Tech Talk Live Notes: Justin Fuente On The Duke Win, The Quarterback Situation, And More

Virginia Tech, Justin Fuente
Justin Fuente had plenty to say on Tech Talk Live. (AP Photo / The Roanoke Times, Matt Gentry, Pool)

On the absences in the secondary on Saturday…

It’s very gratifying. It makes you feel good that you have great people around you, a great core and coaching staff. Again, we’re taking people out of recruiting, it’s all hands-on deck to say the least. They filled in beautifully. We have Caleb Gelsomino, who is an offensive off-the-field coach, and he’s working both sides trying to get information on what’s going on. It’s a real cool experience, but I don’t want to do it anymore. I would like to move out of this and move into some semblance of normalcy.

When you talk about the players, Dorian Strong, true freshman, get out there and go play. Tyler Matheny, get out there and go play. Nadir Thompson, who has been working at safety and has been out for lord knows how long dealing with an injury, he still has a promising career ahead of him. It just feels like every time he gets going he’s faced a hurdle that he’s had to get over. We throw him in there at corner. It was really cool to see those guys elevate their level of play and see all of the kids play well.

On turnovers…

We were playing a team that had turned the ball over quite a bit, too, and we did create one. The thing that bothered me the most was that we had unforced turnovers. We didn’t catch a punt, Braxton basically had the ball slip out of his hand and go over the check down, and then we had a fumbled exchange. Those can be, obviously, very important. There’s no statistic in football that is more determinant, outside of blocking a punt, if you block a punt you win like 89% of the time, but if you win the turnover battle, you win the game most of the time.

What bothered me most, and I‘ve shared this with the team, so I’m not speaking out of school, is I wondered if I put too much on the team. We did hit on how we have guys out and so we all have to do more. We have to do our job better. That doesn’t mean you have to put on your cape and be Superman, but we have to do our job better and elevate our level of play. Early in the game, the people that everybody was worried about were playing fine. It was the people that nobody was worried about that struggled a little bit. We didn’t do well in red-zone punt and some other things that we’ve been historically very good at, but they settled down as the game went on.

On special teams…

You can imagine James Shibest pulling his hair out trying to put the two-deep together. We spent a little bit longer than we normally do in our special teams meeting, trying to get it pared down and be crystal clear on what our responsibilities were. We had guys that were previously on the right side and are now [they are] on the left side. Some of these guys had been playing football for a long time, and you give them a call that means step right, and now you’re on the other side.

There’s just a lot that went into that and trying to get that pieced together. The unit that was fairly intact was kickoff return by the nature of the people that usually play on that, and you could see that in the game. That unit was pretty effective.

On in-game adjustments…

I felt like they were a very good defensive football team. They have struggled on the offensive side of the ball. They were going to play tight coverage, and we knew that. We took a shot on the first play of the game and made a really good throw but didn’t come down with the ball. We were kind of sputtering around.

We came back in the second half and ran more of a gap scheme. We blocked down and pulled and got the run game going a little bit better. Eventually, we wore them down a little bit. That’s the thing that Duke has struggled with a little bit. They haven’t gotten enough going on offensively to protect their defense. They’re down some numbers, too. I was talking to Coach Cutcliffe before the game, and they’re down some guys, too, that opted out. They had a large number of guys that opted out. As the game wore on, we began to be more effective running gap scheme. We ran on the inside better, and eventually were able to run the stretch game and get some big plays for Khalil [Herbert].

On Kaleb Smith…

Kaleb had a great game. He didn’t have a game that showed up in the stat box. We had the ball inside our own five and threw it on first and ten and he drew a pass interference penalty. He played on kickoff return and punt return and did a fantastic job, and then played without the ball in his hands down the field on offense. He had a nice block there on Burmeister’s touchdown to the right side. I’m really impressed with his development. He’s worked incredibly hard, but he’s finally just relaxing and playing ball.  He was a little bit uptight when he got into the game last year.

I think it’s a great testament to him because he played quite a bit on offense early in the year, and then his playing time diminished last year. He still played on special teams and really struggled a little bit. He continued to take coaching and continued to work, and now we’re starting to see him have success and be a productive member of the team. He had a big catch in the first game of the year, and he’ll only continue to get better as he continues to work.

On long drives against Duke…

Part of it is because we didn’t catch many punts in the air. The kid was either booming it or kicking it really short, so we were having a hard time just getting the ball caught. When it hits the ground and rolls, there are two things; it’s bad that you lose field position, but it’s good that you rack up more yards on offense, I guess. We did put together some nice drives and were a little bit better on third down this week than we were the week before. A good running game will travel. It’s a quarterback’s best friend, and it’s a defense’s best friend. When you can run the football, it gives you a better chance to win.

On the Hokies’ defensive stand after Burmeister’s fumble…

We had been struggling defensively, and offensively we were running the ball and moving it up and down. We were faced with a third and I think eight at about midfield. They had some momentum and it was a close game. We complete a ball down to Tre Turner at about the 12-yard line and everybody is fired up because with the way we’ve been running the football, we feel like we’re going to go punch it in and be able to take a breath. Then, we fumble, and they recover it.

I thought that our defense took the field with as much excitement and enthusiasm as Duke’s defense left the field with after creating a turnover. To me, that was a great statement. It would’ve been easy to be down, be it as the coaching staff, the players…the first person onto the field was Justus Reed. Next thing you know, everybody was excited to go take the field. This is what you train for, these are the opportunities you want to go make a play. Jarrod Hewitt makes a huge tackle for loss on first down. On second down, they throw the ball out to the tailback and he can’t make the catch. Then, on third down, we make the sack and force the punt and go down and score. Just a huge response there defensively after an unfortunate turn of events.

On the quarterback situation…

I think Hendon is full-go right now. It’s just been weird preparation leading up to the first game. Basically, we made the decision in the announcement two weeks before the Virginia game, Braxton hadn’t had as much practice as Hendon, so we thought that was the best decision for the team at that time. That game gets cancelled, and then through various turns of events, Braxton has all of the practice time, so we make the other decision that Braxton should go, and [he] has played well.

It’s a unique set of circumstances to say the least. I feel great about all three of our guys and their ability to be effective in their own way. Braxton and Hendon are similar. It doesn’t hurt us to have them both available because we’re doing similar things. Quincy is a little bit different, which everybody can see when he’s in the game, but that’s awesome, too, because he can still be effective. There’s so much give and take and up and down and uncertainty from a weekly basis to a daily basis. We’ll continue to manage it that way. We’re making all of our decisions based on the information that we have at the time and the circumstances we’re under.

On Amare Barno…

I’m just really pleased with Amare. We made the move to put him at end. First of all, the way he handled it was impressive. This is a guy who really wanted to play linebacker in his heart. He sits down with the defensive coordinator, the linebacker’s coach and the defensive line coach and talks to his mom and then talks to me. We approach him about moving to defensive end, and I asked what his mom said. He said, ‘to trust you guys to look out for my best interests and make me into the best player that I can be.’ I said, ‘Then, let’s do that!’ Right from the start, you could see that he had oodles of potential, but didn’t really know what he was doing, nor did we expect him to know.

Then, he gets sidelined with a minor issue that takes him a couple of weeks to get over that sets him back in his development. Now, he’s been on the field for a few weeks now and continues to work. You’ve seen him on special teams, he’s the first one down on the kickoff team. He has the chance to continue to develop and be an impactful player for us on defense and special teams.

On Tayvion Robinson as punt returner…

I think we’ll probably put him back there. I reserve the right to change my mind, but coming into practice tomorrow morning, we’ll put him out there and let him go to work and see if he can get comfortable again back there. The thing about Tayvion is, and I was texting with his mom the other day, Tay just hasn’t faced a lot of adversity, whether it was playing basketball in high school or playing football where he was the quarterback. He comes here as a freshman and picks it up really quick.

All of the sudden, in the middle of the second game, he struggles a little bit. I went up to him and told him that we haven’t lost faith in him. I know this isn’t how he envisioned it, but how we respond when things don’t go well determines really who we are and what we’re about. Everybody is riding high when things are going well, but when you struggle, it’s what you do that makes you who you are. He went back out there and made a big play against tight coverage which was something that we had to do to win that game. He came back in the second half and caught the big long post route. He did a great job of rebounding, and we feel great that Tay will continue to develop on his track towards becoming a great player.

On the tight ends…

You’ve got James Mitchell and Nick Gallo. I’ve called Nick, ‘Eric’, way too many times since he’s gotten here, and I always try to apologize to him for it. I’m really proud of those guys. They continue to work to improve. They are getting better in the run-blocking game. They’re involved in everything we do. Everybody talks about how many catches they did or didn’t have, but they do everything for us. They’re involved in the run game and pass protection and the screen game and what we do out wide and blocking on the perimeter. I feel really good about both of them.

They’re so smart. You can move them all over the place and ask them to do about anything and they get it and they get it done. They’ve benefitted from being able to go against some of our older defensive ends in Justus Reed and Emmanuel Belmar. I think that’s helped them out as they try to finetune that part of it. They could always run, catch and run routes, but if you’re a tight end and can’t help in the run game, you’re just a slow wideout. You have to be able to block and protect. They can certainly do that, and I feel really good about where they’re headed in their careers.

On the team’s COVID-19 situation…

We’ll see what the tests bring for this week. Right now, we’ll have some guys trickling back into it as the week goes on. We’ll have a few guys back tomorrow, some more on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Then, obviously the game is Saturday. It’s an ongoing process. We’re trying to have a handle on exactly who and when in the coming days, so we can game plan a bit. We all got tested today, so we’ll get those results and figure out where we’re at moving forward.

On Christian Darrisaw…

He’s just a really good player. He has great hips and great leverage and has played since he was really young. He’s worked hard to continue to change and mold his body, so he can continue to be an effective player. He understands it, he gets it. You all hear me a lot talk about smart football players and how important they are. This is another one. This is a guy who completely understands the scheme and the footwork it takes to get there. You’re starting to see him be really productive. We recognized him as a football team on Sunday morning for his work. You don’t put up rushing numbers like we have over the last two weeks and not be doing a good job somewhere up front. He certainly starts us off at left tackle.

On UNC …

Sam Howell deserves all of the credit that he gets, but he’s got a lot of great pieces around him. They have running backs and skill players that make that all go. Defensively, I’m not a big stat guy, but this jumped out at me; in two games, they’ve had 52 rushes against them for 108 yards. They’re loading the box and playing stout defense on the inside. They’re very good in the secondary, so they’re able to cover down while adding that extra player into the box for the run game. We’ll have our work cut out for us in preparation this week.

On stopping the Tar Heels’ offense…

They’ve got the kind of running backs that if you’re half of a step off, it’s not going to be an eight-yard run, it’s going to the house. You’re not going to shut them down because they’re just too explosive and too good. You try to keep the ball in front of you and get enough pressure on the quarterback that hopefully you can create a turnover or two. Then, hold on for dear life when they hand the ball off because they can certainly do both really well.

On having fans on Saturday…

I try to pride myself on preparing our team for the environment. When we stepped out onto the field, I felt like we had let the team down against Duke. In my mind, I thought it was going to be the same as here because we had 1,000 fans and they weren’t going to have any. The difference between 1,000 people and zero is tremendous on a football field. They had all of their cardboard cut outs in different sections, which was a little odd for me, but I think it was because there was absolutely nobody there.

I knew the first thought I had was, if this is weird for me, it has to be weird for our guys. This week, we’ll have about 3,500 down there. We’re inching our way towards normal. I am a big fan of the early kickoff. Let’s wake up, have some Wheaties, bend over and touch our toes, do a few jumping jacks and go play.

On how Sam Howell is different this year…

He played so well last year; I feel like he did not turn the ball over that much. He is tough. Last year, he took some shots and continued to get up and be there for his team. I think they’ve talked about being a little bit more patient offensively and take what the defense gives them. I think he’s done a better job of that so far. I just know he’s a good player. He’s a really accurate thrower and has a great presence in the pocket. He’s not going to run for 120 yards, but he extends plays. He can run the ball enough that it scares you a little bit. He has a knack for sliding in the pocket and can hold the ball until the last minute and deliver it in there on time and accurately.

16 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Loved this line when when CJF spoke of the Tight Ends ” but if you’re a tight end and can’t help in the run game, you’re just a slow wideout.”

  2. Seems like a little silver lining in this COVID year is that it seems to have brought out the personality in Coach a little more. He has been so distant at times in the past. This seems like a real plus in the ugly odd situation we all find ourselves in with COVID. Just seems like he is connecting more with both the players and with the fans. Maybe it’s just my perception but that how it feels to me.

  3. Coach Fuente has always been the right coach for us. Now he has some better position coaches also and that is a big help.
    Let’s go Hokies !!!

  4. Up to this point in the season, I’m very impressed w/Coach Fu`s leadership & management in an outta whack year. He’s done a outstanding job.

  5. Not sure about CJF comment about Carolina being very strong in the secondary? They’ve had some injuries and a couple guys opt out.
    I guess that was just coach speak

    1. Maybe some coach speak, but they will be the best secondary we’ve faced so far this season.

    1. Regarding “Big Play TayTay”…

      “I know this isn’t how he envisioned it, but how we respond when things don’t go well determines really who we are and what we’re about. Everybody is riding high when things are going well, but when you struggle, it’s what you do that makes you who you are. ”

      how can u not love Fu

      1. Haha Buzz said the same thing after a game two years ago and I remember someone saying he was really weird or talking to prop himself up or something and he was just being honest and complimentary of one of his players.

        Amazing how people perceive things differently.

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