Last year, Georgia Tech walked into Lane Stadium on a Thursday night and manhandled Virginia Tech 49-28. Over his tenure in Blacksburg, the Yellow Jackets are the only team in the Coastal who head coach Justin Fuente is yet to beat.
He hopes that changes on Saturday in Atlanta.
“Those guys are really playing hard in all three phases,” Fuente said during Monday’s press conference. “We are 0-3 in the last three years against Georgia Tech. They came into our stadium and beat the mess out of us last year. We’ve got to have a great week of preparation as we move forward to the next challenge.”
The Hokies might just be aided by the fact that they won’t have to face the pesky triple-option offense that has been a thorn in their side over those past three seasons. Paul Johnson stepped down at the end of last year, and Geoff Collins has taken over the program.
There’s certainly a transition period when there’s such a dramatic shift in offensive systems, but Collins already has his team playing in competitive games, despite having to reinvent the wheel at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
“I think they deserve a tremendous amount of credit for the way they’ve been creative and efficient on the offensive side of the ball as they go through the transition,” Fuente said. “I don’t want to pretend to speak on someone else’s program. I know there’s a lot of things that he’s done and changed and that sort of stuff, but for that one side of the ball it’s pretty drastic, as drastic as you can get. They’ve done a great job of giving those guys a chance to have success in playing to their strengths in terms of their skill guys.”
Georgia Tech is not the same team it was at the beginning of the season, and it likely won’t be the pushover that many expected. Despite a 2-7 record that includes a loss to Citadel of the FCS, the Yellow Jackets have been competitive of late, defeating Miami and falling to Pittsburgh and Virginia by a combined 15 points.
“I think the first thing is he’s got his guys playing hard,” Fuente said. “You turn on the game versus Virginia last week, and you know immediately that they’re there to go win the game. He deserves a tremendous amount of credit for that. Those guys are continuing to battle, and they’ll be ready to play on Saturday.”
Virginia Tech has seen immense improvement in its own right. They’ve gone from a team that was losing by 35 points at home to Duke to one that beat a ranked Wake Forest team at home by 19 points. Over that stretch the Hokies are 4-1 and one stop away versus Notre Dame from rattling off five straight wins.
Fuente and Co. adopted an “A.D.: After Duke” approach that has seemingly flipped the switch.
“I told them, ‘This is my fault. We are not a tough football team right now. We’re not mentally tough, we’re not emotionally tough, and we didn’t play physically tough, and here’s examples of it on the film, and this is not your fault. It’s my fault,’” said Fuente on what he told his team after the Duke loss. “I said, ‘It’s changing right now. I’ve let you down, and that’s on me, and I encourage everybody to look at themselves in the mirror when things don’t go well, and I’m doing it right now. I’m telling you we’re changing this. I’m going back to being myself. I’m not worried about anything else, and if you want to go be a part of it, then I’ll see you on the practice field.’”
Fuente refused to speak on any specifics regarding what the team got away from and what those changes were, but whatever the trick was seems to have done the trick.
“It was just the way we went about things was different than what I had always done, and that’s my fault,” Fuente said. “So, I quit worrying about all that other stuff and just worried about getting our guys ready to play.”
Now much of the criticism has turned to praise regarding the Hokies. The Hendon Hooker-led offense and a Bud Foster-inspired defense has made key strides to where the Coastal Division crown is now there for the taking if Tech handles its business down the stretch. So how will the Hokies handle this newfound acclaim?
“It wasn’t that long ago that we had been given up for dead, and we all remember that, and we also understand how we’ve given ourselves a chance to play meaningful games in the month of November, and we have to stick to that. Now, that’s very easy to say and very difficult to do, but it’s a huge point of emphasis for us moving forward.”
Other Quotes and Notes
Brad Cornelsen unleashed the long-awaited pop pass that worked to perfection… until Terius Wheatley coughed up the ball at the end of the play. Hooker sucked the defense in and found Wheatley for the 50-yard completion.
“It’s all about the defense,” Fuente said. “A couple years ago, we ran it quite a bit, and really didn’t get those looks much more since then. So, we had the look that we needed and almost pulled it off.”
Many want to know the exact impact Jerry Kill has had since arriving in Blacksburg. That remains to be seen, but Fuente did speak highly of him.
“I shouldn’t understate the effect that Coach Kill is having on our program across the board,” Fuente said. “Whether it be the running game or operations or just anything that we’ve got going on, he’s just such a valuable resource for us in really all areas. And you know, continuing to help force the offensive staff to ask questions and to refine and make sure what we’re teaching and how we’re teaching it is thoroughly vetted is one of the many things that he has done for us in his short time here.”
DaShawn Crawford and Oscar Bradburn were named ACC Defensive Lineman and ACC Specialist of the Week, respectively, for their performances against Wake Forest. Crawford totaled four tackles and made a key interception in the third quarter. Bradburn nailed four punts for an average of 51.2 yards, with three of those being down inside the 20.
Virginia Tech’s final home game of the season against Pittsburgh has been placed on a six-day hold for the kickoff time.