Justin Fuente spoke to the media Monday morning following Virginia Tech’s 40-14 win over Boston College on Saturday. Despite the blowout victory, the head coach said the team has plenty to work on.
“I don’t feel like we played all that well after watching the film. We’ve got a lot to work on. I’m happy with the outcome, but the outcome shouldn’t jade our view of what actually occurred,” Fuente said. “We still had far too many mistakes being made out there. A little bit of that is that guys haven’t played together. I think it’s pretty clear when we watch the film as coaches that there is a lot to work on.”
Although the performance wasn’t perfect, Tech is now 3-1 on the season and prepares to travel to Wake Forest on Saturday. Here are some other takeaways from Fuente’s session with reporters.
The Vice Squad Continues its Dominance
Virginia Tech’s offensive line has been unstoppable through the first four games of the season. Named after its position coach, ‘The Vice Squad,’ is mauling defenses as the Hokies march to over 300 rushing yards per game.
The Hokies’ starting line is listed as the largest group in the ACC and has imposed its will on defensive linemen every Saturday thus far. However, it isn’t the size alone that has allowed the group to have so much success.
“Certainly, there is an aspect of height, weight, speed, flexibility, but we didn’t set out to have the biggest or the tallest,” Fuente said. “What we spend more time on is the mentality and the fit for what we’re trying to do.”
Some of the credit for the line’s nasty mentality has to go to center Brock Hoffman. Since arriving in Blacksburg, Hoffman’s personality has shown on the field, in interviews and on social media, and it seems like the rest of the group has taken on the attitude of their leader.
“I think Brock has brought a level of confidence and leadership and toughness to that group. Not that they didn’t have it beforehand, but I think he certainly brings that on a daily basis,” Fuente said. “We have some talented guys, too. We have guys that aren’t just big, they’re big athletes that have some talent in there that have a chance to be pretty productive.”
Tech’s coaching staff is unique in the way that they use the offensive line. The group is so deep that in most games, seven or eight different players could play on the line, with a lot of them playing multiple positions.
“I don’t know what the number of guys that we’ve played is, but I think it’s the most guys that I’ve ever had that have played meaningful snaps in games that deserve to play and deserve those opportunities,” Fuente said.
Hokies Remain Heavy on the Run
With the way the offensive line has played, paired with the breakout performance of Kansas transfer Khalil Herbert, Tech has found itself with one of the most dominant rushing attacks in the entire nation.
Herbert has led the way with just under 600 yards rushing in four games, seemingly having a breakaway run in every single game.
Despite a strange offseason, Herbert clearly didn’t miss a beat joining the Hokies and has been a great fit in the backfield.
“There’s still room for improvement, and I think he acknowledges that and takes that coaching, which is pretty cool,” Fuente said. “I also saw him helping his teammates on the sideline, helping them with what he was seeing when he was running the ball, which is another pretty cool attribute.”
With all of the success that Tech has had on the ground, they haven’t had to deviate much from the ground-and-pound game plan. The Hokies are running the ball twice as often as they are throwing it with 180 carries to just 85 pass attempts.
“I don’t know that we saw that it would look like that. No spring practice and a discombobulated fall camp probably even added to our uncertainty about what it was going to look like in terms of running the ball or throwing the ball,” Fuente said. “Just trying to create some depth was our biggest concern as we tried to make it from week to week.”
The wide disparity in passing and rushing could have something to do with Tech’s shuffling of quarterbacks through the first month of the season. With Hendon Hooker firmly at the helm for the moment, the Hokies could elect to open up the passing game more as the season goes along.
Hooker only threw the ball 15 times against the Eagles on Saturday, but he was extremely efficient. With the way Tech has run the ball, that’s all that he needed to do to put the Hokies over the top.
“I think it’s going to be a week-to-week thing based on what we’re seeing and how we’re able to get our guys the ball and what our matchups are,” Fuente said. “I do know that if you can run the ball, it’s a lot easier to throw it. Sometimes, there’s been a couple of times this year when we’ve been ahead and there isn’t a lot of reason to throw the ball. That’s kind of a biproduct of the game.”
Young Players Continue to Rotate In
In such an uncertain season, it was expected that less experienced players would have to step up in key spots throughout the year.
This has been seen in the secondary already with walk-on Tyler Matheny having a huge game against Duke and true freshman Dorian Strong playing significant snaps at cornerback. While those two have had success, it isn’t always going to work out when young players are thrown into significant spots.
“You want kids to want to play and have a little bit of success and ease their way into playing in a position that they’re ready for in a situation that they’re prepared for,” Fuente said. “That has not always been the case this season due to a variety of circumstances. I’ve told those kids I’m sorry. I hate it, but we have no other choice. Hopefully they’re tougher because of it, and they learn from it and continue to develop.”
If you were paying attention on Saturday night, you may have seen a familiar name from the Hokies’ 2020 recruiting class, defensive end Robert Wooten.
Wooten was one of two defensive ends to come to Blacksburg from Texas this past year, along with Alec Bryant. With some players missing on the line Saturday night, Wooten saw his first significant action for Tech.
“We went into the game without Jaylen [Griffin]. I think he’ll be back. He should be fine. It kind of elevated Wooten into playing a little more. I really like him. I think he’s got a bright future,” Fuente said. “Robert has shown a little more maturity than your typical freshman, not just physical maturity, but emotional and mental maturity. As the season goes along, I think he’s going to have opportunities to continue to play and contribute to this team.”
Although the Hokies have gotten a good chance to look at the future, they hope that these young players won’t have to continue to play in big moments. COVID-19 protocols have forced a lot of these moves, but the good news is the number of players missing has fallen in every game so far.
“We’re doing everything in our power to adhere to the guidelines and do our best to control what we can in this situation,” Fuente said. “We were still down some guys, but it was nice to have our staff there. It was probably the most normal week we’ve had thus far.”