Tech Talk Live Notes: Justin Fuente on Notre Dame and Wake Forest

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Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech
Justin Fuente looked back on the Notre Dame game, and talked about Wake Forest. (Ivan Morozov)

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

On the loss to Notre Dame… 

Well, it was a tough locker room after the game. When I look back, I’ve been a part of two other locker rooms like that. They don’t happen very often. You sell out to go win the game, and you’ve got the lead and you think it’s all going to work out, and then at the very last moment, it doesn’t. Those are tough things to be a part of.

I was really proud of our football team. It’s part of athletics. If you put yourself in those situations’ enough times against good people, you go compete as hard as you can, sometimes you’re going to come up a little short. What makes it even harder is that we’ve come through in those situations so many times just this year alone. To not get another first down or not get off of the field there with a couple of fourth down stops really hurts.

I’m really proud of our players. I told them, ‘If you don’t believe that we can go play and beat anyone in America right now then I can’t help you.” With the people that we were missing and the people that stepped in and played and how we were in a hostile environment with a young football team and had a legitimate chance to win. The thing with us was, we’re heavy underdogs in the game, if we can find a way to get it down to the last five minutes, we’ll get it done. We did everything except we just needed one more play.

On Quincy Patterson… 

It’s a pretty tough way to make your [starting] debut as a redshirt-freshman, but it’s what the circumstances called for. He certainly has a bright future. He has to continue to work to improve. We’re going to need him this year and moving forward. He’s made so much progress already, but it was a tough environment and it wasn’t too big for him. He certainly didn’t look lost out there. He was in total control and directing traffic. There were a few plays here and there that I’m sure he wishes he had back, but all in all, he accounted for himself pretty well.

On the confidence growing within the team over the weeks… 

We need to keep our guys healthy enough to get through this really tough stretch because it’s going to be hard. I like our togetherness, and our kids are developing confidence in themselves. They’re starting to reap some of the benefits of the fruits of their labor because they have worked hard, and they are aspiring to be a really good football team. We should gain some confidence, and we have over the last couple of weeks. We should know moving forward that we have a chance to have a special locker room.

On injuries… 

It was good to get Lecitus [Smith] back. I think Keshawn King is going to be fine this week, that’s my belief. Like I said in the presser today, I’m 0-for-2 on making calls on guys’ health on Damon [Hazelton] and Hendon [Hooker]. We’ve still got guys dealing with things, but I think we’re in decent shape. Hopefully we can get everybody out there, and we’re going to need all hands-on deck for this one this week.

On the controversial kickoff that ended up at the 1-yard line… 

I got an explanation. If you’re ready to break your checkbook out, we can have a really good conversation about it. I say this all of the time, they’ve got a hard job. By the letter of the rule, the explanation that was given to me was that if the receiving team catches the ball inside of the 5-yard line and their momentum takes them into the endzone and downs it, the ball is spotted where he caught the ball.

There is some debate over whether his momentum took him into the endzone, or he stepped back into the endzone. It could be debated. There were some calls on the last drive that didn’t go our way as well. There were some other plays that we turned in that were on us that we got away with as well. I’m trying to be as politically correct as possible here, but it was tough pill to swallow.

On the ineligible receiver downfield call… 

First of all, the reason that I was really upset was that they said that the tight end was covered up. Well, the tight end didn’t go out for a pass. That’s what got me upset about it. I knew what the play was, and the tight end was blocking. Then, they came back and said both of the receivers were on the line of scrimmage, so the inside receiver was ineligible. When I looked at the film, they are pretty tight, but our guys always ask.

I can see on the TV copy our guy looking at the official and holding his arm back to ask if he is off. Of course, on the TV copy, I can’t see if the official verifies that or not. I know what our players told me, so there you have it. There were a couple of calls that were tough, but we had our opportunity in the clutch to come through in all three phases of the game, and ultimately weren’t able to find a way to win the game.

On the thin secondary at the end of the game… 

We didn’t have anybody left. We were asking for volunteers on the last drive. Jermaine [Waller] is out and Caleb [Farley] went out. We were in nickel defense, so we were mixing and matching guys to get in there. Some of the guys who did get in there did a good job, and we appreciate that.

We talk about it all the time that you just don’t know. We don’t give you a heads up or a five-minute warning of when you’re going in. A coach just turns to you, grabs you by the shoulder pads and throws you in. You have to be in the moment and playing the game on the sidelines.

Jermaine continues to improve. He doesn’t ever seem to panic, and he’s a heady player. I hate it for him, and I hate the way the rule is administrated. I understand it and I’m for player safety, but there’s other parts of it, too. We parade the defensive player out of the stadium as if he’s committed this heinous crime. I don’t like the optics of that, and I hate that part of it. I hate it for Jermaine because I know there was no intent in the deal. He was trying to go make a play and the runner was going down.

The teaching point is that he needs to keep his eyes up more even though the target was moving lower really quickly, and that’s how we ended up with the penalty. As soon as he went out, boom, they put their best receiver to the boundary and Armani Chatman was equal to the task and intercepts a ball. Of course, it got called back for a roughing the passer call, which we turned in as well.

On Hendon Hooker… 

He’s played really well when he’s been in there. I tried to describe it the best that I could in postgame. Yes, Hendon practiced every single day. He didn’t take all of the reps. He continued to look better as we moved forward throughout the week. This is a guy that has played in two and a half games. If he had been a two-and-a-half-year starter, I don’t think it would have been as big of a deal.

When I really sat down and thought about it, I didn’t want to put him in that position. If he had taken all of the reps and done all of that, I would have felt differently. I just couldn’t do it at that point. Hopefully, he continues to get better and we have a great week this week and he gets to get out there and go do his thing.

On Rayshard Ashby and Divine Deablo… 

What a huge play. That’s an unbelievable momentum swing. Great job by Rayshard on the goal line causing the fumble, and Divine picks it up and takes it to the house. That gave us a huge amount of momentum coming out of the half. We go kick a field goal and we’re feeling good. Both those guys are playing really well.

I feel like I’ve said this every week about somebody, but we see these guys all of the time and the work that they put in. Those two guys work incredibly hard, and are a pleasure to be around. It’s great to see them have success. Rayshard is one of the most instinctive players that I’ve ever seen in my life. He’s got incredible vision and a knack for that position to make tackles in small confined spaces. He’s really remarkable and I haven’t seen that many people with that much talent in the box. He’s certainly got it.

Then, Divine just continues to get more and more comfortable in the backend and coverage and in run fits. He made a heck of a play on the interception. He actually came off of his guy and doubled underneath the post route to make the interception. He’s really a stalwart for us in the back end.

On reacting to sudden changes during the game…  

The three things we talked about heading into that game, the first thing was we have to have a great week of preparation. There’s really no reason that we shouldn’t. The second thing was that we had to have composure; we had to be able to play the next play. We knew that we were playing a talented team on the road, and you have to be able to play the next play and stay focused on that. There are examples of that throughout the game where things don’t go our way, but we find a way to focus and try and execute on the very next play.

The very last thing was our will to win. We wanted to get this thing to the last five minutes and find a way to get the job done. We almost completed the sweep, but I was really pleased with our ability to stay focused and execute the next play regardless whether the last play was good or bad.

On John Parker Romo’s punting… 

We weren’t even able to practice [Oscar Bradburn pulled his groin on Thursday]. I do feel bad for Oscar, but I felt bad for myself when this happened. I grabbed him and asked, ‘What’s going on?’ He’s like, ‘Coach, I was out here warming up and on about the third ball I kicked, and I felt it in my groin.’ Boom. We’re without our starting punter.

Romo just steps in there like he’s in the backyard. He jumps in there on Thursday and does it. Then, he jumps out there on Saturday in front of who knows how many people and we just told him to look the ball in and kick it as hard as he can. That’s coaching for you. He did it. He went out there and even handled one snap that was a little off and he was productive for us.

On Oscar Bradburn’s injury… 

I hope it’s not a long-term thing. Again, I talked to Mike Goforth in the meeting this morning. We have a plan to get him through the week and see if he can do a little bit of work, mostly recovery, to get him towards the game. I think it’s a game-time decision. He’ll go out there and warm up and either feel good enough or won’t. He feels good. I talked to him on Thursday and asked him how he felt, and he said, ‘not good.’ He’s honest. He said that it wasn’t going to go well, but now he says he feels much better.

On Terius Wheatley’s smart play on the kickoff return… 

I was a proud papa in that moment. I know our guys get a little bit tired of it, but I think there’s some things that they get excited for. We have this huge catalog of all plays like that, crazy plays and rule interpretations. We watch some of them during fall camp, and I’ll quiz them.

When I was a kid, on Monday Night Football, they would have ‘You Make the Call.’ They would say, ‘The receiver catches the ball, is this a catch?’ They’d go to commercial break and come back and tell you. That’s what we do in fall camp, is just try to get them to look at some of the things that have happened over the years. Also, during the season, on Fridays after our walkthrough and before we go to the hotel, I pull up clips of plays that have happened over the country just to talk about things that have happened. Everybody on our staff will text me if they watch a game and something happens. I’ll get it to our video guy, and he’ll cut it up and we’ll watch it.

That play has been on there like four or five times. I always wonder if they’re actually listening. When he did it, not only did he gain us 20 or 25 yards, but the whole sideline went up and started cheering. They all knew what had just happened, and that was pretty cool.

On Dax Hollifield getting an interception… 

They had a little drive going there early and he had the sliding grab. He continues to improve. We’ve asked a lot of him at a young age, and he just continues to get better in terms of using his hands. He made a really nice play on the pin and pull sweep into the boundary. He fought off two blockers and made the tackle on our sideline. He just continues to get better. He plays a lot on special teams as well and has been a core member of our team.

On Hezekiah Grimsley… 

Hezzy’s been doing a great job for us in terms of communicating on the punt return. He hasn’t played as much as he wants. Some of that is just him being a victim of circumstance in terms of what we’ve been doing. Tayvion continues to get better, but he was ready when his number was called. He had two big third-down catches. He helped extend drives, he’s a great teammate and he’s continuing to improve as well.

On lack of plays in the passing game… 

If you would have told me before the game that they were going to line up the way that they did, I would have been really happy. There were several things that went into that. First, they were really good on the outside. Those two corners, I think one is a big guy and the other is a pretty athletic kid. They did a good job.

There were a couple of things that we could have done technique-wise to help ourselves out. We could have made a few more contested catches. We made the one really big one with Tre [Turner] on the sideline in the fourth quarter. Damon made one for a touchdown. We need to make a few more of those, and we have. We could have done a couple more things to help them out too. It’s a combination of all of those things. They were pretty talented, and we weren’t as technically sound as I’d like us to be, and in retrospect we could have done more to help them out.

On playing without Jermaine Waller for the first half against Wake Forest…  

[Taking the ball if we win the toss] is something we would have to consider. With as good of a player as Jermaine is, being able to lessen the time that he’s off of the field, there’s a lot of things that go into that. If you could write the perfect script, you would start with a big long drive that ends in points, but we’ll see as we get closer to it. We’re certainly going to have to have a great team effort with Wake rolling in here.

On Wake Forest’s offense… 

The first thing is, it’s one of the most unique schemes that I’ve ever seen. I tried to articulate this to the media, but I’m not sure that I did a good enough job of it. They run their plays quickly. They push the pace, but a lot of teams do that. What makes them unique is that the pace in the backfield is slowed down. It will almost look like the running back is walking as the quarterback rides him across. As they both ride the ball across for an inside run, the quarterback and the tailback are next to each other almost up to the line of scrimmage. I’ve never seen anything like it.

That plus the pace that they want to run plays is truly a big challenge. They also have great personnel. They’re quarterback is a good player, they’ve got two running backs that are very good, two receivers that can make plays. We’ll have to do a very good job getting lined up and being able to communicate. We’ll need help from our fans being loud. They’re going to make us play in space and we’ll have to do a great job tackling.

When you boil all of that stuff down, you get two things. They’re +7 in turnovers, and the other thing is, they’re 50% on third down. They’re also holding the other team to about 30%. They’re very good on third down, so offensively, we have to stay on the field, and defensively, we have to get off the field. The other thing is, we have to take care of the ball and force turnovers. They’re going to get yards. We have to find a way to create turnovers to win this game.

On Wake’s loss to Louisville… 

It was an odd game to say the least. They got really hurt on special teams. They gave up two kick returns, one for a touchdown, one all the way down to the ten. They gave up a punt return that got returned down to the ten-yard line. That really hurt them. They turned the ball over in their own end early in the game and Louisville got out to a big lead. That doesn’t mean that Louisville didn’t play well. They made huge plays.

With five minutes left in the game, Louisville was up about 21 points and then the barrage came. Wake scored, recovered an onside kick and scored, then Louisville scored, and Wake scored again. It was a mad dash to the finish, there were a bunch of points scored. The game ended with an onside kick, and the ball got kicked all the way back to the 20-yard line and it was mad dash to get it. Louisville finally got it and was able to kneel the clock out. They did turn Wake over and found a way to create turnovers and made plays outside of their normal offense and defense.

On whether Rayshard Ashby becomes a focal point facing Wake’s offense… 

Certainly, in the inside run game and the stretch game that they want to run, he’ll be a big factor. They’ve done a good job at slowing people down up front through their scheme. Being able to fit the run with the quarterback in the way is going to be big for us. If you haven’t seen it, it’s truly unique. I’ve never seen anyone else ever do it like this. If you haven’t seen it, when you do see it, you’ll recognize how different it looks. It’ll be really important for us to hold up in the box, and we’ll have to cover on the perimeter.

On the dynamic Wake passing game… 

They really have been efficient. Their quarterback missed a game or two, but he’s been back full go. He does have some size, and he’ll block for his tailback. He’s a big guy. This is a big guy standing back there, and he’s a good athlete who has been efficient throwing the football.

On how the big win over UNC will help the team in Lane this week… 

I think we know that given an opportunity, that if we prepare and play well enough, we can be finishers. We can be the team that finds a way to get the job done. We have done that in the past. The last time we were at home, we played much better and we want to continue to build on that.

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10 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. I’ve watched a few Wake games this season, and Fuente’s not kidding…that weird slow delayed handoff they do is just odd. It’s going to be interesting to see if we can figure it out and block it well.

  2. The best defense against an 80+ offensive play team, is to rush for 300 yards..not impossible against this porous defense….it keeps them off the field

  3. King will be ok this week…? meaning health wise, or actually attending practice / playing in game lol. not funny i know.

    1. King has painfully figured out how have his honey pot, and play football, too! They dont have to be mutually exclusive!

      GO HOKIES!

  4. I got an explanation. If you’re ready to break your checkbook out, we can have a really good conversation about it.

    On to the next one, coach. I feel much better about this team than I did 5 weeks ago.

  5. I’m not liking our prospects in this game with Wake Forest. I think they are really good, and will expose our defensive weaknesses. I hope I’m wrong.

  6. I like the thought of taking the ball if you win the toss.
    I guess it will come down to how the backups perform this week in practice.

    1. My fear with Wake, is we can’t score enough to win.. Wake scores and scores a lot. Hope Hooker is 100% and play to give us a chance. Q. Patterson, gives his All, but sadly his passing skills are yet to be developed.

      GO HOKIES!!!!!!! Win it for Bud and the LPD!

  7. Looks like they will have to practice the fake soccer injury for this game – no way our D can stay on the field for 80+ plays and survive.

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