After Paul Johnson stepped down from Georgia Tech, Justin Fuente likely breathed a sigh of relief knowing the thorn in his side that came from the Yellow Jackets’ triple option would exist no more.
However, when Furman (1-1) comes to Lane Stadium on Saturday, the Virginia Tech defense will be getting a sampling of the offense run out of the flexbone.
“We didn’t quite get out of it all the way,” Fuente said. “[The Furman coaching staff] must do a great job of teaching in their kids to get them going, because they seem to have a lot of stuff going on.”
Paladins’ head coach Clay Hendrix spent 10 seasons at Air Force from 2007-2016 where he was the offensive line coach for a team that specialized in the triple option. Since taking over at Furman, Hendrix runs a multiple offense that features plays from a traditional triple option set, a triple option scheme from the shotgun, and a regular spread offense. As such, much of the passing game is predicated off of play action to suck the defense in and hit receivers over the top.
It’s led to the Paladins averaging 44 points per game with redshirt freshman Darren Grainger engineering the offense. He’s passed for 453 yards and five touchdowns, while adding two more touchdowns on the ground.
“Their quarterback is playing at an incredible level,” Fuente said. “I mean, he runs it, throws it, they run the triple option, they spread you out. They do a little bit of everything.
“He went toe-to-toe with Georgia State, who beat Tennessee at Tennessee. They’ve got skill players, a great scheme. Defensively, they’re mixing up fronts and moving back and forth. It’s going to be a heck of a challenge for us, so we’ve got to have a great week of preparation this week, continue to build. I think it’s obvious we’re not a finished product.”
Running Game Issues
Where do the Hokies need to improve in the running game?
“Everywhere,” Fuente said. “We’ve got to do a better job of coaching, better job blocking, better job running. Everywhere.”
It’s been well-documented that the rushing attack has left a lot to be desired through the first two games. Tech is only averaging 2.8 yards per carry and has recorded only four rushes of 10 or more yards.
Some new names on the offensive line were featured during the Old Dominion game, and Lecitus Smith and Silas Dzansi were the most experienced class-wise as redshirt sophomores.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Fuente said. “I mean, we played a bunch of those young guys, a couple true freshmen and a couple redshirt freshmen… At times played well, and at times showed some inexperience, so we’ve got to do a good job as coaches. I think that’s the biggest thing.”
John Harris filled in for the injured Zachariah Hoyt, who was available only in an emergency role at center. Bryan Hudson also got some reps in the second half, as did Luke Tenuta. Prized recruit Doug Nester played the entire game at right guard in the place of T.J. Jackson who was out with a walking boot.
It’s a big step for the 6-foot-6, 315-pounder, who’s already making key strides in his true freshman season.
“He’s a perfectionist,” Fuente said. “He’s got some God-given ability. He is a big, athletic human being. He’s a mature person from a great family and he seems to have picked things up pretty quickly. He deserved the opportunity to play.”
Turnovers Still a Problem
A week after committing five turnovers against Boston College, the offense did not assuage those turnover concerns by coughing the ball up twice in the fourth quarter.
On back-to-back possessions while attempting to milk the clock with a 14-point lead, both Ryan Willis and Deshawn McClease lost fumbles. The Hokies are No. 126 in the nation with the seven turnovers lost. Only Hawaii and South Alabama have more, with eight turnovers.
“If you look at what we’ve done, in two games we’ve found different ways to do it,” Fuente said. “We fumbled the ball last week. Two weeks ago we had issues with fielding a punt and then throwing interceptions. It’s been different sources, I guess you could say. It’s a must for us. We have to do a better job, as coaches, as players, of valuing the ball.
“You can’t go out there and just take a knee every time, obviously. But we do have to find a way to stay aggressive and take care of the football.”
- Damon Hazelton missed his second straight game with a hamstring issue. Heading into the week last week, it appeared the 6-foot-2, 222-pound receiver would be ready to go, but that wasn’t the case. “I did not intend to mislead you all,” Fuente told reporters. “On Sunday’s practice last week, he looked like a million bucks. When we came out Tuesday, he just wasn’t himself. When I had this meeting last week, I fully intended him playing and having a great Tuesday, and he just hasn’t. He’s still trying to get over the same thing. I don’t know how long it’s going to be.”
- When asked if Silas Dzansi and John Harris got banged up after ceding some reps in the second half, Fuente indicated that they should both be a full go on Saturday. “I think they are fine. Silas got a little dinged up. He’s a guy that sweats a lot. He’s had some cramping issues before, but they are both fine.”
- Dalton Keene exited in the fourth quarter against Old Dominion and did not return. He returned to practice on Sunday. “Yeah, he’s fine,” Fuente said. “He looked good in practice yesterday.”