Tech Talk Live Notes: BC Recap, Young Player Development, and ODU

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Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech
Justin Fuente was Monday night’s guest. (Ivan Morozov)

On moving past the loss to Boston College…

It’s pretty self-explanatory, I think. I think the kids understand it too. We put it all in front of them. You all will be happy to know; we just had a staff meeting and we went through special teams and all that sort of stuff. I jumped in the car and rushed over here and called home. Of course, my dad is on the phone and my mom is on the phone and we’re all talking while I’m driving 100 miles per hour over here to not be late. My dad wanted to talk about quarterback play, so you’ve got to be happy to know that it’s coming from all areas.

There were some choice words from me in terms of how we played at quarterback. I don’t want to oversimplify things, but we had two things there. We had a great effort, grit, and determination to fight, scratch, and claw and try to find a way to win the game. We also had poor execution on both sides of the ball and in special teams. We have to understand that it’s more than trying hard. Life is more than trying hard. You don’t get to say, ‘I tried my best, so I get to win.’ That’s not how it works. There’s a level of execution that goes into everything that we do.

We have to raise that level, so we get the rewards that we all seek. Sometimes, you get both of them and don’t get the rewards that you want. I think our kids have a good understanding of that. You can see it in every position group. You can see it in all three phases of the game. Some of them are maybe not as visible to the naked eye as people on the outside would see, but I think we can glean confidence that these issues are correctable.

We still play quality people and they’re still going to force mistakes and make plays; those things are going to happen. We did have some things that we absolutely can fix. We played a good football team, did not play very well and had a chance to win the game at the end.

On the mistakes on Saturday… 

We’ve got a great group of guys. We just need to get that great group of guys playing to the best of their ability. Whatever that is. Our kids can see that we had opportunities that we handed away. I always hate this because I don’t want to take away from what the other team accomplished. It’s pretty obvious that we made some pretty big mistakes that hurt us. If we had cut those in half or a third, we still might have found a way to win the game.

On Hezekiah Grimsley as a punt returner…

First of all, Hezzy did a great job communicating. There were two punts that were close to our players and he did a great job being very urgent. He’s a great young man, very conscientious. He’s been with us for some time now. All he does is work his tail off. I want him to have success. He and I are both not blinded by that, we understand that we have to execute. I don’t know how many punts that I’ve seen him catch, but it’s a lot. I just didn’t feel like that one thing right there warranted a change. I felt like he deserved more opportunities to go out there and field the football and be the returner.

On the struggles with the running game…

It was a little bit of everything. A little bit of it was that we were behind, that skewed the numbers a little bit. I don’t want to throw the ball that many times, quite honestly. I know we have some weapons, but I’d like to throw fewer times and more efficiently and run the ball more, so those are less obvious passing situations.

In terms of running the ball, it’s a collective effort out there that I feel like we have to do a better job of. It’s a must, this is not an option. This has got to happen. When we get the ball to the unblocked hat, we’ve got to a do a better job. We have to get the ball to the unblocked hat on a more consistent basis. Part of that is scheme oriented, part of that is execution oriented, part of that is technique oriented. What we’ve got right now, we have to find a way to make that work.

On how the offense performed on Saturday…

If you look at it from a schematic standpoint, the good news was that we got them out of base defense. Last year, they could essentially stand still and play two-hig,h and we didn’t have nearly as much success as we could have against base defense looks. This year, it came from guys coming from all over the field. When they were in base looks, we had pretty good success.

We were able to get the ball into the hands of some of our younger players. Not just younger players, but some of our guys like Hezzy had the big post to start off early in the game which I think really set the tone early for them getting out of those base looks. Then, Tayvion Robinson had a very productive game. He had a nice touchdown and caught some balls over the middle. He still has a lot of improvement to do. I saw him in the office a couple of hours ago, and he’s still not playing as fast as he could play. A lot of thinking going on there for a young guy.

Keshawn King came in and was productive. Certainly, looked like he belonged out there, didn’t look like he was standing in the middle of a freeway. He looked like he was in the middle of the game. A couple of our young defensive tackles got in there as well. We’ll have a chance. We’ve got some guys, I haven’t even brought up Tre [Turner] and Damon [Hazelton], Damon didn’t play, but Kaleb Smith really had a big game in his first game as a Virginia Tech Hokie. I’m excited about all of those guys.

On dealing with the loss of Jalen Holston…

Terius Wheatley is a guy that has been on the mend for a little while. I’m hoping this week that he is full go. Caleb Steward has had a nice fall camp and really had a pretty productive spring, so now all of the sudden his role grows. We’ll continue to bring Keshawn along and get him more comfortable with more and more things, along with Deshawn [McClease].

On the wide receivers blocking…

It’s something that we take a lot of pride in. We drill it and rep it every single day, that’s part of the game when you throw a bubble out there or run a screen option to the field. You have to get hats on hats, that’s part of being a complete player. We have some guys that continue to grow in that and take pride in that.

The thing that we do have is a couple of tight ends that are pretty versatile, Dalton [Keene], James Mitchell, and eventually Nick Gallo will be out there and be bigger bodies holding up on the perimeter as well. Also, they can help out in the passing game. Anytime you get those things, with those bigger guys out there, it makes you feel pretty good.

On Damon Hazelton…

I’m hopeful that he’ll be ready to go. He looked really good at practice, and hopefully he’ll have a great full-speed entire week and hopefully things will be alright.

On becoming comfortable giving true freshman like Robinson and King such large roles…

For freshmen, it’s hard. For some of us older coaches, it’s hard throwing those guys out there. When you get a guy, let’s just take Tayvion for example, and Keshawn as well, that are there every single day and continue to pick up what we’re asking them to do, and very rarely do they ever make a mistake, and when they do they rarely ever make that mistake twice, they learn quickly, it makes you feel more and more comfortable.

As you go through fall camp, you want to divide those young players into groups. You say, “Yes, definitely going to play, let’s bring them along, let’s go.” [Then there’s another group] “I’m not sure, we’ll have to see and continue to bring them along, but we’re not going to throw them out there right to start out with. Then, there’s the group that I really don’t want to put those guys out there yet, they need some more time to marinate.’ It was pretty obvious that Tayvion was in that first group pretty quickly in camp. We proceeded with bringing him along.

On Brock Hoffman…

Do you want me to go in on the NCAA? Or just Brock Hoffman? I tried my best to make the point of disagreeing with what happened and how it happened because those are the two segments of it. There’s the actual decision, and then there’s the actual process. I disagree with both of them.

I tried and tried to in my way, to not just sound like the guy that just stands up and complains. Brock Hoffman did not abandon his football team. His mother was sick, and he did not leave them. He did not leave his school, he stayed and tried to make it work. Ultimately, he was punished for that. To me, that’s not right. We are rewarding the wrong things. This is a young man that makes good grades, is a great worker, and a great leader. He found himself dealing with grown-up situations as a young person, which is always unfortunate. He tried his best to make it work and when it couldn’t work anymore, he looked for another place to go to help make it work and a group of people that were willing to help him make it work.

Ultimately, he was punished. If he had left his team [earlier], he would be eligible. I think that is ridiculous. Then, what they put this family through is really just atrocious. Continuing to give them feedback and have them chase down more documentation of other things and let this drag on for months. We were told at times that we would have a decision in a certain timeline, and those timelines weren’t met either.

They never once talked to Brock’s family. They said that they would, and then wouldn’t. They continued to search and scratch and find these different reasons and make these very nice people, hardworking people go and comb through their own lives to find this documentation. Only to come back and ask for other different things, time and time again. To me, that process isn’t right. What they put Brock through is just not right. I disagree with the way it was handled, and I disagree with the decision.

The thing I will say is that when Brock Hoffman was given the final decision, he did not allow that to affect his attitude and his effort. We have total control, very single day, of our attitude and effort. We should never allow other people to determine our own attitude and our own effort. Brock was dealt very disappointing news, and not for one second have I seen with my eyes that it affected his attitude or his effort. He immediately went down to work with the scout team to help us win football games and did a great job. Then, he went to the developmental lift group, which is all freshman who aren’t going to play very much. You know what he did? He took over the freshman lift group. He’s like the godfather in there just running the whole show.

We find ourselves in circumstances, and this is something I try to tell my players and my own children, we find ourselves in circumstances, but we can’t let them affect our attitude and our effort. We have to do our best to change the environment around us, we can’t let the environment around us dictate how we operate. I think Brock is a great example of that. I’ve said this to the team, and I hope I’m not embarrassing Brock because I’m really proud. I admire him for how he’s handled this entire situation. His grades didn’t slip, he didn’t start sulking around, he didn’t stop working hard. He’s continued to work towards his goal which is playing next year. I think that is part of something special and should be identified and applauded.

On Zachariah Hoyt getting hurt after the Brock Hoffman situation… 

[“Come on”] certainly went through my mind. We were in the middle of a big part of the game, too. Zachariah is going to be fine, but give credit to John Harris. He jumped in there and there was a timeout, John jumped in there and he has been working at center and guard. You can glean a lot from a person’s face, you looked at John and he was ready to go. He went in there and didn’t miss a beat. I’m proud of him and grateful for him being prepared and ready to jump in. We talk about it all the time, that you’re one play away from being thrown in and you don’t get any warning. When a coach grabs you by the shoulder pads and throws you in there, you better be ready to go.

On the young defensive tackles being thrown into games early…

They really don’t have time to marinate and get ready. We’re fortunate that for this year that it’s only that one spot that we knew that was going to happen. If we can stay healthy, then hopefully it will stay just that one spot. They don’t have time to mess around. They have to be ready to go, but they’ve done a good job handling it.

I’m talking about Mario Kendricks and Norell Pollard. I really like [Josh] Fuga and I think he’s going to be a good player, but those two are just a little bit ahead of him right now. Those guys, Mario and Norell, have handled it really well. They’re anxious to play, they’re looking forward to getting out there, they have a very bright future. We don’t have time for them to sit over there and take a bunch of mental reps. They have to take physical reps and get ready to go. They filled in well last week, and hopefully they’ll continue to get better as the season goes along.

On Robinson’s performance at kick returner…

He was productive on one that didn’t exactly hit where we designed it to hit. A couple more reps for him there and he’ll improve. Keshawn King is another guy that we want to continue to work back there. We’ll see how all of that goes. Tayvion has now played in one game, but he was a pretty reliable player for us in that one game. That makes you feel good moving forward.

On the onside kick…

I didn’t particularly like the execution. That’s such a hard situation, I think. If you read all of the statistic books, it’s definitely an onside kick in that situation. Take away the fact that they got the first down at the end of the game. It’s such a hard deal. If you have one more timeout, do you kick it deep or do you onside kick it?

We only had two [timeouts] at the time. I have a chart that tells me what statistically we should do. I know that was the right decision at that point, but it can get pretty gray in there as there’s a little bit more time on the clock. We have a three-play option on our deal. Based on their alignment, that was the call. Our motion was a little off, I wasn’t happy with the way we came in. There were a couple of guys that were hitting it right, but there were a couple of others that weren’t. It wasn’t nearly as productive as you’d like.

On whether touchbacks can actually hurt your field position…

You can cover kicks well and gain some yardage there versus the touchback. Also, you have to look at the toll it takes on your squad, running full speed and making tackles. We would love to kick that thing out. There was a little bit of a breeze during the game and I think Brian [Johnson] will continue to get better and put some more of those out of the back of the end zone.

On whether there is extra motivation playing against Old Dominion after last year…

There’s plenty of motivation. We don’t have to say too much about it. What we do need to focus on is what is this motivation good for? We need to be focused on our improvement into this week. Where can we get better? How can we get better, technically, fundamentally, schematically? That’s going to be our focus heading into this game. I know the guys understand all of that stuff. It goes without being said, but what we need to work on is ourselves heading into this game.

On preparing for an ODU team that almost completely turned over its roster…

There’s a new coordinator as well, on defense. We look at the scheme and we have one game of players. We combine those two is what we do. So, you can look at historically what they have done. Then you have a snapshot, just as they have of fifteen plays of Keshawn King or Tayvion Robinson, we have their one game for personnel. Then, we have history for scheme. That’s how we piece it all together.

On facing Eric Kumah and Chris Cunningham again…

I have not had that in my career before. I don’t know that it changes much honestly. Defensively, we know that they have two guys over there that we have a thorough scouting report on. We know them pretty well, so Bud and the defensive staff will handle that accordingly and we’ll move forward.

On facing ODU quarterback Stone Smartt…

He seems like a big, good athlete, and he was pretty efficient throwing the ball. It was kind of a weird game that they played last week. They had all of the momentum, and then they had a reverse pass that got intercepted. Then, they found themselves in a real dog fight at the end, and then drove down and eventually won the game at the end. He seemed to operate the two-minute drill well, and he is a weapon that I am sure will be a factor running and throwing the football.

On how special entering Lane Stadium for the first time is…

I talk to [the new players] about earning that. There’s a lot that comes with it. When you get to work, coach, or play at a place that values what you do, that’s a great honor. We’ve all worked or played at places where it wasn’t like that. Earning the atmosphere is an important message. Let’s make sure we’re putting in the work to turn out the product that those people deserve.

What I think makes it so neat is the fact that it is not a passive crowd. Never once have I thought that the Hokie Nation crowd showed up to be entertained. I’ve always felt like they show up to participate. There’s a big difference. There are stadiums across the country that may have more seats or more people, but those people show up to be entertained. They want to sit down and have wonderful things happen so they can judge those things. Our fans come so they can help our kids win the ball game. It’s an action, it’s a verb. You can immediately feel the energy when you get on the field.

On the familiarity between the two teams…

This happens, even not with another team from Virginia. I’ve seen these expand with the addition of social media. The players know each other now. I didn’t have the other team’s players phone numbers [when I played]. There was no way to get a hold of them. Now, on social media, they all know each other. They may have traveled together or played basketball together. We never played basketball outside of Tulsa, we just played there. They get to know each other, so there are always those connection points of guys that know each other. I think that adds to the fun of it all.

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3 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Love the Lane Stadium take….Beamer has said the same ….our fans come to participate!!

    Can’t wait to start jumping !!
    Go Hokies

  2. A question on pass rush improvement or even “hope of a pass rush” would have been nice.
    Possible that is the elephant in the room that everyone knows there is no answer for.

    Also, any chance of Malik having a role. VT has to have the smallest three TB rotation in FBS.

    Otherwise, I thought Fu answered everything very well- straight and no BS. Good job on his part.

    Just like players execution, coaches, trainers, everyone has to up their game in all phases.

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