ve got the same issues.  Family members, or long lost family members that want to come to games, or buddies that went to school with them in kindergarten that want to come to the game.  You’ve got to keep them focused on the task at hand. 

On the monument being dedicated to his predecessor Frank Beamer…

I think it’s fantastic.  Not just the monument, but the chance again for all of us to honor Coach and all he’s done for Virginia Tech, Virginia Tech athletics, and obviously the football program.  He’s much more than a football coach here.  I think it’s just another great opportunity for all of us to say thank you.  We’re striving every day to build on the foundation and the legacy that he left here, and how he coached his teams and how he prepared them and the success they had on and off the field. 

On the tradition of a special teams player wearing Beamer’s 25 in every game…

I’ve enjoyed that, I think the neatest part about it is, one, for us.  The kids have really enjoyed it.  As the years go by, there are less and less kids on the team that know coach, so it gives us an opportunity to teach them about what coach means to Virginia Tech.  We actually take an evening in Fall camp, and we get up and talk about, not just special teams, but the transition of Virginia Tech through different leagues, and growth, because I’m not sure our kids know that stuff. It’s a really cool opportunity in Fall camp for us to educate them, not just on coach, but on growth and the school.  Then, also every week we get a chance to brag on somebody and give them number 25.

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10 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. I’m still worried about our pass defense. Several long passes were dropped by Duke receivers. Had they been wearing ODU helmets, it might have been another rout.

  2. I think putting HH in for a few plays was also for the benefit of RW. Sounds like RW is a little “too excited” sometimes and the break in plays gives Coach some time to talk to him. These are things coaches see in practice that we don’t. Glad we have coach Fu!

  3. “Ryan is like a puppy dog, he’s so excited and fired up. He’s standing next to me like, ‘I’m having so much fun, I just can’t believe it, this is so much fun to be out there on the field, this is so much fun I love this.’ I’m like, ‘Ryan, be quiet. This is my turn to talk.’”

    LOLOLOL

    Secondly, playing HH and ONLY RUNNING HIM is idiotic. Every defense knows whats coming. everyone says it was to set up a HH throw later in the game but that obviously didnt happen. IMHO, a backup QB is just that, a backup. he doenst need to come into the game. they didnt let RW come into the game for 4-5 plays while JJ was starting……

    1. Because RW had already started 10 games in college

      HH has not. If HH had broken off a TD run, you’d be talking about what a great change of pace it was.

      Hooker has similar arm strength to Willis, but he needs to see live reps.

      1. Did anybody get any live reps last year ? Even when it was clear that Jackson was hurt or not having a Good Game ?? Hooker getting shotgun plays is What ?? Motley again…

  4. Could not have picked a better coach with a better attitude about following the Legend of VT. Fuente embraces following Frank – there’s not a bit of jealousy about it, no looking for a “this is my team now” moment, no fear or hesitation in keeping Franks #1 coordinator on the staff. This transition should be in coaching textbooks, if there is such a thing and if there’s not, name a better scenario to start one.

  5. The fake punt has come up a couple of times and Fuente has deflected it by explaining the muffed execution but no one has been able to get him to answer why he called it in the first place. FWIW I really liked the call, didn’t see it as desperate but rather as a sign that we were going to be the aggressor and bring the game to Duke, not just sit back and play rope-a-dope with them. Still, I would be curious to hear what his rationale was, guess we will never know.

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