Trailing 16-7 with just under 11 minutes to play in the third quarter, Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente needed to change something in an attempt to jump start the running game against North Carolina. True freshman quarterback Quincy Patterson II was Fuente’s answer.
The highly-touted signal caller garnered his first collegiate snaps on Saturday with a specific package designated for his power running style that he showcased at Solorio Academy in Chicago. On first-and-10 from the Tar Heels’ 40-yard line, Patterson faked a jet sweep to Sean Savoy before rumbling forward for seven yards. After a gain of two by Jalen Holston, Patterson ran the same play on third down, faking it to Savoy before using all of his 6-foot-4-inch, 236-pound frame to pick up the first down and four yards.
“He did a good job,” Fuente said. “It was a situation where we’ve talked about it really the whole season. Really just wanted to have a few things for him, and put him in there and let him go a little bit. That situation I don’t think was any different than any other situation. We had just gotten a little going, and we were trying to get something running the football. Trying to get the extra hat in the quarterback run game, which was kind of our thought. We had some other stuff that we didn’t get to with him.”
Patterson only took those three snaps, and recorded two carries for 11 yards. More so, it gave the coaching staff a glimpse of the spark that Patterson could provide in spurts, and it demonstrated the trust that Fuente had in Patterson to put him in the game down two scores in the second half.
“He’s continued to get better, and we’ve always felt pretty comfortable with some things with him,” Fuente said. “We talked about it again heading into last week because we do every week, and we felt like maybe it was a good time to have him handle a package of things and get him into the game.”
After not playing through the first five games of the season, it was all but guaranteed that Patterson would redshirt. Now, the waters are a little murkier. Fuente didn’t rule out the possibility of Patterson playing in more than four games.
“We’ll take it week-by-week as we see how things go,” Fuente said. “I really believe it’s just too hard to say exactly what’s going to happen because there’s a lot of football left to be played and things can happen. If he plays in some other games and we get close to that four-game mark, we’re already having those conversations, but then we’ll make a decision on where we want to go. If we get past the four games, I’d like for it to be worthwhile.”
That being said, Fuente made clear that Hendon Hooker is still the backup quarterback, but it’s an area to monitor going forward to see how the Hokies continue using Patterson.
Concerns with the Running Game
Patterson provided a boost in the running game against North Carolina, and starting quarterback Ryan Willis was the leading rusher with 15 carries for 88 yards and a touchdown.
Take that away, and what were the running backs trio of Steven Peoples, Deshawn McClease, and Jalen Holston able to contribute on Saturday night? Just 59 yards on 23 attempts (2.57 average) against the Tar Heels and their second-worst rush defense in the ACC (only behind Louisville).
“The North Carolina game, I was pretty disappointed in our ability to run the ball, quite honestly,” Fuente said. “We talked about the week before and how the game went, but not real pleased with it this past week.”
Just a week earlier, Virginia Tech only totaled 116 yards on the ground, excluding Willis, but that was mainly because of a twist in the game plan to attack Notre Dame’s defense through the air. The duo of Peoples and McClease only had 15 combined against the Fighting Irish. The downfall of the running attack against North Carolina was mainly due to lack of execution.
“I think it was several factors,” Fuente said. “We didn’t handle movement very well. They played us in a little more one high. You always know going into a game with a team that’s had a bye week beforehand that you’re going to get some different stuff. I think it was a byproduct of several things. We had some easy, I should say routine, plays that we did not make that really hurt us to try to get out of some things, or try to make things a little bit easier for us in the running game and the passing game. When we didn’t make those, it put us behind the chains, and it didn’t dissuade them from what they were doing.”
The Celebration Tackle
Shortly after the clock struck zero, cameras caught Fuente jumping on defensive coordinator Bud Foster and falling to the ground in celebration. It was a rare moment for Fuente, usually a guy who’s very business-like, to exhibit a fair amount of emotion following Virginia Tech’s thrilling come-from-behind victory.
It’s a testament to the fact that he’s all-in for this football team. His chief concern, though, was making sure he didn’t injure Foster in a celebration gone wrong.
“I wasn’t intending to tackle him,” Fuente said with a grin. “I was just happy. I felt bad when he went down. I tried to grab him and keep him from going to the ground. I felt like he kind of pulled me down to the ground too. I was just glad he wasn’t hurt. That was my first concern. He’s had a bum knee, and I’m glad he’s all right.”
Foster, on the other hand, marveled over Fuente’s form on the tackle. He would take a hit like that every game if that’s what it meant for the team to win.
“I think he put his forehead right on this VT right here,” said Foster, pointing to his chest. “He’s a little heavier than I am right now. I think I’ve dropped about 15 or 20 pounds chasing these young defensive guys around. He put me down pretty good, but if we can do that after a win every time, I’ll take that. I used to be able to do that myself, but there’s a thing called A-G-E that’s kind of factored in here a little bit.”