Tech Talk Live Note: Justin Fuente On His Team Health, UNC, and Boston College

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Virginia Tech, Justin Fuente
Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente hopes to get more players back this week. (Robert Willett, ACC Pool Photograph)

On how the team has handled adversity…

It just weighs on people every single day. It’s in every decision you make and every depth chart you make, whether that’s special teams, offense or defense. Continuing to try and juggle it is an ongoing issue. I do think it has taken a little bit of a toll. We took it easy on our guys on Sunday. We’re just trying to get guys back, learn as much as we can from the film, and move forward. Hopefully, we’ll get some guys in the back-end back and ready to play. That should help us out and put us on more steady footing.

On Hendon Hooker…

We just ran out of people defensively. We couldn’t afford to not score on a possession. I absolutely felt like we were in it. We had battled all the way back, but by the end of the game, we didn’t have anybody left. I said earlier today, it was basically an eighth-grade football game. We’re drawing things up just to get 11 guys on the field defensively. We kept trying, but we just couldn’t do it by the end.

Hendon played really well, and I’m really proud of him. He continues to prepare and has come back well from his hiatus. He was really productive for us, and we’ll start him coming up and cut him loose.

On the front seven…

I think sometimes you try to do too much when you’re short-handed. That’s something we’ve guarded against over the past couple of weeks in terms of our discussions with players. Just because a player may not be there, that shouldn’t affect how you play. Obviously we want to raise our level of play, but we still have to play within the system. There were several times where we weren’t as fundamentally sound as we should’ve been in out front guys, whether that’s at end, tackle or linebacker, in an effort to try and do too much and make up for some of the other issues we were having.

On trying to come back from a big deficit…

There’s no 21-point play. You just have to keep pecking away. I was really disappointed in the end of the half. I knew we clawed our way back into it, and I still felt this pressure to keep the ball offensively. We didn’t, and then we couldn’t get the stop. That kind of stretched it out, but I still felt great about where our players were at emotionally and mentally at halftime. They were not happy about the situation they were in and knew that there was only one group of people that could do something about it. They came out in the third quarter and absolutely did something about it and got us back into it.

On Jermaine Waller returning to form…

I’d say that he’s approaching that level, but he hasn’t gotten as much work. He’s been dealing with a foot issue, which you can imagine is not good for a corner. He hasn’t really gotten any practice this entire time. He’s solely trying to get the foot feeling better. It has been feeling better for the last week-and-a-half, so we got him back out at practice. It was so great to see him practicing again. We go to practice for a reason, because it’s important and it helps us play better. I think he’ll continue to get back to the old form. I thought it was remarkable the way he played given the circumstances and as little reps as he had heading into it.

He’s in pretty good shape. He’s a little beat up. I’m a little worried about all of those guys who played so many snaps and those young guys who were playing out of position. We’ll have to get those guys back and propped back up and feeling good. They had been put in a tough spot because there was no other answer. Jermaine seems to be doing well, and I’m hopeful that we’ll have him going forward.

On Divine Deablo…

He’s just a security blanket back there in terms of a guy who’s played so many snaps. Everybody has so much respect for him. He can literally line up at any spot out there and know exactly what to do. He knows what everybody does on each call. He still participates on special teams and is a productive member there. He’s a big part of what we do, especially when you have some guys out there with him that haven’t played as much as other guys.

On Braxton Burmeister’s punt…

I wasn’t going to punt it with their punt return team out there and our offense on the field. I know that much. We weren’t going to do that. It was kind of a standoff there to see who was going to blink first. If you’re going to leave them out there, you have to be ready to do that. They called a timeout and put their defense back out there, so we went back to punting.

On Brian Johnson’s onside kick…

When you’re in a game like that, you feel like you’re in a situation where that’s what you’ve got to do to win the ballgame. You also know that it could make things uglier. You can’t worry about appearance though, you have to do whatever it takes to win the ballgame. Whatever you can do to help give yourself some semblance of a chance, that’s what you have to do.

I usually try to act normal when I know it’s been called. I don’t stand over next to Shibest. We talked about it on the previous possession. I said, ‘If we score here, we’re gonna try it.’ We were on the same page. We’ve been together for a long time, so we usually have a good understanding of each other. We usually try to carry a few things like that into each game, whether it’s an onside kick or a fake. We just want to capture momentum and give ourselves a little bit of juice. That was great execution by Brian. I’m just really proud of him and the player he’s become.

On the second onside kick try…

That was a good kick. We had a chance with four guys over there. I thought two guys hit the line pretty well, but the other two were a little bit off. We usually practice that on Wednesday. We lined up and knew we had a couple of different options based on their alignments to give ourselves the best odds of trying to recover it. That was the look that gave us the best odds. We had an actual chance. It would have probably taken the most incredible execution in order to recover it, but they did bobble it just enough that I felt like we had a shot at it.

On Brian Johnson…

It’s kind of funny because he’s been on this streak, and I’ve refused to talk about it because I am so superstitious. James [Shibest] in meetings last week, relieved me of the burden of talking about it. He gave me the blessing that I wouldn’t be jinxing him if I talked about it. He said, ‘We talk about it all the time, Coach, don’t worry about it.’ Now, I feel a lot better about heaping praise on him because I don’t feel like it would be my fault for jinxing him.

We don’t expect him to make every one. We expect our kickers to be prepared when they take the field, and that’s what Brian is every single time. He’s worked himself into a nice groove. It’s hard to get into the league as a kicker because there’s so little turnover. Those guys can kick for a long time in the league. Obviously, Joey [Slye] has made it and is with Carolina and doing well. I think Brian has every bit as much talent if he can continue to do well. He has to find the right niche. There has to be turnover at the right spot and a need.

I’ve been really lucky. Jake Elliott was our kicker at Memphis, and now he kicks for Philadelphia, then Joey was here. We’ve been really fortunate to have really good ones, and Brian’s right up there with them.

On Khalil Herbert as kick returner…

We got one to the kicker. I didn’t ask Khalil, but it almost seemed like he didn’t see him. It almost caught him by surprise because he hit the hole really well and I thought we had a chance to get on him. We got on the kicker so fast, and I think the kicker did a good job of filling that void in there, and he brought us down. I would’ve bet dollars to donuts that wouldn’t have happened.

He continues to be productive. I think he may have had his best vision game. He’s had some humungous holes to run through in the first two games for big, huge plays. In this game, I thought he did a really good job of carrying the stretch out the front side several times, hitting the cutbacks several times. I thought it was his best game in terms of vision and seeing the cuts.

On DaShawn Crawford…

I think he’s close to working back in there. Our plan is to play a lot of guys up front, so they can play at a high level whenever they’re in there. DaShawn is definitely a part of that, but he’s just been slowed by an injury that’s taken him a little while to get back going. To knock the rust off has been the biggest deal. Now, it’s getting back to where you feel good and you’re explosive. I anticipate that he will begin to work his way back into the rotation moving forward and eventually be the contributor that he was last year.

On Raheem Blackshear…

He is somebody that I think will continue to work in. He got slowed a little bit because he missed time. In the first game of the year, he was one of those guys that we hadn’t seen in two weeks, and he showed up the day before the game. We didn’t play him very much. He was wound up and ready to play, but we didn’t play him very much. Then, he was slowed by a hamstring. You know, one of those things when somebody misses time and gets hurt when they exert themselves a little bit. That slowed him the next week and so on and so forth.

We’re slowly getting him back. He is one of those guys that has cross-trained. I don’t want to do that, but there could be a situation as we go through this, we may not have a choice. He has worked on the other side of the ball. In my mind, that’s never been about playing an entire game that way. It’s about somebody having to go finish the game for a series or two and we don’t have any other answers.

On the wide receiver depth…

Changa [Hodge] has been limited and missed practice time. We’re just trying to bring those guys along because we need to play more people in the offensive skill positions. Some of our guys, the names that everybody knows, are playing too many snaps. We need to give those guys a break, so they can still play at a high level. Getting those other guys to where we all feel comfortable that they can play a contribute a larger percentage of the time is important. Drake DeIuliis is one of those guys that we’re trying to bring along. He played a little bit in the game the other day. We have to keep bringing him along so he can give those guys a break.

On Chamarri Connor’s targeting…

First of all, by the rules, that is the correct call. It’s just very hard when the quarterback slides feet first. That’s a dangerous way to slide, in my opinion. That’s probably why that’s in the rules, because when you slide feet first, the only thing that is exposed is your upper extremities.

They don’t always slide, though. You’re playing against guys that could lower their shoulder and run you over. They don’t have a sign on that says whether they’re going to slide, you don’t know. You have to protect yourself and brace yourself for that, knowing that it could happen. It’s an uncomfortable, tough situation. As soon as you see him go low, you have to dive out of the way to avoid contact. That’s just the way it is. It’s difficult to coach, and it’s a difficult situation for the player to be in. 

On Boston College

On the offensive side of the ball, they have every shift and motion that you can think of, and they throw it all over the place. I will say this, I think their tailback will be back this game, so I think they’ll try to run the ball more than they have over the last couple of weeks. They have a big quarterback that is throwing the ball all over the place with a big, strong arm. I liken him to Ben Roethlisberger. He’s like 235 pounds, 6’4”, big, strong guy. I’ve seen rushers bounce off of him as he’s steps up and throws the ball down the field. He’s been an impressive player for them on the offensive side of the ball.

On the defensive side, this is a team that held North Carolina to just three touchdowns. They play a lot of man coverage. They are aggressive and tough up front. They’re what you would think of about a Boston College team, but they throw the ball around more.

On the BC skill players…

Their tight end [Hunter Long] and #4 [Zay Flowers] are really special players. I haven’t been here as long as you have, but I’ve seen Matt Ryan play and he’s pretty darn good. This guy is putting up better numbers in a handful of games than Matt Ryan did. He’s got an arm like that. I saw him a couple of weeks ago throw a 15-yard in over the middle and it didn’t get much higher than six feet above the ground. It was just a frozen rope across the middle of the field. He can really throw it, and he’s got some weapons. They’ve got a good scheme, and they’re doing a darn good job. There’s a reason why they’re 3-1. They beat Pitt and almost beat North Carolina, they’re good.

On Dax Hollifield hitting Sam Howell on the kneel down…

We’re not going to let the guy just stand there and run ten seconds off of the clock. Dax didn’t hit him hard. He could’ve hit him and gotten a real personal foul. All he did is run up there and make the guy take a knee and tap him. I thought it was an overreaction. I think it escalated the event by throwing the flag and made it worse. I told Dax not to worry about it one bit. He didn’t do anything illegal or bad or malicious or anything. We’re not going to let them run seconds off of the clock while they just stand there.

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21 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Did Justin comment about the rest of the defense losing its collective s*** after Dax’s penalty, knocking down an official in the process? Lucky to get only two personal fouls. If only the defense had fought that hard to fill gaps, get off blocks, or make tackles.

  2. As a former high school official in South Florida if it was evident that a knee was being taken we tell all in our area to “protect yourself” since all normal contact can be made prior to the whistle.

  3. The whole “Dax-gate” thing is way overblown. I don’t even think it should have been a penalty. The guy is fair game until his knee is on the ground. And if he wants to get cute and basically “fake” a knee so that he can get a penalty against VT that doesn’t mean anything, that’s on him. Sam ought to think twice about taking a knee in that manner again. It could be that the next guy will hit him much harder (again, my view is that he was still fair game when Dax tapped him—others may disagree but if you’re going to take a. knee……just take the dang knee).

    1. “if you’re going to take a. knee……just take the dang knee”

      This was entirely about clock management by UNC. If they just took two quick knees they would have given the ball back to VT with 5+ seconds left. They were trying to run out the clock without running up the score. There was just more time on the clock than two quick “knees” would run off. There was nothing about trying to be cute with the execution of the play.

      With that said Dax was fully within the rules of the game to make contact.

  4. “There were several times where we weren’t as fundamentally sound as we should’ve been in out front guys, whether that’s at end, tackle or linebacker, in an effort to try and do too much and make up for some of the other issues we were having.”

    im not an Xs and Os guy, but i dont think our LB playing bad was bc they were trying to “make up for other issues”. maybe so, but i think they just had a terrible game, which seems to be the recurring theme for #4.

    1. I think it’s probably a combination of both, to be completely honest. Looking back at the tape, a lot of our defensive play from the linebackers started to look a bit like 2017/2018, when our guys were playing like they couldn’t trust the other players on the field and were trying to cover their own responsibilities while still keeping half of their minds on what their teammate was doing *just in case* they had to step in and cover that person’s role as well.

      Doing that against a very good offense like UNC is pretty much a recipe for disaster – you need to be completely focused on your own role, not trying to play 3 positions at once. That’s how you end up looking out of position, indecisive, and just a step behind every play, and that’s how a few of our more experienced guys looked to me on Saturday. I totally get it with how many new players were in there, but it’s not a good way to play.

  5. So glad to hear that Fu sided with Dax on the final play. Unlike many posters who thought Dax kicked a puppy on purpose. Dax did NOTHING wrong and Fu said it perfectly. Shame on you posters who piled on Dax for that, on top of the big pile of “he sucks” that most spewed all day about him.

    That guy has more heart and talent than all of us. And he wants to be a hokie.

  6. I don’t know that I exactly agree with the comment on Dax at the end of the game. Very cool for coach to support Dax because that is what you do as a coach. He’s not going to call Dax out publicly. Actually appreciate coach for doing that. However, if the shoe was on the other foot I would expect our guys to ‘protect’ our QB. Came off to me as classless and petty. Game was over, shake hands and move on. The other option for UNC would have been to line up and run a play…and chances are they would have scored. I think Dax took out some frustration and I absolutely did not like the ‘look’.

    1. I have to say that I side with Fu and Dax on this one. I was watching the play live and their quarterback was backing up and scanning the field like he was either going to throw or he was going to burn off clock until the last second. He definitely did not just take a knee which is what he should have done and what Hooker did on the last play. Dax was coming in and then when he saw that the QB was not kneeling he accelerated towards him. When he finally did kneel down Dax just pushed him with both of his hands two hand touch style. They were probably right in throwing the flag but it was 100% provoked by the quarterback. I don’t think there’s anything to get excited about here – nobody needs to start screaming on either side about people being classless but it was a bit of a stupid move by their quarterback to try and kill time there. Who cares about 2 or 3 seconds when you’re up 11 with 3 seconds left in the game? From an objective standpoint the bad optics should be on the UNC quarterback, not Dax.

      1. QBs take knees like that all the time. Really not a big deal. Dax must’ve been trying to get a cheap TFL because he sure didn’t do anything else in that game.

    2. It happens ever weekend many times and its a nothing play. How would you like ‘look’ of having a Dazz talking trash on 3 yard pickups? Great player agreed but a walking talking penalty waiting to happen. I will take Dax’s penalty any day over Dazz’s !!!! I was in the middle of telling my co-worker about how Mack Brown puts up anything just time for him to tell me he is Mack’s my cousin to which I finished my statement with I don’t care.

  7. It must be difficult to game plan for an offense like UNC with no idea of who will be available to play. I hope we are finished with COVID issues, but I doubt it. Great effort by everyone who participated on Saturday – there will be better days ahead.

    1. Yes. Perspective is lacking from many of our alleged Hokie “fans”.
      The negative crap from posters on TSL about players and coaches is the primary reason I gave up my long time subscription that went all the way back to the pre-TSL days….

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