Tech Talk Live Notes: Virginia Tech’s Youth Movement

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Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente was Monday’s guest.

On the offense’s efficiency on Saturday…

It was a very unique game. I’m not sure that I’ve ever been a part of a game quite like that in some time, in terms of only having eight possessions on our side of the ball. We were down. We only had four scholarship receivers that were ready to play. Maybe that was a good thing that it wasn’t a high possession game since we were pretty thin there. I’m happy that we found a way to win the ballgame. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but if we can continue to take care of the football and cause some turnovers defensively, we have a chance in every game that we play the rest of the year.

On finding the team’s identity…

[Hendon Hooker] is certainly leading us towards one. He’s played two games now, and we’ve taken care of the football and had some success running the football. Obviously, Miami is a pretty stout defense. We all saw on Friday night, their defensive performance against UVA. They put on a pretty good defensive show. That game two weeks ago is something to be proud of in terms of us becoming more efficient. I’d like to see everybody out there at once. I’d like to get our whole offensive line. Our young guys continue to improve, and I’d like to get them out there with those sophomores that are getting better. I’d like to get Hendon in there with all of his weapons at wideout and see what he can do.

On Hendon throwing the ball away on Saturday… 

He had the recognition that he was stuck, so to speak, to the boundary. It was a bad look, and he didn’t try to force the football in there. He could’ve gotten on the move and seen if he could’ve gotten something and then throw it away, but for him to recognize that we weren’t in a very good situation and live to play another play is a good step for him.

On his comfort level with the team and the season… 

I’m really excited about our group. We continue to improve. Our young offensive line continues to get better. We have two true freshmen in there with two sophomores and a redshirt-freshman that are really starting to gel. We’re starting to get all of our skill guys. We went through the first part without Damon [Hazelton] and we’ve gone through this last part without Tre [Turner]. We’re finally starting to get those guys back with the pup, Tayvion Robinson, mixed in there doing some things.

Our running game continues to improve. Defensively, I think we’re figuring out what we need to be. We need to be a pressure team and continue to mix up those looks. We have a group up front on the defensive line that is playing really hard. They’re really giving us a chance with their effort. We continue to improve in the backend. I really like where we’re going with our young guys.

On the development of Mario Kendricks and Norell Pollard… 

We’ve been really fortunate that those two young guys have been far enough along to play early in the season. Fuga is another one that we’ve been holding back that I’m really excited about. It’s just that Mario and Norell are further along early in their career. I think they’ve both got a chance to really be productive, good players. It’s not often that you play those young guys in the offensive and defensive line. That’s ironic, because we’re now playing four, two on offense and two on defense, in the interior lines. They seem to be holding up pretty well.

On Alan Tisdale… 

He certainly has been marked by continuous improvement. He continues to work. He’s so athletic and can cover so much space in that boundary linebacker position. It’s really nice because we have a little three-man rotation between Rayshard [Ashby}, Dax [Hollifield] and Alan that we can get guys a little bit of a break. Part of the reason that we’re able to do that is because of how Alan has come on and how comfortable Bud [Foster] feels about putting Alan in the game when they’re throwing the ball a lot.

On Deshawn McClease’s catch… 

I know it was close, and when they rule it incomplete and it’s close, you know that they’re probably not going to give it to you. First of all, on that play, I told Hendon that you just have to eat that. When we’re running a reverse pass and the snap is on the ground, it’s over with. Go back to the line of scrimmage and we’ll call it again later. So, we kind of forced the issue there. Tayvion kind of lofted one up there into kind of no man’s land over the linebacker. Deshawn made a great catch and was ruled out of bounds.

Tayvion just continues to get better. I like his work ethic. He shows up every day at practice and works to improve. He takes coaching. I know that sounds really simple, but he listens and can take what you’re asking him to do and put it into action without feeling like he’s being ridiculed. It’s like, ‘Tayvion, if you want to play well, these are the things that you need to do.’ He goes about working on them diligently. I don’t think he played very fast early in the year, even though he had a bunch of catches early in the year. It didn’t look to me like he was playing very fast. He’s made a concerted effort to think about that and has made it a part of his game now.

On how McClease’s catch ignited the team… 

It was an excitable deal. They like Deshawn, and when he makes plays, they get excited for him. That’s always a cool part of our job, when you get to see other players get excited for guys when they make plays. It did give us a little bit of a spark. We had a little bit of time while they were reviewing it. Everybody is over there giving him a high-five, and I’m hearing in my headset that it’s not going to count, but I didn’t want to spoil the party.

On Damon Hazelton… 

He could have had 300 yards receiving. It’s still a work in progress in terms of getting back. He’s just missed so much time. It’s just really remarkable how much time he missed and how far along he is. We needed him. We were down to four guys, so we needed to lean heavily on him in that game. I’m glad that he’s coming along. I anticipate that if everything goes smoothly this week and through the bye week, going into the home stretch, he’ll be up to game speed.

On replacing Reggie Floyd for the first half… 

Devon [Hunter] has worked incredibly hard, and we’ve left him at that spot for basically a year now for him to learn the nuances. I think Justin Hamilton has done a fantastic job of preparing our safeties to play every week. I know he’ll get Devon ready to go. Ladler is a guy that has played all three of those spots and can fill in if need be. Nasir Peoples is another guy who is working in there and is continuing to make an impact on special teams as he gets a little bit more work and continues to improve. It’s unfortunate, but it’s part of the rules and the guys that are going to step in will step in admirably.

On not having a senior starter… 

That’s not a good stat. I’d like to have like twenty of them, and we will eventually. No, I don’t think I’ve ever had a situation like that. It’s unfortunate. Tyrell [Smith] is out, and some of the other guys aren’t starting, and Reggie is out. We’ll have to get the young pups ready to go. I didn’t know that until now, so I appreciate the reminder.

On the offense’s efficiency on third down… 

We missed a couple chances for really big plays and one or two play drives. Some of our drives were a little bit more time consuming than normal. That centers around the run game. You need to keep them off balance on third-and-short and third-and-medium. Third-and-long, you’re pretty much dialed into what you’re going to do. We have converted a few third-and-longs running the football. At Miami, Deshawn converted a third-and-long running the ball. We always try to do that every once and a while to keep people honest.

I’m pleased with our ability to stay on the field. Getting to third and manageable has been a big part of that. I know it seems like an obvious statement, but the shorter the yard to gain, the easier it is to convert. Being able to run the ball has been good and keeping them off balance. Having the threat of running the ball on third-and-short helps you throw the ball in those situations. It’s been a little give and take, and we have a big challenge this week to keep those statistics moving in the right direction.

On Tahj Gary… 

I think it’s remarkable to recover from an injury like that. He broke his femur towards the end last year, his senior year, on a tough collision. He had a pretty big surgery. I saw him, not immediately after the surgery, but about a month later. He was still on crutches, but he was proud and upbeat about his rehab.

He came to us in the summer and obviously wasn’t in good shape because he hadn’t been able to do much running. I was taken aback by how well he was able to run in the summertime. Then, he’s gone all the way through fall camp and into the season, and we’re going to continue to try to get him a little bit of work. We’ll see how it works out in each game. He gives us something that we don’t have at tailback in terms of size. We’re not very big at that position right now. He’s a guy that, if things work out, can come in and push the pile a little bit.

On Jalen Holston’s recovery…

The last update that I got on Jalen was that he was as much as a week ahead of schedule. Hopefully, sometime after the bye week, we’ll have him back. He is anxious to get back. He’s worked really hard through the offseason and was really excited to have a good season. We need him back. He’s the only guy we’ve got with some stature that we need to have in there. He’s anxious to go, and as soon as he’s ready he’ll be back and ready to rock.

On UNC’s offense…

They’ve got two running backs that are really good players. They ran the ball really well against Clemson. They’ve got two wide receivers that are highly productive. For me, the biggest difference between this North Carolina team and the last couple of years has been the quarterback play. Ever since Trubisky left a year early, they just haven’t gotten consistent production out of the quarterback position. They’ve been good at the other spots.

We would watch them on film and say, ‘They’re good here and here and here, but they haven’t played very well at quarterback.’ That cupboard was definitely not bare, but they’ve introduced a true freshman quarterback, Sam Howell, that has come in and played very well. They’re doing some good stuff schematically. They’re heavy into the run-pass option stuff with gap scheme, but he is dishing the ball to the guys on the outside. He runs just enough that it makes you worry. To me, he’s been the difference for them this year.

On Chazz Surratt moving from quarterback to linebacker…

That doesn’t happen very often, especially in today’s day and age. I don’t know Chazz, but I think a lot of the guy. To welcome a position change and take it on, he is a very good athlete. I don’t want to speak for them, but he probably wasn’t playing as efficiently as he wanted to. They proposed this to him, and he’s done it. He’s really excelled, and it’s been a good position move for him. We’ll have to know where he’s at on the field. They’ve asked him to do a lot because he’s a big, good athlete. It’s a good story quite honestly, even though it’s another program. The kid has made the move and embraced that move and had success with it.

On whether this team reminds him of the 2016 Tar Heels… 

They are similarly talented. They’re as explosive. They’re playing a completely different scheme defensively. Offensively, they’re similar to what they have been over the past few years with Coach Fedora. I’m sure what they call things is different, but philosophically, it’s similar. Defensively, they’ve gone to a completely different mode of operation. They’ve gone to a 50 defense which is essentially three down linemen, and teaching their techniques a little bit different. But they have a similar talent level as the team in 2016.

On North Carolina’s performance against Georgia Tech… 

It was the only game that they’ve played that wasn’t close. The game wasn’t as close as the score. They kind of hit their stride there against Georgia Tech. I think Georgia Tech is doing something similar to what we talked about, searching for an offensive identity. This North Carolina team is battle-tested. Their first six games were against some really good football teams. They’re coming off of a bye week, so we’ll see some things we haven’t prepared for. We just know that going in because they’re coming off of a bye week.

On how beneficial it is to stay at home two weeks in a row… 

That’s always the good part of it. I’m anxious for us to play better at home. I’m not sure if it’s the tickets or family visiting. I just haven’t felt our players playing as well. I don’t think that they’re not trying. I just don’t feel like we’ve played as well as we did at Miami and to some degree at Boston College. I know there’s a level that we can reach here at home, and I’m searching with how to get to the guys so we can reach that level and set some of the distractions aside and get ready to go play.

On directional kicking… 

We return a few kicks, and then they start kicking it all over the place. Then, we put two returners back there to give us a chance to return the ball, and they kick it short or kick it over our head. We have to have a plan for it every week because people are seeing that we’re capable. If you kick it the way you’ve been kicking it, we’ll scheme it up and have a chance to really hurt you. Being prepared for something new every week is the road that we’ve chosen to take. So, we’ll have to be ready for the cross-field kicks because we’ve shown that if you kick it the way you usually do, we can hurt you.

On John Parker Romo’s approaches to the football… 

He does have a unique approach. We were in the middle of fall camp and we do installation of special teams in groups. We don’t put in all four groups of special teams on the first day. So, you do work for a couple days on one and then the other. We get to kickoff and no one as a group has seen him approach the ball and kick off. The whole team is waiting there for him to kickoff. It’s the middle of fall camp, so it’s hot and we’re all just waiting there for him to kickoff. He goes to approach the ball with this bounding approach, and everybody is kind of just looking around. Then, he kicks one out of the end zone and everyone starts cheering. He gave us life in the middle of fall camp.

I had our video guy make a video of a gazelle running in the wild and spliced it in there with his approach. The guys loved it. I wanted to make sure Parker knew that I wasn’t making fun of his approach, but he got excited about it. He sent me a text saying, ‘Coach, that was the coolest thing ever and I feel like a part of the team.’ It is unique. You have to have a lot of self-confidence to kick the ball that way. As long as he keeps kicking it out of the end zone, he can approach it however he wants to.

On Rayshard Ashby… 

He’s awesome. He made two plays in the game that I showed the whole team. We were blocked, and I mean everybody’s blocked. He finds a way to get off the block and make the tackle for a four-yard gain. You talk about a guy that can cover up things, it’s not measurable. It’s not height, weight or speed. He is strong, but he has a knack for playing football, for playing the game and navigating small spaces. He’s highly intelligent and is really a good football player.

On recruiting this weekend… 

We’ll have upwards of 100 recruits on campus this weekend. Maybe not 100 recruits, but 100 guests. Hopefully the weather is nice and it’s a beautiful day. Obviously, the two schools are located in relatively close proximity, so there’s that recruiting deal. Recruiting doesn’t come down to winning and losing one football game, but it doesn’t hurt either.

On the keys to beating North Carolina… 

We need to manufacture a big play in the kicking game. There have been a few uneventful weeks for us, which can be a good thing, but I would like us to make a big play in the kicking game. Defensively, we have to keep them one-dimensional and keep them from running the football. On the offensive side, we have to run the ball. Everything goes better when we run the ball well. Obviously, we have to take care of it and force turnovers and get this thing done.

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6 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Encouraging news but its worrisome that UNCheat has beaten both South Carolina and Miami, and gave Clemson a hard game; and other than the win over Miami our toughest opponent was Duke and we got swamped by them. Hope our guys are ready to raise the level of their game.

  2. A fair catch on a kickoff gets you the ball at the 25 yard line. I’m not sure why we aren’t using that on these directional kicks. Letting URI kick it over our head and returning it to the 7 yard line could have been a game changing play if the O didn’t respond with a 93 yard drive. I’m disappointed Shibest didn’t have us in better position.

  3. Our defenses of the past had a bunch of Rayshard Ashbys — true football players who could “cover up things.” Seems like we’re headed that direction again.

  4. Lots of positives – Hooker, John Parker Romo, McClease, T. Gary, Tayvion, Tisdale.

    I wonder if taking a knee in the endzone on a kickoff to get it to the 25 will count as “a big play” in the kicking game?

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