Virginia Tech Searching For Identity

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Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech is searching for an identity on offense. (Ivan Morozov)

When Justin Fuente first took the helm at Virginia Tech in 2016, the Hokies adopted and embraced his hard, smart, tough mentality all the way to an appearance in the ACC Championship Game. Now, three years later, any semblance of that mindset has disappeared following Virginia Tech’s 45-10 gut punch of a loss to Duke.

Fuente so much as admitted it following the embarrassment, citing the lack of an identity for much of the failures in his postgame remarks.

“Like any good offense, you have to have an identity,” Fuente said. “We’re struggling to find that identity. We’re inconsistent in the run game. We’re inconsistent in the pass game. It’s a culmination of all of those things that we have got to find a way to get a handle of.”

Offensive lineman Lecitus Smith described the identity he would like to see, following the mindset that Fuente has preached from the beginning.

“We want to be known like we say – hard, smart, and tough,” Smith said. “We need to get the hard and the tough going, even the smart going as well. We want to be that team that people say, ‘They’re a smart football team, but they’re also tough up front.’ We want to make them have to scheme us well throughout the week. We want to be tough and rugged and mean when it’s necessary.”

The non-existent identity isn’t just a factor on offense, either. The defense is still finding its way back in the direction of the vaunted Lunch Pail Defense that has been under the leadership of Bud Foster since 1995.

On Friday night, the Hokies were a reflection of that defense through the first 19 minutes, holding Duke to eight yards on the first 11 plays of the game. However, things quickly shifted once Duke recovered a fumble deep in the Hokies’ territory. Quentin Harris connected with Noah Gray for the 16-yard touchdown on the next play, and the Blue Devils proceeded to put up 414 total yards for the rest of the game.

“Our mentality needs to be to go out there and get that next stop, and get that momentum back to our side,” Foster said of the quick touchdown allowed after the fumble. “At the least, snub their momentum. That’s hard to practice, and we’ve got to be better in that situation. You’ve got to embrace those challenges. That defines who you are and the make-up of our team and our character when those situations arise.

“We can’t let one play effect several, and that’s what I think we did [against Duke]. We’ve got to be mentally tougher, that’s the bottom line.”

Foster also pointed out that the reasoning of the team being young is no longer valid. The team has been together long enough, and the issues he’s seen on defense come down to execution.

“That excuse is no more,” Foster said. “There is a fine line in winning and losing at this level, particularly with teams with spread offenses. It comes down to guys doing their job and executing, bottom line… The two that we’ve lost, it was because of execution. It was because of a guy ripping his gap, poor technique, not taking his proper man.”

So where does Virginia Tech go from here? It begins with the preparation in the lead up to Miami on Saturday.

“You want a group of guys that hate to lose,” Foster said. “They put so much into this thing, so much strain, so much work, so much effort, so much preparation, that if you do get beat, it should hurt. We’re going to make sure that we have enough of those kind of guys.

“We have to go put it together, day after day after day. If I’m being honest, we can’t be good today, average tomorrow and good on Thursday. Then we’ll be good in the first quarter, average in the second quarter, good in the third quarter and average in the fourth quarter. We can’t do that at this level. That’s where our guys have to strain and sell out every day and develop those habits that it takes to win… That’s where the leaders need to step up. Challenge those guys that seem like they’re going through the motions. When you have that peer pressure from within, you have a good situation.”

One of those leaders is mike linebacker Rayshard Ashby. Ashby has been as productive as anyone of the field defensively with a team-high 35 tackles, but he was candid saying he’s done an “awful job” of encouraging and challenging his teammates as a leader. He’s still confident the Hokies can right the ship and save the season from impending disaster. 

“The coaches and the players, we still have all the confidence in this team that there is to have,” Ashby said. “We just have to go out there and put it on display for each other, and just go out there and do our job… Just giving it all we’ve got and not thinking about the other circumstances.”

Alan Tisdale, Virginia Tech
Alan Tisdale has stood out in limited action at Backer. (Jon Fleming)

Alan Tisdale Progression

In a game devoid of many positive developments, linebacker Alan Tisdale was a bright spot with seven tackles for Virginia Tech. He split playing time with Dax Hollifield and looked better suited at the backer spot throughout the game.

Foster apologized for not getting him in the game over the course of the last two wins, but it’s apparent Tisdale is progressing and carving out even more playing time the rest of the season.

“The guy can run, he plays with good vision,” Foster said. “He’s got good quickness, he’s got good playmaking skills. He’s good in coverage. We play him in our ‘30’ package and some of our passing down situations, just from an athletic standpoint. 

“By his body of work, he’s earned an opportunity to be on the field. Hopefully, he’s going to continue in that role a little bit. I’m not disappointed in anybody else, I’m just excited about him and the playmaking abilities he brings to the table.”

TyJuan Garbutt Returns From Injury

After leaving the Boston College game in the second series with a shoulder injury from a blindside block, TyJuan Garbutt returned to action on Friday night after missing two games, and recorded seven tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. 

“Every day I’ve been working to get better and get back to where I once was,” Garbutt said. “It feels good to get back out there with my brothers.”

It was a promising return for Garbutt as he will look to get back to full health. He’s one of the playmakers on defense who the coaching staff raved about throughout fall camp.

“I’m sure that thing is a little sore and there’s movement in there with that joint

and he can move that,” Foster said. “I’m excited about him and taking that next step. Like I said, it’s like he played his first game last week and we need to get him back practicing and playing.”

Facing Trevon Hill

Virginia Tech’s offensive line will be lined up against a familiar face on Saturday as former Hokies’ defensive end Trevon Hill now dons the green and orange for Miami.

Hill was dismissed from Virginia Tech following the Old Dominion game last year, and proceeded to end up in Coral Gables as a graduate transfer.

“I’m not worried about Tre,” Foster said. “I wish him the best in whatever he decides to do with his life. Our focus is to get ready to play Miami and he’s on the other side of the ball, so we’re going to control what we can control. I’ve got a job to do. Maybe we’ll hug after the game, but not necessarily (before).”

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45 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Your response is right on, we get hung up on stars anyway. He has brought in many 4’s and the ones in 2019 will pay off, again they are freshman.

  2. I have been disappointed to say the least in the football season thus far. I think that we have a ton of young talent on this team and I hope they all remain and keep fighting. I do think the responsibility for the struggles lie directly at the feet of the coaching staff. They need to make adjustments in scheme and play the best players in each position and as CC often says always be redshirting. Hopefully we will get a miracle in Miami and beat the Canes. It would go a long way to helping this team right the ship. #HardSmartTough let’s see it.

  3. From the beginning, it was quite evident that Fuente was struggling with recruiting. We constantly were loosing on 4-5 stars; just getting 3 stars from all over the place. The coaching staff should of adjusted our style of play to the athlete they had. We probably should be running the “academic offense”; triple option; quick slants, i.e. Navy / Army style. You can win with a system that mirrors your capabilities. That boost confidence in your players. Right now, it appears the team is not buying into whatever system the coaches are preaching.

    1. Ahh…..there you go. Totally agree….Fuente & Company has been missing on 4 & 5 stars since their start, right. But the coaching staff has been forcing a particular visionary system onto the players as if he had 5star players instead of building and playing a system around the players you got.

      1. Not true re missing on 4 stars. If you include the 2016 class, in which JF was responsible for only 4 star (Evans), you have:

        2016 1 of 1, 2-deep from 1: evans
        2017 5 of 27, 2-deep from 5: rivers (half of 2018) garbutt, hunter, hooker
        2018 7 of 26 , 2-deep from 7: dax, tre, connor, tisdale, mitchell
        2019 7 of 22, 2-deep from 7: nester, hudson. robinson, king

        the 2017 4*s have disappointed to date, minus garbutt
        the 2018 4*s have 5 2019 starters/serious contributors
        the 2019 4*s have 4 2019 starters/serious contributors

        Fuente has brought in a solid # of 4-stars. Are they the right 4*s? Are they being developed correctly? To me, THAT is the question.

        1. Your response is right on, we get hung up on stars anyway. He has brought in many 4’s and the ones in 2019 will pay off, again they are freshman.

    2. We signed 14 4 stars the last 2 classes, ftr (per 247 composite rankings). As for 5 star athletes, the last 5 years have averaged 32 per class. VT can get the occasional 5 star, but in reality, we are currently not a program that will attract top 32 talent.

      That needs to change obviously but how? We don’t have the money to compete with at least 20-30 schools, not “legally”. Location IS a factor, albeit probably not a huge one.

      Either we put 2-3 really good, high-exposure seasons together or we cheat. I used to be vehemently against cheating but everyone does it via different methods AND the NCAA is a joke.

      My ideal solution is for the the Virginia Congress to immediately pass a law allowing players to make money off their likeness (like Cali just did). However, it MUST go into effect the day it’s signed. That could give VA schools an advantage until other states catch up A Florida state rep is doing this now … clock ticking

      1. Well, VA govt IS trying to model itself after Cali and NY, so I wouldn’t be surprised at all if we are next….

        1. When Va become a state like California and New York I move away. If you have not notice when the last time they had big time football. You have to go to the early 2000′ S USC

    3. That said, I’ll take the Wisconsin 35-45 ranked classes all day long, and twice on Sunday.

      If VT could somehow emulate Wisconsin, I’d be as happy as a clam at high tide.

  4. We have a perfect record ATS, provided you’re not betting on VT… The U opened at -8.5, now up to -13.5 and climbing… Gonna need some Rare Breed this weekend!

  5. Same identity as our head coach. Probably a nice guy, good neighbor and a good father. But his lack of emotion and his stoic demeanor are not good when leading young players. Moe suited for the corporate world.

    Don’t trust anyone that is cool calm and expressionless. He looks like an idiot when we are getting blown out and he just stares out to the oblivion when the camera is on him.

    1. Coach Tom Osborne (Nebraska) was a cool and calm presence on the sideline. I think he might have said “dadgummit” once or twice and I did see him throw (actually, drop) his headgear once. Tom’s players would run through a brick wall for him. Same can be said about Scott Frost – not an emotional guy. I don’t believe a HC (or any coach) has to be emotional to have a great team.

      1. There are many winning coaches who display little emotion. Many losing ones showing great emotion.

        1. The emotional ones at least provide some alternative entertainment value following an ass kicking, i.e. Leech, don’t know how effective it is.

    2. To the list of successful stoic coaches add Bud Grant..4 superbowl appearances with the Minnesota Vikings.

    3. This is style preference over substance. This is fan speak looking for a reason why the team is losing. If the team was winning there would be fans laughing at Narduzzi’s antics while claiming Fuente’s Cool was the reason for winning (if they bothered to look for a reason). Winning cures all, and if the formula was clear or simple it would not take millions to get the few who do it more reliably. I bet there are situations that even Saban and Sweeney could not succeed under. My point is WE DO NOT KNOW. We will wait until there is winning and we’ll pick some convenient feature and claim that’s why. And we still won’t know. I bet Fuenteis baffled because his ‘winning way’ before is not working. He can stick with what he’s doing and hope or change what he’s doing and hope, but a team is an emergent property and we don’t know all that goes into making a highly functioning one. Talent yes, but there are counter examples. Morale yes, but some losers feel fine. Attitude yes but some lose tough or lose mean or lose with swagger. I wish I knew. In the meantime the confident assertions that X is needed are amusing, because there are 99+ recommendations and all are equally plausible and some fool will be lucky enough to have their suggestion labeled as the reason for the turnaround until that reason fails to bring success at some point. Yes, organizational science may have some hints, but there’s just no clear cause for failure and especially no guaranteed blueprint for success. You just take your chances and try until you succeed. The theorizing and amateur ‘consulting’ is the only amusement I get this year with Hokie football. I cannot but feel sorry for the players who must endure after sacrifice and no pay, unlike the coaches who make millions and cannot say why. I hate it when I’m so frustrated I turn so cynical. Losing brings out the worst. Again, all you can do is grab the battered lunchbox and get back to work.

      1. Yes. These kids and coaches are working their butts off, and are frustrated too. Let’s see if that translates to a tougher more focused team this week

  6. I made a post on the sub board a few weeks ago about how we have no identity and got a lot of flack about it…it’s a glaring hole in the football team it was noticeable a while ago.

    1. Amen. Also, we need to bring pressure with blitz packages almost all the time, except in very obvious rushing downs (3 and 1 for example). Could that cause us to give up some long plays? Sure, but we’re doing that already.

      The only way to cause any havoc on D is to bring pressure. The QB is a freshman, albeit a good one to date, and the O line is by far the weakest link in the Miami team.

    1. I think the fan base is proving to be the biggest losers of all. The team is back to work and trying to improve rather than pouting over having a shaky start to the season. Always see the chatter about they are just a bunch of kids but they appear to be light years more mature than the majority of posters on social media and boards. Said it before and I’ll say it again, all of this will end up being a great comeback story down the road. So go ahead, rip me to shreds and tell me I’m a fool, I really don’t care what people think of my opinion.

      1. while I agree with you regarding us being much better in the future (with the same young men who will learn and grow), i do think they “quit” on us last friday.

        1. It was hard to watch. I have never played sports on such a large scale. I do wonder how the kids can keep the fight in them when the stands empty because the fans gave up and left. Just like the Arkansas game a few years ago. All but over and hoards of people left at halftime. One of my favorite games of all times. Seemed like they played for each other, the coaches, and themselves. Maybe that is the point they need to get to in their minds, I don’t know. Anyway, I’ll be tuned in this weekend, pounded too many beers, praying for a Miracle in Miami. Go Hokies!

      2. Well I for one respect your comments and postings even when I disagree with what is said in them. I truly hope you are correct on the comeback this season but I do not believe the fans posting negative comments are “losers.” We all have the right to our opinions and although I do not agree with you I will not tell you that you are a fool. We all care greatly about Tech and the football program. Emotion on the field and in the stands is a powerful thing and I think this is what you are seeing and hearing from the fans and we all care.

      3. Ditto. Your either a creator or a complainer. These message boards are full of complainers. N sure what the point is, really. Happiness comes from gratitude. I’m grateful for this team and these coaches. Give them credit for trying to figure something out that right this moment is not evident. Ungrateful people = angry. Be grateful and you won’t be so angry. P.S. Been a Golden Hokie for 20+ years some come at me.

      4. I wish I lived in your dream world. In reality, this team is in trouble and the future of VT football is bleak. Sorry, don’t think my opinion makes me a bad fan.

      5. I see very little if any criticism of the players. Even when there is, it is almost regretful as in the case of the Dax vs. Tisdale discussion. The coaches on the other hand have been criticized as un-mercifully as they deserve. The coaching staff is well paid almost certainly more than the vast majority on this board. If you were doing the job they have done and were trending down on a fairly constant basis, I suspect criticism would be the least you would expect and that’s at your salary not theirs. Everyone wants the best for these kids and very little has been directed at them in any case. The staff is deserving of the comments they receive. Criticizing those with different views is a loser play for one calling out losers. You are entitled to your opinion and to express it freely, as is everyone else! I REALLY hope you are right to be honest but I am not seeing a comeback with this staff, this year.

    2. Some of us need to get our big boy pants on. If you have a criticism, direct it at a coach. He is being paid the big bucks to take it. Leave the team alone.

    3. I guess you have to eat crow for at least one week. Tech 42. Miami 35.maybe you need to start pulling for someone else.

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