Tech Talk Live Notes: Recapping NC State And Looking Ahead To Duke

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Virginia Tech
Justin Fuente is happy with Virginia Tech’s win over NC State, but he can find plenty of areas for improvement. (AP Photo / The Roanoke Times, Matt Gentry, Pool)

On the NC State win…

What a team victory, and I don’t mean just the players. Obviously, the players went out there and played their tails off, and there are plenty of mistakes and a lot things to correct, but you talk about all of the people who helped us pull this off. I’m talking about our recruiting department; we were pulling people out of the recruiting department and giving them a headset so they could chart the game. You’ve got Doctor Rogers and Mike Goforth doing everything they can to help us play the game.

Obviously, young coaches have been put in older coaches’ positions, so to speak. Just a really remarkable effort by everyone involved. I couldn’t be prouder of our guys. We were delivered bad news, but we were always kind of prepared that we could make changes on the day of the game and that may happen again, who knows? We just went about fixing problems, and that was what I was most pleased about. As a staff, when we were dealt a blow leading into the game, we went to go and fix it to ultimately give our kids a chance to go play, and they went out there and got a victory.

On Ryan Smith’s performance…

This is important to everybody. When I was an offensive coordinator, I always used to talk to the graduate assistants who worked on the offensive side of the ball and told them, ‘You’re not a graduate assistant, you’re the offensive coordinator and that’s how you have to think.’ Don’t think like the lowest guy on the totem pole. You need to act like the person who is calling the game. If you do that, you’ll be a great GA. That doesn’t mean that you tell me what to do on third and four, but you need to think that way in your preparation. Ryan does that every single week.

I’ve only been with him for one full game week, but one of the things that we talked about going into it was that you have to think like that person, and ultimately that’s the best way to help or serve that person. Put yourself in that space and try to think like they do, or what they need, or what will happen. Ryan had already been doing that.

I do think that it helped a little bit that we did it (use backup coordinators) in the second scrimmage in fall camp on both sides of the ball. I told him that news (that he would be the defensive coordinator) and he didn’t bet an eye and went about preparing for the game. I walked into the defensive meeting and told them exactly what happened. They didn’t know that we actually practiced this in the second scrimmage, we didn’t tell anybody. I told them that we’d already done it, and he’s going to do great, and he did. He went out there and was calm, cool and collected. He called a great game.

On Brock Hoffman…

Brock had obviously a lot of emotions and was anxious to get back on the field, but the thing about Brock is that he’s never really backed down from a challenge. He knew that he was going to be challenged with that nose guard. We knew we had some flexibility there, and had other guys who could play center and Brock could move to guard, but lining Brock up with Alim, [McNeill] we thought was a good way to start and see how it goes. He certainly didn’t back down from the challenge. He excelled and did a fine job with a really good football player.

On Luke Tenuta…

Luke’s dad is a college coach and was a DB coach at Oklahoma when I was a freshman scout team quarterback. So, in some ways, I was basically Luke’s dad’s scout team quarterback for a year. Having been around his dad for that year, I know how Luke was raised. He was raised up tough and right and taught to do the right thing. I’ve really been impressed with his work ethic and development.

I’ll never forget going to his in-home visit and him coming to the door with no shoes on and me thinking, ‘The guy is four inches taller than I thought he was, and I thought he was really tall.’ This is a humongous man that continues to work and develop his craft. He actually played some left tackle in the game as well. He’s been a fantastic player, and has a really, really bright future.

On Khalil Herbert…

He’s got good hands. He’s a talented back. I’ve been really pleased with him. We have done our homework on these players that we’ve brought in here. We’ve got some really high-class individuals on this team. They’re great football players, but even better people. Khalil is no exception, he’s a family-man and I’m awfully happy that he’s here.

On issues he saw on Saturday…

Raheem had been out for some time and he got pretty tired, pretty quick. He had some cramping going on. He told me after the game that it was the worst game he’d ever played. Well, if you score a touchdown in the worst game you’ve ever played, that’s pretty good.

We saw the effects of missing time on a lot of players. That’s why we tried to play so many guys. When you look at the film, you think, ‘Look at all the mistakes we made.’ On special teams, we were not where we needed to be at all. We brag about Khalil, but Khalil made a mistake that we got away with on kickoff return on the ball that was tumbling in the corner. We need to let that ball go. We had a couple issues on the punt team. There’s a lot of stuff that we have to get better at.

There were some adjustments at halftime that we got communicated defensively that didn’t get executed. I talked to JHam on the phone about things that we need to get cleaned up going forward. I definitely saw it, but I feel blessed and lucky that we were able to hide it and it didn’t cost us in a big play. Our kids played hard and we have enough talent to win the game.

On the quarterback situation…

That’s the million-dollar question. We’re going to continue to do what we’re doing with the whole team. There’s too much uncertainty out there to do it any other way. We’ll get up tomorrow morning and start rolling guys in. I feel good about all three. They all have an identity about them and have capabilities, so we’ll try to get them all ready to play.

On the turnovers on defense…

For the start of the game, I don’t know if you could draw it up any better. We got the big run to flip the field on the very first play of the game. The drive kind of stalls out and Brian gets the field goal. Then, we forced the three-and-out and force the interception and get rolling up 17.

[Then] it was like everybody realized they were tired. With all of the emotion and the energy, it kind of took our breath away a little bit. We finished the first half really well, and then we came in the second half with still so much football left to play. To get the big pick there by Brion [Murray], I wish he would’ve scored, and he got a lot of flak for getting tackled by the quarterback as you can imagine. That was a heck of a play, and we’re awfully proud of him. It really set the tone in the second half.

On the transfer additions…

I’m awfully proud of these guys and the people they are. Everybody can see that they’re productive players in the game. We’ve been able to take some older players in that are high-character kids that want to work hard and want a chance to play for Virginia Tech. I’m just as proud of them as I am of any of the guys in our program. We have a few other guys to get to, and we’ll get to them shortly, but I want those guys to be front-and-center because they haven’t been around as long as the other guys.

On the secondary…

I thought our guys played well. We look a little different than we have in years past. We have a little more protection for our guys in the back end than we’ve had before. That doesn’t make anything right or wrong, it’s just going to look a little bit different, but I think people may have seen that. We obviously want to rush the passer and put pressure on them and change up our looks in the back end. We changed up those looks, and sometimes we were pretty good in coverage and pretty good with checking things in terms of formations. In other places, we had things we need to work on. Getting those guys moving around and giving them different looks was productive.

On struggles on third downs…

We had one early third down that I really thought was going to be a good play and we didn’t execute a block. I was really, pretty disappointed in our third and one. We tried to go quickly and run the inside zone and we actually blocked it pretty well, but they just fed the ball directly to the unblocked hat who was right at the line of scrimmage. I was disappointed in those two plays, and a little bit better execution on those two plays would have helped our numbers, but it’s something we’ll have to be aware of.

Staying on the field on third down is incredibly important. It’s not going to always be big runs down the sidelines. You’re going to have to extend these drives and be aggressive and tee up plays. That’s what first down and second and medium are all about. You have to be aggressive and set things up. The more of those you get, the more aggressive you can be, and that comes with staying on the field.

On Brian Johnson…

I just tell him, ‘Good job.’ I feel like there was a time during the season last year, a philosophical decision with what we were going to do when the ball crosses midfield. We were going to treat second down like third down, and if we got into a fourth and manageable, we were going to go for it. I feel like the byproduct of that was that we had more productive drives and turned some of those fourth downs into first downs. We kicked shorter field goals, and I think he got more confident with that.

As the season went along, by the end of the year, we had some of those drives where we couldn’t go for it on fourth down, and he made some longer field goals. I think it’s carried over into this season. He’s been swinging it really well and feeling comfortable, and it’s been fun to watch him have success because he’s worked really hard.

On the atmosphere in Lane… 

It was really surreal to be standing there in the tunnel with the guys and getting the countdown with Enter Sandman and be given the go sign. What is usually an unbelievable rush of emotions, a sensory overload is what it really is. You can feel it in your fingertips and your toes and the hair on the back of your neck stands up, it’s an unbelievable rush of sensory overload.

It was not that. Needless to say, it is what it is. You come out and what usually happens doesn’t happen. It feels odd, but the guys played hard and wanted to win the game. You’re going to want to win. When you get out on the field, it’s a competitive event, whether there are fans there or not. Do our fans help fuel us and create emotion? Absolutely, but it’s up to us to bring it for ourselves.

I hope we don’t have a lot of this. I know we all do, and I know our fans miss it. I thought about that on Sunday, our fans would have had an unbelievable time, and it’s such a shame. They would have had so much [fun] seeing new guys make plays and all off the things that came with the game. They really would have had fun.

On how COVID-19 is still affecting the team…

I woke up Sunday morning feeling relieved. I fell into the thoughts that we’re through this and I was driving to work, I was thinking, ‘We’re not through anything.’ We still have coaches out and players out and all of that sort of stuff. We’ll continue to operate like we did last week in terms of keeping the coaches and players that aren’t here involved virtually. Some of them will run their meetings virtually. I hope, we had another round of testing today, I hope that goes well and we’ll have more players back so that we can do more scout work.

Our numbers would be a little bit better, so we could do more offensive and defensive specific work instead of having to service each other. Then, we’ll have to do a little extra to make sure we’re in shape. We’re in okay shape, we finished the game well and did all sorts of things, but there’s no substitutes for playing a little bit more.  I think we need a little bit extra work there.

On special teams…

I thought Anthony Enzo filled in for Oscar Shadley admirably. Oscar Bradburn did a good job fielding a low snap and getting the ball off. We made tons of mistakes, but we did some good things, too. I didn’t really like how we finished the game with our punt return unit. We should’ve been more productive there. I thought we got a little bit casual when the game was approaching getting out of reach. I just felt like there was a little bit of a let up with our intensity and focus there that I wasn’t pleased with.

The first kickoff returns when there’s six guys that do an unbelievable job and there’s one or two that weren’t as sharp as we needed them to be, we could’ve had a much bigger return. The guys who actually kicked the ball did a fantastic job. Brian kicked it through the uprights and Oscar kicked it for a large net, but we have lots of work to do to get where we need to be with our coverage units.

We also have a chance to make more plays in our return units. We have maybe more chances this year than we’ve ever had since I’ve been here because of the guys we have that are catching the ball, with the exception of maybe Greg Stroman. I think we have a chance to impact the game, and we did not do that. Luckily, nothing bad happened, but we didn’t create enough momentum with our return units.

On Duke…

In short, they’re a fantastic defensive team that has struggled on offense. If I know one thing about David Cutcliffe it’s that he’ll get it fixed on offense. They have 14 turnovers in three games. That’s not going to continue. Their offense has left their defense out there a few times and I think that’s why the statistics aren’t as favorable as they should be. They are experienced, fast and physical. They play tight coverage and understand their scheme. They will take chances in the special teams area. They’re just getting things ironed out offensively, so they can get back to being pretty productive. This will be real challenge for us.

In the Virginia game, with a minute left to go in the third quarter, Duke is up three with the ball on the Virginia 25-yard line, going in to go up 10 heading into the fourth quarter. They threw an interception on a trick play and then they turn it over on the next several possessions and Virginia wins comfortably, but that game was tight, and Duke had the lead.

They played Notre Dame’s socks off in the first game of the year, so this is going to be a heck of a challenge for us. Defensively, they’re pretty darn good.

On the Duke loss last year…

We talked about it; we’re not going to ignore it. That’s just part of the story. The other part is, can we go get ready to play a game? How good do we want to be? Can we continue to improve and take coaching? Can we adapt to a different scheme and continue to play at a high level, or are we just a one-game deal? How good do we really want to be?

There’s a lot to it, but they certainly came in here and beat the breaks off of us. We shouldn’t sugarcoat it. They came out and exposed us for what we were, a soft football team. We responded to that, now we have a chance to say we have changed. We can play the same opponent, basically a year later, we’ll see how it goes.

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10 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. I think it’s kind of cool that so many players Got to get in meaningful minutes. If Blackshear is twice as good watch out. Herbert is a monster and Dat OLINE!

  2. Anyone caught a solid update on HH and the medical scare that he had? I read that he was quarantined for a couple of weeks. Sure hope all is well, and hope he’s back soon.

  3. Completely embarrassed last year with the loss to Dook. Give them a big ole tail whipping this year. You owe it to the VT fans!!!!

  4. Open a whole can of Whoop As- on those Devils Coach. In fact bring a whole case as I think they know it’s coming.

    Let’s Go… Hokies!!!
    Beat Duke

  5. Coach Fuente provided what seemed like more information than is usual after a game. His compliments to the team and the staff were good, and that type of communication is needed more. This was a good article.

    1. Was able to listen to most of it. He definitely sounded more at ease than I’ve heard him before. Got me wondering if he likes where this team is.

      One other bit, regarding the transfer additions that I found interesting. His comment was explaining why 3 transfers carried the flags out of the tunnel. Said he wanted it known that they dominated the transfer portal and intend to keep doing it. The “We have a few other guys to get to” was stating that additional transfers will be leading the team out of the tunnel in games.

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