Tech Talk Live Notes: Fuente and Williams Look For Improved Performances

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Virginia Tech
Buzz Williams wasn’t happy about his team’s performance on Friday. (Photo by Ivan Morozov)

Virginia Tech coaches Buzz Williams and Justin Fuente were Monday’s guests.

Buzz Williams

On how the team has responded since Friday’s game…

Not very good, I don’t think. We were off yesterday, it’s a delicate decision, I don’t know necessarily what’s right when you play three games in a week. How do you manage the week? We had early bird this morning because they were off yesterday. They trained this afternoon and did dummy offense, which is just five on none. Then we’ll practice early in the morning prior to leaving tomorrow afternoon, and then we’ll practice again Wednesday morning prior to the one-hour practice we get in the game gym. I didn’t think that we played hard. I thought it was the first time in a long time I had seen selfishness. I thought the body language was really poor, I didn’t think we were creating for others. I did not think we were great in supporting others, when a guy fell down we weren’t rushing over to get him.

I thought there was too much of ‘look at me, look at me do a good thing, look at me do a bad thing.’ I didn’t think we handled the officials in a respectful way. I was very disappointed. We watched a lot of tape together on Saturday, and then were off yesterday. I thought they were a little better today than they were on Saturday. My attitude and tone with you guys after the game, I always try to be even-keel even when it’s the good stuff because I don’t want to make comments until after I watch the tape. You get so wound up in the game and you end up saying things that you shouldn’t say to the team or to the public, and I think after watching the tape I was a little lighter than I should have been in my comments. I thought we were way worse than even what I said after the game. Ball State is really good. Ball State had a few opportunities to beat Purdue at Purdue on Saturday night. They’re really good, they’ll win their league I think, and they’ll be an NCAA Tournament team. They have two SEC transfers that became eligible. Their other three starters are returning and two of the guys they bring off of the bench were, in essence, starters last year. We’ll have our hands full. They do a lot of different things offensively. It was a tie game with five minutes to play at Purdue on Saturday.

On the difficulty of playing three games in four days after only having one game ahead of the tournament…

The players would always say they would rather play. Having the day off on Saturday is healthy for all of the teams. It’s a lot of information that you have to try and diagnose. The first game on Thursday won’t be hard because you have time to prepare. It’s when you have to turn around 24 hours later. What does the team need to know? You kind of have to stand by your normal philosophy, there won’t be a lot of tweaking because there’s not enough time to execute it. I told the team on Saturday, I made the decision that we would only play one game prior to this tournament. After that one game, that was not the right decision.

Hindsight is always 20/20. We were scheduled to play Kentucky in the Garden and Kentucky cancelled it. We could have utilized that game date this weekend and started earlier last week instead of Friday. We’re going to play Washington in Atlantic City, so I think every team except for us will have played two games when we get there. That was just the decision that I made relative to all the different numbers you want to study in non-conference. Whether it was the right decision or the wrong decision I don’t know. Playing Washington is a top 30 team or top 40 team, so if you win it’s a good decision. If you don’t, you should’ve played someone where nobody comes to the game because nobody has heard of the team.

On what was lacking defensively against Gardner-Webb with regards to paint touches…

As I mentioned to you, that is one of the things that we track. 61% of the time, when they had the ball, they got into the paint. They shot 55% once they got into the paint. A lot of what caused our problems, number one, we couldn’t guard the ball, then number two, we couldn’t guard the ball screen. Some of that was because of what took place in the first half with the foul trouble. We had guys not necessarily in their normal matchup. Part of it was, ‘It’s the first game, I’m not sure exactly what I’m supposed to do.’ Most of it was that we couldn’t guard the ball, and if we could guard the ball our ball screen coverage was poor. It got us into rotation which got them a paint touch.

On the moving screen fouls on PJ Horne early in the game…

I think both of those fouls on PJ were our guards’ fault. You have to be set prior to using a ball screen, and both of those were easy calls to make. Our guards were already going before P.J. even got to the point to, words we use, pop our feet. P.J. gets the foul, but technically it was a turnover on our guards for not waiting to use the ball screen. Our ball screen offense was poor, and our ball screen defense was below poor.

On officials calling games tighter early in the season to establish points of emphasis…

I don’t know many people that wake up and grow up wanting to be an official, but those guys that do, I don’t know that kind of folk, but I think they get together and talk about what they’re going to call and what they’re going to emphasize and how they’re going to set the tone. Two of those three guys, arguably relative to resume, that will be the best crew that comes to Cassell this year. It worked out that way because you were eligible to start the season on Tuesday, so normally everybody plays on Friday or Saturday. Those first games were dispersed between Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. Those really good guys are going to work four or five additional games throughout the year because the season has been extended. Those were really good officials that called our game and there are points of emphasis for every official, but those three guys will probably not work another game combined because all three of them are A officials, if you’re into grading officials.

On tweaks he had to make to his rotation due to foul trouble…

We had to play Ahmed [Hill] at the four for extended minutes, which Med is mature enough to do that. I don’t know if that necessarily translates to a team of similar talent, but KJ [Blackshear] and PJ combined, if they were both considered our fives, didn’t get to forty minutes, and Ty [Outlaw] had three fouls in the first half. We hope things work out the right way with Landers [Nolley] and that will get us more depth, but we were short, if you were to look at it numerically. It was hard for us to get to 200 minutes. We were disjointed early on relative to what foul trouble brought us, so that was a portion of all of it for sure.

On Ty Outlaw coming back from injury…

I probably should give him more grace. I put him in when he had two fouls and I apologized to him later that night. Ty is smarter than me and I know that doesn’t say a lot. I just subbed him in trying to sneak a possession down and back, not necessarily for him to make a shot, but they will guard him like he’ll make a shot. We had such a mix-match crew on the floor, I thought it would at least give us some space, and he gets a foul going after a long offensive rebound. If I put him in that situation, I should have at least given him some warning on the way to subbing in. I apologized, I was like, ‘You’re 29, I didn’t think I would have to tell you that.’

I think that I should probably give him a little bit more grace, I think he is an elite-level shooter, he’s very tough-minded, he’s very intelligent, he cares more than he can express himself about the team. He really cares about the team. He’s very thankful, despite the two years, one that was misdiagnosed, one that was an ACL tear, he’s very conscientious of his performance and he wants to do whatever he can to help the team. I probably should give him more grace, in that the last time he played a game prior to Friday was versus Wisconsin. I think so much of him that I don’t give him the grace that he is deserving of.

On being able to fix mistakes off of a win instead of a loss like last year against Saint Louis…

I told them this morning, that’s the good thing. If we were having these same conversations in game twelve then we have a lot of problems. That we were able to deduct and sense all of the things that I’ve mentioned in game number one, in a twenty-nine-point win, I think that’s a positive. The positive is only a positive if we’re able to correct it prior to a game. We make those changes daily as opposed to we can only change them during a game. We want to make those changes today, tomorrow morning, Wednesday morning.

I’m not saying we’ll be perfect on Thursday, but most of what my disappointment was in had nothing to do with the execution of our game plan per se. It was more all of the things that we can control. I think we have a mature group. I think we have a group of high-character kids whose parents raised them the right way, and when I was screaming at them at half-time and after the game, a lot of what I was saying was, ‘Your parents didn’t raise you to act like this.’ That’s hard for twenty-year old kids to hear when I bring their parents into it, but that’s the truth.  I have great relationships with their parents, and their parents didn’t raise them to act like that.

On the belt given to KJ Blackshear this morning…

We have a belt-winner. What we try to do is a belt-winner is given at early-bird. There won’t be a belt-winner next week because we are going to play three games this week, but there are certain statistics, I don’t know if any of them are in a box score, that we track during practice. We add those up, I think it’s eight different categories. Our guys know those eight categories and they’re constantly reminding the managers that are keeping up with it, ‘Hey, I got a point there or I got two points there.’ It’s just to reward them, but at the same time it makes them more aware of the things we think are most important to our program relative to practice. We do the same thing after a game, they’re called whiteboard stats after a game. Those are different categories that we keep, and the categories are always specific to the team, specific to the roster on the things that we think will be most important to our team’s success. I bought the WWE belt personally in 2009. It’s the same one, it’s the real one. A friend of mine is somehow involved with marketing with WWE and we traced one down and we got one.

On his cuff-less pants on Friday… 

Like I said, I thought I would be able to pay more attention to it. I haven’t got all of my stuff yet for the year, I was a little late when I got it all ordered. It should all arrive while we’re in Charleston. I have enough to get through Charleston relative to no cuffs in the pants, and once we get the 2018 version of what I’ll wear this season, I’m going to send back my ’17 and ’16 trousers and see if they can cut them down so I don’t feel old on whether I wear cuffs or don’t wear cuffs.

On staying focused on Ball State while also preparing for other teams in the tournament…

The staff, we’ve been [preparing] all day, we’ll be doing it after the show. They’re still over there doing it. Obviously, you have to focus on your side of the bracket first, then once we’re able to see those opponents in person, I think that will help. This is the only time in Division I that you can live scout. When I first started coaching, my first year, it was the last year that you could live scout, so I was out every night either watching somebody play to recruit or watching somebody to scout. I didn’t know who could play or what a play was, but I was in the gym.

There is a lot of work. I think Ball State is really good. We will have to be distinctly better than we were on Friday to have a chance to win. I don’t think our team is focused on anything else, but our staff has to have some level of preparation for all of it, and because of how we went about our changes in regard to prep, this will be the first opportunity that we’ve had of a tournament of, ‘Is that the right approach?’ or within multiple games, quickly, how can we help each other? Coach Layer does certain things for me, it’s all kind of dispersed. Devin [Johnson] is the head coach in charge of personnel, so Devin is in charge of personnel for both teams. Jamie [McNeilly] does nearly exclusively all of our defense, but he has grown up within our program helping me with offense. Lyle [Wolf] has begun to do a little bit of both and carry water in both buckets. Christian Webster is always focused on the opponents’ offense. Our new video guy is the first time I’ve had a real video guy. He’s been incredibly helpful to us in his regard, he’s a specialist, so I think we’re going about it the right way, but time will tell. Ball State, I think we’re going to have our hands full from start to finish.

On his former player Jimmy Butler being traded…

I talk to all of those guys, the guys you see on TV and the ones that no one has ever known. Joe Fulce, who is actually on our staff, signed with us when I was with Texas A&M as an assistant. When I became the head coach at New Orleans, Joe went to a prep school, I signed Joe at New Orleans. When I picked him up for summer school, I told him I was leaving to be an assistant at Marquette, and he was like, ‘What am I supposed to do now?’ He went to Tyler Junior College and spent a year of his eligibility there. Signed him at Marquette when I was an assistant, and by the time he got there, I was the head coach. He called me to tell me congratulations on being the head coach, obviously he was excited, I’ve known Joe since he was fifteen.

He said, ‘Coach we should sign my roommate.’ I go, ‘Who is your roommate?’ He says, ‘Jimmy Butler.’ I go, ‘Okay, I’ll send the papers to you and you just have him sign them.’ Jimmy never visited Marquette and Joe was the recruiter. I never sent Jimmy a piece of mail, I never called him, but I have a great relationship with all of those guys. The thing I can never speak to, I’ve never been employed in the NBA, so I don’t necessarily know the general manager who is also the head coach, and all of the assistants, and the cap space, and who is ready for a new deal, who doesn’t need to get a new deal, who do we need to trade. All of that stuff I’m somewhat familiar with, but he wanted to leave Minnesota. I don’t know that he necessarily handled it perfectly, but as the season unfolded it was obvious that he was ready to go. Did Minnesota get much in return? I don’t know. How is Jimmy going to fit in with Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz? I don’t know, but as far as their roster and talent, it’s really good especially in the Eastern Conference.

Justin Fuente

On how the team competed in the second half of the game against Pittsburgh…

They certainly did come out and compete. The defense came out and got a stop and the offense scored the first two drives. I told the kids, we’re going to evaluate the sideline and the people on the field and there’s a level of competitive and toughness that we expect. They didn’t bat an eye, they went out there and competed. Watching the film, they competed their tails off. We obviously didn’t play as well as we needed to in order to have an opportunity to win the game, but it wasn’t from a lack of preparation from our kids, I really got on them hard through the week about having a better week of preparation. They really practiced well. I talked to Bud [Foster], and James [Shibest] on special teams, and Brad [Cornelsen], we just didn’t put it all together.

On injuries affecting the depth on defense…

We lost House Gaines for the year, which puts us at three redshirt freshmen at defensive end, along with Emmanuel Belmar. Hopefully we get Emmanuel back, we didn’t have him last week. He’s played well for us, he’s been a physical presence in the run game, so hopefully we get him back along with the other three young guys who are playing. They have been playing, they played last week as well. By the end of the game, we were down a corner or two, I think we’re going to be okay there hopefully, we’ll see as the week goes on. We had a couple of guys on the offensive side get banged up, hopefully Dylan Rivers should be back practicing, so hopefully we’ll get some of those guys back that we haven’t had for the last couple of weeks.

On Houshun Gaines…

House does love this football team, I can tell you that much for a fact. I just walked out the door with him, I was leaving the offense and walking out to come here, and he was there doing some work and that sort of stuff. It’s like this in all sports, and House will be back next year, but your season can be over immediately, in the blink of an eye. That’s a hard thing to go through for anyone. Like I said, he really loves the football team, the camaraderie of it all, he loves practice and playing in games. Much in the same way, on a different level, when he went through losing his mother, the team and football was an outlet for him. The team will have to be there, we need to be here for him as he recovers from this injury.

On the kicking situation, with Jordan Stout taking over for Brian Johnson on an extra point late in the game…

I’m not unhappy with either of them, but Brian has missed a few in a row. They haven’t been gimmes by any means, they’ve either been a little bit windy or a long field goal, it’s not like they’ve been chip shots. I think we’ll let them kick a few in practice and evaluate it and see who we throw out there for the Miami game.

On his thought process on the sideline when deciding to go for two…

What we do because of the new rules, and this is an extra stress point for all of us, the new clock rules, after a touchdown, if there is no review, they put the ball in for play immediately, so if you’re going to go for two, you have to get it communicated. First of all, you have to get the right people on the field. Usually the PAT field goal unit almost runs out on their own, and you get the ball spotted because you can move it and all of that sort of stuff. We tell the kids ahead of time, we’re going to go for two if we score, so they all know ahead of time. I was really proud in the North Carolina game when we went for two, we handled that, and that was a big touchdown.

There’s another part of that which is time in game. I’m not a really big believer of chasing the points early in the game. I have done it once in my career, actually last year is the only time I’ve chased the points early in a game because we were playing what I believed to be a fewer possession game. We were playing Georgia Tech and we didn’t get it and we had to go again. It ended up not working very well, but we usually try to think about it in game. We have the statistical data, we have a book coming into every game that we actually outsource, we pay and it takes into consideration all sorts of external factors and so forth. Long story short, it is relatively standard, except there are a few coach’s decisions in there that you try and figure out when you’re down quite a few or maybe the fourth quarter has just started. We had one of those when I was at Memphis. We scored on the first play of the fourth quarter when there’s still quite a bit of time left. Trying to get all of that stuff worked out and make sure we’re on the same page is fun, I enjoy that part.

On trying to keep the ball away from Miami’s electric punt returner…

It’s certainly something we’ll look at. We’ve carried it into every game in terms of moving the pocket in the punt game or the rugby style punting. It’s something that we’ve carried every week and some weeks we’ve used it and some weeks we haven’t. So, I’m sure we’ll have it in the game plan, we’ll see if we need to use it. They have been very good; their return game is pretty dangerous.

On the Miami defense…

I hope there are [similarities] because they’re very good on defense this year. Two years ago, they came in here with three freshman linebackers, now they have three junior linebackers with tons of experience. They have three seniors in the secondary, they’re pretty darn good on the defensive line with some older, good players. I’m hopeful that is what we’ll look like in a couple of years in terms of guys with game experience that are more physically prepared and ready to play at that level.

On the Miami quarterback situation and how he would have dealt with it.…

My game was never really at a high-level, I played against other good people, but I wasn’t ever at a high level. When you’re struggling, you don’t like getting pulled out, but the way I was, I was part of a rotation particularly early in my career. I played before I was ready to play, I played as a redshirt freshman. It wasn’t that I wasn’t trying, I just wasn’t ready to play. I had some good and some bad, so they would pull me in and out. I didn’t like getting pulled out, but I also wanted to win, and I also didn’t like not playing very well. I think having some self-awareness for those guys, I never felt like it was a deal where you’re always looking over your shoulder, you were trying to get to that level where they knew they had to keep you in that game. That is the challenge for all players at any position, you have to make yourself so valuable we can’t take you out of the game. It’s hard on those guys, they’ve got an older guy competing with a younger guy, which is another dynamic as opposed to having a couple of younger guys in there duking it out. They’ve got a senior and basically a freshman I guess, the Perry kid, in there trying to compete. You see you’ve got some experience and then some young talent in there that’s learning on the fly. It makes it difficult because you’re searching for consistency out of that position and sometimes it’s hard to get.

On how his experience playing helps him to identify problems his players are having mentally…

I think that having some experience at that position readies you for helping that position succeed. I think it gives you some parameters of what you can actually ask that person to do at quarterback. Some of the time, coaches ask too much, they ask them to see that guy and that guy over there and that’s impossible. You can’t do that at the same time. So, having some understanding of what those people are capable of and evaluating what they’re good at and trying to highlight that, so they can be successful, having played that certainly helps. Handling the back and forth of that position and having lived that, gives you a little bit of real-world experience.

On Josh Jackson’s progression…

He’s progressing well. I haven’t talked to Mike Goforth about him, I didn’t talk to him about him today, but he goes out there and throws the ball around a little bit. I don‘t know how far away he is, but right now he certainly is not ready to go play in a game, but he’ll go out and dress out and throw the ball around a little bit. He’s definitely not full-speed yet, but it’s good to have him back out there.

On what has caused drops from receivers…

Eric [Kumah] had a big drop, and Eric has made a lot of contested catches, don’t get me wrong, I think he is one of the most improved players we have on our team. He’s really worked hard and has become a big physical presence. I’m really proud of some of the things he’s done on the field, but that drop early in the game probably stands out because, first of all, it’s so unlike Eric. He’s been so consistent and so good for us. As many plays as Damon [Hazelton] has made for us, he’s had a few of those issues there. That’s part of what we’re talking about is, ‘Guys, we’ve made some fantastic plays, going up over guys in the end zone catching long balls and make big plays. The routine things are what we’ve got to find a way to be more consistent.’ I think there is a little bit of difference [between Ryan Willis and Josh Jackson’s velocity], Ryan has a very strong, active arm, he gets the ball out pretty quick and sometimes the ball can get on those guys pretty quick. We’re to the point where they have so many reps with him, that shouldn’t be an issue. They have a good sense of timing; the ball seems to be on time most of the time and accurate. We need to be more consistent there.

On criticism and whether the players know what they’re fighting for the next few weeks…

Absolutely. I understand criticism and I get that part of it. Everybody wants to be good and so do I. I’m mad about it too, but I can’t walk around with a frown on my face and not try to get better, that’s not doing anybody any good. Don’t think for one second that we’re not all hurting and we’re not all heartbroken, I want those kids to have success and those kids want to have success. They absolutely are, we have guys doing extra and we have guys really working to improve and they absolutely know what’s at stake. They absolutely know what they do want to be a part of and what they don’t want to be a part of, but also they are straining right now. They are absolutely straining to be the best 2018 Virginia Tech football team that we can be. We understand that part of that can come with criticism and we get that. The fact that people on the outside may think that they know more than people who actually work with it on a daily basis, I get that too. I don’t fully understand that, but I understand that it happens. That’s part of it too, if you don’t like it then get another job. I love these kids and they are working their tail off and they are going to lay it on the line on Saturday.

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6 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Can’t win them all, but you can prepare to win them all. A life lesson for the young men who played hard sometimes but not very often. Keep grinding.

  2. I have a lot of confidence in Coach Fu . . . and I know we’re blessed to have fine young men on our team. Let’s go out there and support them on Saturday. Like the song says, “Win or lose we’ll greet you with a glad returning . . . “.

  3. another thing having no senior leadership hurts is relaying the message of the VT-UVA rivalry. without having those peers preach it day in and day out, the youngsters on this team may or may not even care about the current streak. yes, im sure the coaches preach it but its 100% different when your peers are driving the point home each and every day at practice.

    1. Oh, they know. Whether or no they do something about it is another can of worms, but they know what time it is on the UVa thing, Fo. Sho.

  4. For some reason, I needed that last paragraph. Hearing CJF express some emotion and passion for the kids improved my attitude. Go Hokies!

    1. Sorry but he only has praise for his favorites. A whole segment on Jackson snd another missed opportunity lost to praise willis..I’m pretty much done with Fuente and my golden hokie donation.

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