Tech Talk Live Notes: Virginia Tech Prepares For NC State

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Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech
Justin Fuente and the Hokies are getting ready for NC State. (Dave Knachel, Virginia Tech Athletics)

On mock weekend…

It was a true exercise in faking a game under COVID-times. Our defensive coordinator’s wife went into labor the day of the mock game, so he was absent from the mock game. I basically just pitched it to the team, we are going to practice the way things could actually be, who knows? We all test on Friday, so something could pop up. It was as realistic as we could make it.

I thought our kids handled it well. Mock weekend is kind of a pain, but it’s really good for some of the young players to go through the meetings and see what it’s really like, so when they do it for real, they know where they’re supposed to be and what they’re supposed to be doing and how it’s all supposed to look.

On how he feels ahead of kickoff…

I feel great. I am excited. I’ve never been through anything like this in my entire life. I’m anxious about who we’re going to get back, when we’re going to get them back and how much we’ll be able to use them. What’s safe and how do the kids actually feel? There’s a lot of that going on. What does that mean for special teams? So on and so forth.

We still have three more tests. We had one today and we’ll have two more before we play. We have to get those results and see what those things mean. There’s a lot up in the air right now. I do know that this is the furthest we’ve made it so far, so I feel good about that. Our first one was canceled by NC State a couple of weeks out, and we had the deal last week. Now, we’ve made it into game week, so I feel good about that.

To say that it’s not normal is so much of an understatement. It’s so much further past normal. I’m not talking about just me; this is about all of us. I’m talking from Shibest in special teams to Goforth in the training room to Dr. Rogers to everybody involved in our program. The things that they’re going through right now to figure out who could be back and what has to happen for them to get back and what are the medical procedures that they have to go through to get back is mindboggling.

I’m sure people are saying, ‘Coach, what have you guys been doing? You haven’t been playing any games, surely you’ve been practicing.’ We’ve been practicing for an hour and twenty minutes with a skeleton crew. It’s been interesting. I do know this, I always try to judge it off of the players, they’re excited and really want to go play. We’re always going to do what’s right by them and try to protect them, but hopefully we make it through this week, get prepared and get a chance to go play ball.

On trying to play without a full roster…

It’s contingency plan upon contingency plan. The thing that makes this ironic, and I’m just being truthful here, I understand the severity of COVID and I’m not making light of any of that, but from a purely factual basis of handling your roster, once a guy is positive and comes through the ten days, he’s clear for ninety days. Now, you know you have somebody for ninety days whereas when they go through contact tracing, they’re gone for fourteen days. Then, they could come out for one day and be right back in [quarantine] the next day. We have several guys who have been in quarantine more than once and have never been sick.

I read an article the other day about Dave Clawson, and he’s got a kid who has been quarantined for forty-some-odd days through contact tracing. He hasn’t been sick for one day and hasn’t tested positive. We don’t have someone to that extreme, but we have several guys that have been in it multiple times. We’re talking about guys that aren’t coming to practice and are kind of removed from society. I get all of the safety precautions and I’m not complaining, but when you know somebody has had it and gone through it, now you know you have him. The rest of the roster, you don’t know, they could get wiped out at a moment’s notice by a positive test or contact tracing.

On Mike Norvell testing positive…

I talked to Mike via text the other day and just wished him well. He’s not having symptoms and he feels good, but you know, it is a concern. I’ve tried to do everything possible, not just from a health standpoint, but from a professional standpoint, to try and stay out of that situation. The bottom-line is that I’ve been around people who have been positive. I’ve tried to take every precaution possible, so we have a litany of contingency plans for everybody in our program.

Really what that’s done, it’s increased the umbrella of people who are in our core that have to go through the testing. If our staff was a roster, we’d have to go further down the roster at times if we lose people. They have to have gone through the testing in case we need them. It leads to one thing after the other as you can imagine, but we have several checks and balances in place in case something happens.

I’ve told the team, ‘This very well may happen, I don’t know when, but if it does, this is exactly what we’re going to do.’ That way, they can say, ‘Coach, told us on August 28, this is what we’re going to do.’ Then, they can go execute the plan.

On the quarterback situation…

I don’t know if we’ve had significant change, but we’ll see how this week goes and where we’re at towards the end of the week. I feel really good about our situation there. Certainly, I have some concerns and things we need to improve on with our football team, but I feel really good about that position, and that’s a good position to feel good about.

I worry a little bit about whether we can get enough work in to be as sharp as we want to be, but we still have the rest of this week to hopefully get some of that in so we can be sharp for gameday.

For Braxton, we didn’t really have a lot to work off of. For him, it was just him getting into the flow of what we were trying to do. He had moved to scout team, so he was running plays off of cards, not our offense, and got no spring ball. He’s plenty intelligent to pick it all up, but he hadn’t been in that flow like Hendon had been in all season.

For Hendon, it was about trying to continue to improve as a passer. He made some really good decisions. I think he can still begin to find his balance of aggressiveness, and I think there are times he can be more aggressive. He needs to continue to get more snaps. For as well as he played last year, and even those last two weeks, he played pretty well, he still hasn’t played a tremendous amount of ball. It hurt a little bit for our team not having the spring, because those guys needed those reps for their development. As we entered fall camp, I felt pretty good about both of them, and they’ve been pretty sharp.

On how they want to use Hooker…

There’s an element of timing and rhythm that comes with throwing the ball in the intermediate area. I think sometimes it’s a little more nuanced when you’re in that range and there’s some more timing things, and it can be a little more fundamental based that can help you be more accurate. That’s been something that Hendon has worked diligently on.

I don’t know what percentage of passes he completed last year, I know it was pretty high, but he believes he could have been even more accurate and tried to give those guys a chance to run with it after the catch.

On Justin Hamilton making his debut…

There’s a lot of great offensive and defensive schemes. The odd front defense is a great defense, the 4-2-5 is a great defense, the 4-3, the 3-3 stack, they’re all good. Just like on offense, the triple option, the run and shoot, whatever it is, they’re good offenses.

As a coach, obviously the players’ talent levels affect the effectiveness of various offenses and defenses, but as a coach, the offense or defense you should be running is the one you can fix in twenty seconds. You have to be able to diagnose the problem and the find the solution in the middle of the game. If you can’t do that, you should be running something else, or you shouldn’t be running anything.

That doesn’t mean that your solution is always going to work. You may not have the personnel to pull that off or the timing may be wrong or whatever it is, but the key in terms of handling the game is can you adjust in twenty seconds?

All anyone talks about when it comes to being a coordinator is play-calling. That’s a really small part of what that person actually does in terms of managing other adults, the team and the game plan. It’s the adjustment part in my mind that is the most important. What scheme should you be running? You should be running the scheme that maximizes your players’ ability and the one you can adjust with.

As far as myself, I got to be a coordinator really early in my Illinois State days. I was the quarterback coach, and we were getting ready to play the University of Illinois. I was not the coordinator, but the coordinator came to me and said, ‘I don’t want to call the plays this week, you’ve got them.’ I jumped into the chair, I wasn’t the coordinator, but I just got to call the plays. We had a really big day. We lost the game, but it was Illinois State versus the University of Illinois. We put up good points and had fun.

Eventually, I became the coordinator there before I went to TCU as the running backs coach. Eventually, I was the coordinator there, and my first game as a coordinator at TCU was versus the University of Virginia. This is the game that the Cavalier fell off of the horse. That was my first game as a Division 1A coordinator.

On NC State’s defense…

I’d say schematically they were similar to what Coach Gibson ran at West Virginia. Personnel-wise, they’re vastly different. I think they are much better on the defensive front. Their front six is a much bigger group, a much stronger group than that group he had a few years ago at West Virginia. They have a 320-pound nose guard that’s a really good player. They have big ends, and all of their linebackers are big. It’s a little bit deceiving when you look back at that film and see the line of scrimmage move compared to what you’re going to face with them now.

On the Wolfpack offense…

They had 270 yards rushing, and they ran the stretch play as well as you’ll ever see it run. They cut the backside shade, and the ball just ran right down the field. They really did a good job up front and controlled the tempo of the game. They had a chance to wear Wake Forest down a little bit because they ran the ball so well. They will push the tempo. They run the quarterback stretch down near the goal line, and the tailback stretch in the open field. Everything else kind of comes off of that. When you rush the ball like that, you have a heck of a chance to win ball games.

Then, Bailey Hockman comes in there and it was supposedly not a situation where he beat the guy out, but the other guy had spent time in quarantine. Bailey came in and certainly made the most of his opportunity, I thought he was impressive.

On preparing for both quarterbacks…

I don’t know that they’re going to change quarterbacks that much. It would be hard to take Bailey Hockman off of the field right now, but you never know the dynamics at play there. We have a little bit of film on Leary and can watch him from last season. We’ll do our best to have our squad ready to go.

On how he likes to watch film…

I watch our opponent’s last three games in game order. I watch offense, defense, special teams in game order from the coach’s copy. I’m not talking about sitting at home on Saturday night watching the game. I’m talking in my office with the doors shut, watching the game and making notes. I watch all of that, and then I’ll tag some plays and things I think the team does well. I’ll put those into specific cut-ups like areas of the field or personnel groups to delve into the details. I like to get the big picture of everything in all three phases before I start because it helps me in my conversations with the coordinators.

On starting their season a week after NC State…

I do think you have a chance to make great strides from game one to game two, but with COVID, that adds another dimension on if you’re ready to play and have enough guys. I’m sure they’ll have a good week of practice and make some improvements, but it’s nice to reaffirm the things that you’ve seen Coach Beck’s system do at Texas and what he did there. It makes you feel a little bit better because you have some idea of what you may see heading into the game.

On high scoring games early in the season…

We are doing the best considering the situation we’re in trying to get these guys ready to play. It’s just not how we would traditionally do it, and it makes me very uneasy. Given the situation, we’re trying to do everything we can. You start to think about opportunities to tackle live bodies and when the last time was that we were actually able to do that. You start to talk about conditioning levels. You talk about a thin roster and how many snaps everybody has to play; I think that was very evident the other night. I thought both teams got tired in the Wake-NC State game. Both teams had run a bunch of plays and I think everybody was pretty gassed.

On how he’s communicating with players in quarantine…

We’re able to visit with them by setting up Zoom meetings and stuff like that. We bring them into our team meetings. It’s really surreal how all of the meetings are now linked in on Zoom for the guys who are back in their rooms or wherever they are. We can keep them up to date with all of that stuff, and the coaches have done a good job with all of that, it’s just that they’re not getting a chance to go out and work with them.

On the lack of depth in the defensive backfield…

It’s a work in progress. I feel better as we’re able to get those guys all together. They’re no different than any other position, we just haven’t had them out there. We haven’t been able to get as far down the road with all of that. Hopefully, we can progress, and I’m really hopeful that we’re on the other side of this and we can start to get some continuity going with our guys. We’re going to continue to try and cross train people, but as of right now, we’re not nearly as far down the road with all of that as I’d like to be.

On Keonta Jenkins…

He’s mature, long, athletic, and I think he has a chance to be a great player here. He’s still learning, but he’s humble in how he’s trying to learn. He’s really done a great job since he set foot here on campus, so I could not be more excited about him and his future.

On postgame protocols changing…

The way we’re going to do it is we’re going to exit the stadium and go to our locker room that isn’t in Lane Stadium. Usually, after the game we go to our halftime locker room under the stadium, and that’s such a scene because it’s so hot and cramped in there. I don’t think that’s a very conducive environment during these times. We’re going to skip that and try to get them out of the stadium and into our locker room. I don’t usually visit with them very long, but I’ll visit with them there and then dismiss them.

What I think is unfortunate about it is that one of the cool things after a victory is going in there (in the halftime locker room)  and then getting out of there with the kids pouring out of that locker room and interacting with fans and parents, which is, really cool. That’s what makes Virginia Tech special. It’s a big-time college football environment, but also has that small-town family feel. That added to it with the players interacting with people in the stands or their families. That’s going to be very limited, but maybe we’ll get them out of our locker room and turn them over to their folks a little bit quicker this time.

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3 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. What a mess, for a control freak like CJF this is a nightmare scenario. He seems to be handling it in stride – I guess we will see Saturday night. NC State looked good against Wake (especially for a first game) – out defense better be ready to stop the run or it is going to be a long night.

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