“All Things Open To Be Considered” At Quarterback For Virginia Tech

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Virginia Tech, Hendon Hooker
Could Hendon Hooker’s time be coming? (Ivan Morozov)

Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente opened his weekly Monday press conference with the typical copy and paste opening statement about how Miami offers a stiff challenge and how the Hokies will need a good week of preparation.

He then prepared for the onslaught of questions that would be asked after Duke manhandled his team on Friday night, defeating Virginia Tech 45-10 from Lane Stadium – a drubbing many characterized as a program-altering.

“Fire away. I’m sure you have a lot of questions,” Fuente said with a smirk.

The chief concern from the aftermath of the Duke game dealt with the quarterback position for the Hokies. Ryan Willis has not taken the step forward that many had hoped. Through four games, the redshirt senior is 69-of-114 (60.53 percent) for 851 yards, eight touchdowns, and seven turnovers (five interceptions and two fumbles). 

Hendon Hooker was given his opportunity against the Blue Devils, but didn’t impress, botching an exchange with Keshawn King on the fumble that completely turned the game around while only completing one pass for eight yards and rushing for minus-11 yards (13 yards if you take out the minus-24 yard loss he was credited with on the fumble).

“We’ll continue to evaluate all of those things as we go through this week,” said Fuente when discussing who would be the quarterback against Miami. “We’ve got to find a way to be more efficient. We’ve got to be more productive. It starts with those guys. It involves everybody. It’s kind of the same thing we’ve talked about 10 years ago or 15 years ago coaching quarterbacks is you’ve got to have predicted outcomes. You’ve got to execute the play call, distribute the ball to the correct place.”

Heading into Friday night’s game, Fuente confirmed that the plan was to play both Willis and Hooker. It was ascribed as load management with both quarterbacks dealing with injuries. The problem is there’s no indication on how serious either injury is, as Hooker has been wearing a wrap on his non-throwing shoulder while Willis is banged up with foot and shoulder injuries.

It was the first time in his career that Fuente had rotated quarterbacks throughout the game, and he’s not totally against going down that path again.

“I would say that all things are open to be considered right now,” Fuente said. “No, I can’t recall a time. I may be mistaken, but I can’t recall a time where we’ve really rotated guys. I’m sure it’s happened at some point through my career. That’s not usually the normal way we operate, but it is what it is.”

As aforementioned, Willis hasn’t lived up to the expectations many had for him after offering many bright spots last season while replacing Josh Jackson. Friday’s game showcased a quarterback who was again lacking the competitive nature and confidence from last year, going just 7-of-18 (38.9 percent) for 112 yards. Eliminate his 72-yard touchdown to Damon Hazelton, and there’s really nothing positive to be taken away from his performance.

“You get [confidence] from doing the right thing over and over again,” Fuente said. “You can’t give it to somebody. You can show them how to earn it, I think. In my opinion, you get that through repeating the correct performance or the correct execution time after time after time. [Willis] knows he’s done it before, he knows he can do it again. It’s a matter of calming down and doing it on a more consistent basis.”

It’s led to a crowd thinking Hooker could receive his first career start on Saturday against Miami. The redshirt sophomore attempted his first two pass attempts last Friday. Still, the coaching staff remains comfortable with Hooker in the passing game even if they haven’t showed it in live action.

“I feel good,” Fuente said. “He’s taken a whole bunch of reps in the last several years.”

Virginia Tech’s anemic offense has also brought the effectiveness of offensive coordinator Brad Cornelsen’s play-calling into question. Fuente himself has called plays at previous jobs, but it’s not a route he’ll be heading down anytime soon with the Hokies.

“No, that’s not what’s needed,” Fuente said. “We evaluate all those things. But I’m sure there are plenty of people out there that think they know the answers, and that’s their right. But being inside of it every single day, that’s not the answer.”

So what are the changes that can be made? Fuente was insistent that “you can’t wholesale,” but instead there are tweaks that have to be instituted.

“We’ve got to find a way to play a more efficient game,” Fuente said. “And it’s really collectively as a football team. You look at that game last week, and in no area were we consistent, were we able to execute on a consistent basis in any of the three phases. And that’s very disappointing, and it’s my responsibility 100 percent. 

“So we’ve got to find a way to get that across. We’ve got to be tough enough mentally, emotionally, and physically to go play at a high level in all three phases of the game on a consistent basis regardless of circumstance.”

The mental toughness aspect of Virginia Tech seemed to disintegrate as soon as Duke flipped the game and took the lead. Bud Foster noted he was disappointed with how the team responded to adversity in his postgame remarks. It’s an area that’s first and foremost on Fuente’s list of areas that need to be addressed.

“We certainly have to be mentally and emotionally tough enough to respond,” Fuente said. “We know there’s going to be bad things that happen. That’s just the way it is, and we collectively didn’t do a good job responding from that event, and that’s disappointing. That’s my responsibility, so that would be the first thing on the list.”

All in all, it makes for an interesting week before Virginia Tech takes the field again on Saturday, opposite of Miami and Trevon Hill, in a game that is sure to give an even greater look into the makeup of the 2019 Hokies.

Injury Updates

  • Wide Receiver Damon Hazelton played for the first time this season after dealing with a hamstring injury. He hauled in a 72-yard bomb, Virginia Tech’s only touchdown of the game. “Health-wise he’s fine,” Fuente said. “He was fine after the game. He just needs some more work. I think that’d be the biggest thing for Damon. He just hasn’t practiced a whole lot. Not just for conditioning, but he needs work versus good people.”
  • Center Zachariah Hoyt has been practicing, but it still doesn’t sound like he’s 100 percent. “There’s no reason for me to get into it until he’s healthy and fully able to go,” Fuente said. “When that happens, we’ll worry about who’s going in there. I’ve been very impressed with Bryan. For a true freshman to come in, he certainly has a lot of work to do, but to be as competitive and hard-nosed as he’s been in a short time playing center, that’s been a good spot.”
  • Offensive lineman Tyrell Smith is officially done for the season after exiting with a leg injury in the fourth quarter against Duke. “It’s unfortunate for Tyrell, but it’s a pretty significant,” Fuente said. “I believe it’s his patellar tendon. So he’ll have surgery here coming up in the next day or so.”
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36 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. This narrative that Willis has regressed is rationalizing. He was barely average last year – particularly when games are still close – and has been basically the same QB this year. He hasn’t regressed; he just hasn’t improved.

    1. We have not seen Herndon Hooker or Quincey Patterson for more than a few plays. Mostly Running Only Plays. I would like to see one of these two guys take the QB job for a whole game versus a struggling Ryan Willis.

  2. Fuente is fooling himself if he thinks changing quarterbacks will solve this teams problems. Problems run far, far deeper than the QB position.

    1. I really don’t get the sense he thinks it will either – I get the sense he was asked about the starting QB for Saturday and provided a non-answer. The main reasons to change IMO, are the Willis is injured enough to be ineffective or the game plan will require more running from the QB position, in which case HH or QP would be a better option. Fuente may believe this season can be salvaged, and if so, he should go with the guy that gives us the best chance. I’m not so sure I believe 2019 can be salvaged, so for me, I’d be much more interested in seeing us roll the dice with HH and QP and see which guy looks poised to carry the torch in 2020. The main issue with that; however, is that we have to be able to call an offensive game plan that plays to the QB’s strengths. The staff seems incapable of doing so with Willis so I am not sure they would be capable of doing so with the other options.

  3. Willis is clearly not feeling the love from Fuente. He is afraid to be a throwing QB. May as well turn the page and let Hooker play the whole game.

    I fear Willis playing and Miami laying one on us and then after it’s decided Fuente will move to Hooker full-time. That will be too little to late.

    Start Hooker. Play him the whole game. He can run better than Willis. Miami will over pursue and the short passing game will be open. Jump pass our way to a surprise win.

    Let the Hooker Era begin.

    1. HH has an injured shoulder – he won’t last 1Q running against Miami. Maybe you haven’t noticed but our OL is very weak in run blocking…

  4. A 45-10 Loss to Duke and Fuente is still talking about “tweaks that need to be instituted” ? Some Hokie fans would call this situation more of a “TRAINWRECK” than a “tweaking” situation !!! JMO !!!

  5. The constant public criticism of Willis is getting old — it is certainly not helping him—he seems to have totally destroyed his confidence, If he doesn’t like him just bench him. But stop with all of the negative comments-it just comes across as Fuente needing to find a scapegoat

    Fuente is just coming across as a bigger jerk with every new interview.

    He also done an

    1. I wonder if the constant brow beating, and harping on being “efficient” and reaching the “expected” outcomes has fed into Willis’ regression this year? Apart from his apparent injuries, I suspect Willis is playing tight as a drum now.

      1. If you think stating a QB needs to be more efficient after having 7 turnovers in 4 games is “browbeating” and hurts his emotional state? Then yes he should be benched. Physical tools mean nothing if there’s no mental toughness. He’s physically tough but if what Fuente said makes him upset and not able to play then he’s just not cut out to be a high level D1 QB

  6. What an arrogant ****, he feels no pressure whatsoever ……,makes me think option 1 will be our response at the end of the season……which is no changes at all. He’s either really naive or knows something we don’t in regards to his job security.

    1. Actually, he sounds like Beamer when talking about his pee poor offense all those years. It was never Stiney’s fault. It was always the fault of the kids.

  7. If you want any sympathy, you have to acknowledge your shortcomings. I want to root for FU, but his lack of communication skills makes it very hard. I guess we have been spoiled by having one of our own leading us for so long. No mater what Frank did, right or wrong, we knew his heart was with VT. This guy seems to be a good man and want to be in our community, but he acts like a know it all and has no patience for anyone questioning his methods. Wake up dude!

  8. Excellent work as always, Cory. Something in your piece really hit home with me- I was saddened to hear that Coach Fuente said with a smirk during his press conference to “Fire away. I’m sure you have a lot of questions.” I think it’s becoming quite obvious that Fuente’s major problem is that he feels “it is his way or the highway.” And it is becoming quite obvious that his way is not working. It doesn’t take an Einstein to realize that the head coach is the CEO of the operation and for that operation to be successful, all hands (coaches and players) need to be onboard with the CEO for the program to have any chance of succeeding. And it’s quite obvious to see that the players haven’t been onboard for the past two seasons. I think we all have to realize that Coach Fuente will never be a Dabo, but he really needs to “lighten up” and not be so stand offish appearing (the hands folded across the chest during the games, etc.) Living in DFW, I have some personal friends that are very close to the TCU program and when VT hired Coach Fuente they had very favorable things to say about him as a coordinator. Unfortunately, being a successful coordinator does not guarantee that someone will be a successful head coach, as we are now witnessing in Blacksburg.

    1. Normally the right way to go ! Unfortunately, with RW or HH or QP there is NO FUTURE ! RW can’t hold onto the football and HH & QP can’t PASS the football any where close to an acceptable ACC level !

    1. I thought that before the season started. After 4 games, it quite obvious that is not the solution needed to turn this team around.

  9. We need a full game look at Quincy Patterson and/or Herndon Hooker to see how they do under pressure situations. Could the offense look any more stagnant than Friday night? We had no rhythm or flow to the offense or defense. Special teams was the only portion of the team that looked decent.

    1. Exactly. Every other team you watch parks there guys at the goal line and doesn’t let them return anything that would go in to the end zone

      1. My thoughts exactly. This was even more of a problem during CFBs final season. Our returners would get taken down around the 15 EVERY time, thus starting us a full first down away from the goal line each time. Maybe coach Kill brought a calculator and can figure this one out?

  10. Can someone “in the know” please advise WTH was up with putting in QP for ONE friggin play in the first (or early) second quarter. it was a run play all the way, not even sure if a RB was behind him or not. then he gets pulled after minimal gain. i mean seriously?

        1. QP did have a pass play called for him last year. I know that’s an exceptionally small sample, but any film on QP will include a called pass play. While it’s easy to say everyone knows a QB run is coming when he’s in the game, it doesn’t mean receivers don’t have to be covered. However, to your point, it does mean LBs are apt to be coming down hill. The QB run stuff just means we get an extra blocker on the play (as opposed to when the QB hands off and isn’t blocking anyone). Also, it is possible that the staff is using these early season situations to establish this pattern of QP running so they can hit an opponent later in the season with a pass play. Also, he’s a big boy — if we could block up front, he’d be a formidable short-yardage runner w/ that extra blocker.

    1. The only way for Q to be successful is to let him pass the ball to take away the absolute certainty the he’s gonna run. It’s so stupid and I might even add- dangerous. Everyone know’s he’s going to run and it’s not fair to him.

      Also, I wouldn’t necessarily agree that Hooker was given an opportunity when he only goes in for a couple of plays and they’re almost always an RPO and usually a run. Let him stays in for a few series to get rid of the jitters.

      I’m beginning to think our guys are afraid to make mistakes with this staff.

      1. Beginning to think that way? They are so terrified to make a mistake that they almost can’t function. And when they do it’s like the world is ending (i.e Tre Turner after fumble against ODU being “inconsolable). One play doesn’t “have the predicted outcome” and everything comes unraveled. It’s certainly no way to thrive on a football field. There’s a lot of “scared money” this year so they aren’t making any metaphorical money.

    2. I’m not “in the know” but IIRC it was a 2nd down and medium (4 to 6 yards maybe) and yes, everyone knew QP was likely to run but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t have still worked.

      Back in the day you knew the Redskins were going to hand the ball to Riggins on 3rd and 2 but that didn’t mean you were going to stop him.

      My guess is they felt they could get a first down even with the defense having a sense of what was coming and that if QP could shake loose, it could go for an even bigger gain.

      So I don’t really have a problem with the play call per se. My concern is how tentative QP was in hitting the hole. There was almost no real explosiveness or power, he just sort of tip toed a bit before mushing into the line. On a play like that when he already knows where he is going, he should have hit that hole with something to prove.

      1. agree 100%.. our runners in general (whether they are QB, RB, WR/TE) seem to be too tenative with their first step. It’s especially bad with the QBs and although McClease and King frequently do make decisive moves, it’s an ongoing issue overall. It’s like they’re trying to read the blocking to find a hole, and by the time they make a move toward that hole the defense has made the same read and filled it.

      2. Huge difference between the 1980s Redskins and the current Hokies. The Redskins had the Hogs blocking for Riggins back then (one of the best offensive lines in NFL history). Our current OL doesn’t even compare to that, so your comparison doesn’t make sense.

    3. Q was put in because it was first and goal at 6 in first quarter. he made about 4 yards on play. Q can run between tackles .

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