Tech Talk Live Notes: Virginia Tech Turnovers, The Furman Offense, and More

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Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech
Justin Fuente discussed the ODU game and much more on Tech Talk Live. (Ivan Morozov)

On playing in Lane Stadium for the first time this season…

I thought it was great. There were a bunch of kids that got to play in Lane Stadium for the first time. It wasn’t long ago that they were sitting in the stands as recruits. They certainly enjoyed it, and we’re grateful for the wonderful atmosphere we had and home field advantage. We were happy to get a win, obviously. We don’t want to take those things for granted, but I think it’s important that we do a great job teaching off of that and working for improvement. There are so many areas that we can get better at.

On his biggest concerns after two weeks…

Our overall consistency as a football team hasn’t been where it needs to be. On special teams, on offense, or on defense. Specifically, we haven’t run the ball worth a darn. We have to. It’s a must to get that back going. There have been glimpses of that which gives you a little hope that we can become more efficient and productive. We haven’t been as consistent as I’d like us to be.

Particularly, you think about late in the game. We pride ourselves on great situational football, and we were not great by any stretch of the imagination towards the end of the game. I thought our method of thinking was good on both sides of the ball. Defensively, we’re just trying to keep them in front of us, not worried about the stat line, just worried about getting the thing over with. We still had a couple errors that hurt us on some long runs.

Offensively, we fumbled the ball twice during a time where everybody in the stadium knows that they’re only chance is to create a turnover. That’s disappointing. We have to find a way to be better in that way, and then we have to be more consistent in the kicking game. I think there is another level that we can reach as a football team that we haven’t scratched the surface of yet.

On the loss of offensive linemen affecting the run game…

We got young pretty quickly on the offensive line there. Just a couple of minor injuries and all of a sudden, we have some young, inexperienced players out there. I think they’re going to be good players, and I’m excited that they’re out there getting good experience. That’s our job. We have to see what we’re capable of executing and get that done on a more consistent basis.

Jalen Holston’s injury, he was our one guy with some size at running back. We have two really small tailbacks back there right now. We need Caleb Steward to continue to come along. He has made great strides in the last year to year-and-a-half. He has to continue to come along. I’d love for Terius [Wheatley] to get back to full speed. You guys saw a little bit on the kick return, his hamstring tightened up on him a little bit there at the end. We’re trying to get him back to full go. He’s certainly full speed, we’re not playing someone who can’t defend themselves, but over a long period of time, it can tire out on him and get pretty tight. We have to get healthy and really take a good look at what we’re asking our guys to do and go execute.

On losing the turnover battle…

We need to create more takeaways. We’ve got to help that on both sides of the ledger. That is one of, if not the most telling stat in all of football. It’s what we start our season off with, and is our emphasis every day at practice. On the other side, I could guarantee we don’t turn it over. We could just take a knee every time we go out there, but that wouldn’t work very well either. We have to find a way to be aggressive, but also be disciplined enough to take care of the football.

On trying to win games and improve on issues after…

There’s a lot of positives to what happened. We found a way to finish the game off and win the game. I was really proud of our team. I don’t think this can be overstated. There was a lot surrounding that game, needless to say. A lot of that stuff had nothing to do with us actually playing the game. I was really proud of our guys for staying focused on what we were trying to get done. We’re trying to play football, not participate in all of this other stuff that’s going on. Overall, we did that. Then, we have plenty of good teaching to work on improvement.

On the issues with tackling early in the season…

We have 10,000 drills for tackling. We have toys and big donuts that roll. In my opinion, we do a great job of teaching tackling, but there’s no substitute for hitting someone in real life, real time. You are more limited now than we were just a year or two years ago in terms of how often we really get to do that. The hardest decision a coach makes is how much to do of that in preseason.

We all want our guys to be ready to play and healthy to play. There are obviously some inherent dangers in the game itself, but trying to balance that is something that we talk about and evaluate on a consistent basis, trying to make sure we’re ready to go. The other part of it is, the game is played in space so much more than it used to be. The two hardest things to do in football are to block in open space and to tackle in open space. When you’re in better position and playing anticipatory football, it’s easier. When you’re reacting in space, it makes it more difficult to tackle and get guys on the ground. It’s something that we have to continue to get better at.

On blocking on the perimeter…

We have made strides in that, but I think there is another level that we can get to. Coach Williams has done a great job with that, embracing that part of what we’re trying to get done on offense. The tight ends are playing out in space a little bit more and they’ve done a good job of that. I think it’s something that we can be really good at as we moved forward.

On the efficiency on third down…

I was really pleased with our third down offense and execution. We made some big plays, catch and runs. It always makes you nervous when you throw the ball underneath the chains on third down. Coaches, fans, nobody likes throwing the ball underneath and being tackled short of the chains. Sometimes you’re forced to do that, but we were accurate enough and had good enough position that we could get some catch and runs for first downs. I thought that was really good and added to our efficiency on third downs.

On the development of Keshawn King…

Keshawn, taking care of the football is an all-the-time thing. We did not do that at the end of the game. It was disappointing that McClease had the fumble along with Ryan [Willis} at the end of the game. Keshawn was being very productive for us, but we’re in a tight game and the ball is on the ground. We’re waiting to see if the official ruled him down or not, those are the types of things that we have to eliminate because they’re going to cost all of us. I still like him; I like the way he goes about it. I think he’s going to play a huge role in what we’re doing, he just has to continue to earn that trust as we move forward in terms of taking care of the ball.

On Hezekiah Grimsley’s highlight catch…

That was a great catch. That was an interesting play. The guy was kind of over the top and the ball was inside, but Hezzy really got up off the ground. When I saw him tip it, I thought, ‘Oh no!’ But it looked like he had a plan all along and found a way to get the ball caught.

I said this after the game. Hezekiah Grimsley is a great worker; he is an incredibly positive person, and a great influence on our other players. We always love to see those guys have success. Not that we don’t want all of our guys to have success, but when you get to see a guy make a play like that, and you’ve seen the work he’s put into it, it makes it that much more special.

On Damon Hazelton…

I feel bad for Damon because I know he really wants to play. I feel like I inadvertently misled people because when I met with the media last Monday, we were just coming off of our Sunday night practice. At that practice, my exact words to Damon were, ‘This is the start of a great week for you. You look great. This is going to be an awesome week.’ I met with the media on Monday, and that was kind of in my mind.

Then, on Tuesday, it became clear that he wasn’t going to play. I hate it for him because I know how hard he’s worked. I know how important this is to him. I’m hopeful and optimistic that in time, he will be healthy and ready to help this team.

On the possible illegal hit on TyJuan Garbutt against BC…

It was the new rule. We turn in any number of calls [to the ACC]. I turned in calls on ourselves too because I want to tell our kids what should be called. Not to criticize, but to teach how the games will be called, what they’re looking at, to educate our team. I’ll pick any handful of plays during the games. Some of them will be penalties that I think should have been called on us. It’s not a deal like we’re getting ripped off. I just want to educate our team.

I know those officials have a tough job. They’re putting in new rules every year that make their job even harder. That was a blindside block deal that should have been called because it was the intent of that rule to try and prevent those things. As a result, we lost TyJuan for a little while. He’ll be back soon, and hopefully better than ever. That’s just an unfortunate part of the deal, and hopefully over the course of the year, those things will work themselves out. It’s like the hitter in baseball who gets a bloop single versus lining out to the shortstop. Hopefully, you get those things all worked out.

On the no-call pass interference in the second half on Saturday…

Are you talking about the post route? Yeah, certainly everything isn’t going to go your way. You have to play the next play and be ready to go. That’s something that we’ve preached, and our guys have done a good job of that. Whether that should have been or shouldn’t have been called, I thought that was going to be a really big play there. It wasn’t, and we have to suck it up and get ready to play the next one.

(Ivan Morozov)

On Jaylen Griffin…

We’re just so excited for him. He’s another guy, like Hezekiah, that we’ve seen behind the scenes. He’s probably played less than Hezzy coming into this year, but he’s a guy that just likes to play ball. He comes from a hard-working football family. He’s a pleasure to be around. He was stuck between not getting on the field, but when he was asked to perform in special teams, he performed at a high level.

We know it was important to him, and he was certainly capable. We met and talked about how we could give him a better opportunity to get on the field, and we settled on him moving from linebacker to the defensive line. We didn’t really even know where that was going to end up, whether he would play inside or outside. He wound up at end, and he’s embraced the change. I think he’s going to continue to improve at playing end, and is going to give us something as the season goes along.

On the lack of sacks on Saturday, despite pressure…

I think Waller was the only one who came off the edge and actually got the quarterback down. We tried to tackle him too high a couple of times, and our angles weren’t what they should have been, and we could’ve had quite a few more sacks. We did find a way to get there and create some pressure, we just couldn’t finish them off.

On dealing with the rugby-style punts…

I thought there was one that Hezzy could have had a chance to field, but other than that I thought his decisions were spot on. We had him moved up pretty close, and I was a little worried that they were going to kick one over his head. We had him moved up there pretty tight. We teach these guys that if they can’t catch it in the air, they should be in position to catch it on the big hop.

The most important thing for the punt return unit is to get the ball back. I thought he had two really good ones, it was kind of crummy for us because the ball was skimming around and he couldn’t get a good hop, so he let it go. That’s the smart decision. The other one took a big Sunday hop and he went up and got it and called a fair catch and saved us 10 or 15 yards.

It’s a tough deal, there are some people that are experimenting with two returners mostly as a decoy. That kind of ran through the league last year, we’ll see if people continue to do that. That takes someone out of the box in terms of getting fakes ran on you, so that’s a little scary to have two guys back there.

We did a good job. Phil Patterson almost blocked one, I think it may have been the first one. It got hooked straight left. If he kicked it straight at all, Phil would have been there. We tried to put some pressure on him. Our punt safe, they were a big fake team, so we were in punt safe a lot more. They did a good job, and our defense put pressure on him trying to get it out of his hands as quick as we could.

On Brian Johnson’s kickoffs…

I just want him to relax and go play. I watch him kick off all of the time and he’s killing the ball. It was a little breezy, and we were kicking the ball into the wind some. It’s like a golfer standing on the tee box. You have to block all of that out and put a nice, smooth swing on it. I’m anxious for him to get more comfortable and do the things that our coaches are seeing every day in practice.

On Wheatley’s big kickoff return…

That’s what we talk about all of the time on kickoff return specifically. Our basic tenants of special teams are, first, don’t give up a big play. You’re talking about large chunks of yardage switching hands. The second thing is, win the cumulative field position battle. The third thing is create momentum for our team.

(Ivan Morozov)

When the kickoff return unit takes the field, it’s different than our kickoff unit. The kickoff unit takes the field after we’ve scored. The kickoff return unit is on the field, usually, after something bad has happened. That’s an opportunity to regain momentum immediately, and that’s exactly what happened. We had lost a little momentum there, they had everything going in their favor. We hit them with the huge return, and three plays later we scored. Everyone felt a little bit better. Huge momentum swing and big time play for our kickoff return unit.

On the Furman Paladins’ offense…

They’re a lot better than anybody wants them to be. They’re averaging 44 points per game. They almost beat Georgia State, who had just beaten Tennessee the week before. They run the triple option and a whole bunch of other stuff. Their quarterback is electric. I watched the film last night, all three phases in game order. I was just blown away by the quarterback and his ability to escape pressure, make decisions and throw the ball.

One of the first plays of the game, they’re in their option look and he runs down the line of scrimmage and steps back and throws a glance route back into the boundary and hits the guy in perfect stride for a big play. I was really floored to see this morning that he was a redshirt freshman. I would’ve thought he would’ve been a junior or a senior based on the way he played. We’ll have our hands full. It’s going to create a lot of pressure and preparation for us to get ready for a team that not only does a bunch of stuff, we can all do a bunch of stuff, but they can execute it very well. They have two or three all-conference offensive linemen, a receiver that had 180 yards or something last week, they have a really explosive offense.

On Furman’s head coach, Clay Hendrix…

He spent about 10 years at Air Force. He was on the offensive side of the ball, and I was on the offensive side of the ball at TCU. So, I just know that the defensive coaches were a nervous wreck before we played them. That’s the same thing I’m talking about. The volume of stuff that they can do and the different looks that they can show you, all surrounded by starting with the option to some spread principles. It’s really pretty fantastic. He’s carried it over here and done a masterful job of implementing it.

On the development of Furman over the past few years…

He’s done a fantastic job. Furman has been very good in the past. Before Coach Hendrix arrived, they had struggled. He has just done a really good job of instilling his system. They’re very sound on defense and can give you multiple fronts. They’re very good in the kicking game, they have an All-American kicker that does a little bit of everything for them. I think they’re ranked 13th in the country right now, and they’re very talented.

On the first few weeks of college football…

It’s just college football as we know it now. Everybody is one sprained ankle away from being really good or really struggling. We get a sheet every day, there are still people entering the transfer portal as we speak. It’s unbelievable. I think that’s changing the game across the country. You have guys that are the backup tailback at some school that are deciding they don’t want to do it anymore. I was floored at the number of guys that were on it today.

I think that’s having an effect on it as well. It’s going to be interesting to see as we move forward. I think there are a few teams that are head and shoulders better and deeper than everybody else. Then, there are other teams that will be fighting and scratching every week to eke out wins.

On how the game has changed lately… 

A lot of things have changed. I think, on the field, the product is still good and really entertaining, I do think that we are taking some steps in the right direction to make the game safer for kids. That’s what we want to do. Some of the rules that have been implemented in the last few years have been very beneficial. How the structure of everything has changed has been very interesting to say the least. I’m not sure that everything off of the field is changing as fast as we need it to, in terms of how this thing is all going to be structured in years to come. I certainly think that needs some serious consideration.

On how he is looking at redshirts this season… 

Exclude a couple of offensive linemen, but of the skill guys and the guys who cover kicks, there are four or five guys that we haven’t played and we’re trying not to play for as long as possible. They’re ready to contribute when we need them to, but we’re not sure if it’s going to be four games or six games or eight games or ten games. We just don’t know yet, but we’re just waiting on those guys. Then, there are other guys who are two games in and are going to be four games in, they’re all in. They’re playing all of the time.

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32 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. My point on the “bashing comment” about King echo’s what a few others have said on here, bench him for fumbling, not almost fumbling. I guess I had seen JT mention that same quote a few other times in other articles and it’s like enough dude, many other deficiencies that need to be addressed aside from benching King for not actually fumbling. Taking the only RB that showed any sort of burst or wiggle out of basically the rest of the game for that was pretty lame in my book. Being able to agree to disagree is certainly a right on this message board but some of you guys get so butt hurt over anyone that disagrees with you. Get over it.

  2. If Fuente wants to prove a point about protecting the ball, then how about benching the guy that actually turns the ball over? Looking at you, Ryan.

    Thought TSL was an opportunity for Fuente to admit that benching King was wrong (and selfish if you ask me). Instead, he stuck to his guns…unable to admit it was a bad call in the heat of the moment. Guess he doesn’t care that our running game stinks and King gives us the best chance with his “elite” quickness. A fine example of Fuente cutting off his nose to spite his face.

  3. When I watched the King play my initial thought was it was a fumble. We caught a break. Coach was absolutely within his right to bench King. He is a freshman and needs to learn that fumbles kill drives and momentum. My guess is that he will play Saturday and will be gripping the ball much tighter.

    1. I thought the replay looked like a border line horse collar that bent King in an awkward position. Regardless, it wasn’t a fumble. Bench a guy for fumbling when he fumbles. Or throws 2 INTs in the end zone. Poor coaching decision by Fuente on a team that is averaging less than 115 yds per game rushing and less than 3 yards per carry. Frankly, the running game is embarrassing.

  4. Farley’s PI was nothing compared to the non-call but the ball was long. But he had already climbed Smith’s(?) back. The ref’s nonchalant incomplete signal seemed odd for the amount of contact.

  5. i saw several plays where “blocking on the perimeter” was either non-existent or half-arsed by guys like Hezzy that led to lost yards by our RBs. thats gotta get better

  6. I feel the same way. I wish CJF would try to be more positive about all the players. I fully agree turnovers are bad, but unless he sees this as a chronic issue with King I would be more supportive than critical.

    1. I didn’t hear nor do I see what your talking about at all. I posted this on the subscriber board but if case you didn’t see it. You remember RB coach Billy Hite? He not only was a solid RB recruiter, but solid RB coach and if you played for him and fumbled or out the ball on the ground. You weren’t going to carry the ball much. But yet when Fuente tries to teach and send that message he gets criticized, can’t coach, or needs to be more positive. Come on Hokie!

    2. He was…said King was going to get better & help is & be a big part of things

      Plus he said glowing things about Hezzy, Hazelton & Griffin

    3. Also you don’t see practice, its possible King has been having issues fumbling in training camp, etc. and so Fuente has him on a watch list as it were.

  7. Why does Coach keep bashing King over “putting it on the ground”, it wasn’t a turnover and he was down. Move on, I’m starting to wonder about this guy to be honest.

    1. The question was asked, so he answered it. So long as Fu doesn’t doghouse King for the season, I’m OK with it. Look at it differently for a moment. ODU stripped the ball from him, even if King says “but coach, I heard the whistle”, you just don’t let go of it. It’s bad practice to let go of it. I used to cringe every time I saw Vick hit the ground and immediately release the ball because I figured that there might be that ONE time when the ref says “oh, it was coming loose as you went down…..fumble”

      Don’t leave if up to the refs interpretation.

    2. I don’t think it is bashing as much as making a point of just how important ball security is. He said as much at the begginning. Most coaches I know of are the same way. Winning and all this goes away and it just becomes “great work coach instilling a critical thought process for the team”….guess if you make millions it just part of it, being under the microscope on every thing you say and do…..

    3. My thought is that this wasn’t his first conversation with King about how he carries the ball . I think that this is something that the coaches have seen in practice and are working to correct. We have no info on what King has done in practice or scrimmages so it’s hard to speculate either way – but notice as a seasoned board poster I chose to to speculate anyway!

    4. Agreed 100%. How is the kid supposed to go out there with confidence next week when all Fu says all week every time his name comes up that in other words he needs to not be a liability even though he actually wasn’t because it wasn’t a turnover for goodness’ sake. Always talking about players needing to earn the coaches’ trust but I think it’s the other way around Fuente needs to earn the players trust or it’s going to be transfer portal central again next spring. It seems Fuente really hasn’t changed after all that crap this past offseason and is still far from a player’s coach and being able to relate to 18-22 year olds.

      1. Because the RB has played football possibly much of his life and has likely been told worse and gotten over it. How is he supposed to play? Like 99.9% of all other athletes and football players who are coached and told to do certain things. Go out and play. It isn’t like he isn’t going to play next week. He also knows he is a freshman getting carries. That requires trust so if he wants to keep playing, he knows he needs to earn trust. People need to get that. PLAYERs need to earn the trust of coaches.

      2. Why don’t you go interview Grimsley and ask how he feels Fu treated him after the punt muff? Or how McClease was after fumbling Sat.?

        Give me a freaking break! Did any of you softies EVER have a coach challenge you or try to have you EARN playing time? I did, and I respect those guys more than ever even now.

        He’s SAID that Keshawn has been great, and he’ll still be fine. This is a teaching point. Do you NOT want him to teach? If he’d fumbled (which honestly it looked close on Sat.) y’all would be blaming coach for playing him when he’s not ready.

    5. Did you actually read it. Did you see it. Why does he keep talking about King. He was ASKED about king for one thing. But if you read it and watched situations, these were fumbles that could easily have been ruled a real fumble or gone to replay. They were close. REplay could have confirmed a fumble call or over-ruled a non-fumble call. he isn’t still bashing him. Why are you wondering.

    6. I use to wonder about comments like yours. But I realize people are going to whine and complain no matter what. Read my post above about former RB coach Billy Hite. You fumbled the ball and you didn’t carry the ball. Let’s get real. It’s the only way he is going to learn.

    7. Why do fans keep bashing our coach for ACTUALLY COACHING!?

      Player development isn’t good? Coaches fault right? How’s he supposed to develop the player? That’s OK, you can drop the ball every time you THINK you’re down, no problem!?

      As I’ve continued to say…if we’re not winning every game the blame game bs coaches isn’t productive AT ALL…it doesn’t help. They don’t want to lose, the players don’t want to lose, but if coach blaming parents and players want to start up the blame game…that starts to divide the team, the fan base. It obviously already has the fan base but it does NO GOOD to be bashing coaches when we’re 1-1 after 2 games playing already without 5 starters and after having an inordinate amount of turnovers which DIRECTLY cost us the BC game.

      Saying that we should bench our QB because of INTs is totally different than fumbles. Benching our best passer in a game after we’ve fallen behind hurts our passing game & attempt to rally

      It’s really not hard to grasp

    8. LOL. The scope of what constitutes “bashing” sure has changed. Good lord, people are sensitive. He said all kinds of good thing about King, his ability, and his bright future. He also said he needs to secure the ball. Do you really consider that bashing?

      I’d hate to be your boss and have ANY critical feedback to provide you to try to help you be better at your job — you’d probably call HR on me and claim I was bullying you.

      Is it possible you’ve made up your mind that you don’t like Fuente and will interpret most things he says or does negatively? Just some food for thought.

    9. King is a true freshman, better to make a strong impression right from the start. And ball security has been a focus of Fuente’s since the very first day he was announced as head coach. He benched Jerod Evans for it in his first start as QB, why can’t he bench his true freshman RB?

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