Tech Talk Live Notes: Team Improvement, The Win Over BC, and Looking Ahead To Wake Forest

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Virginia Tech, Justin Fuente
Justin Fuente’s team is 3-1, but he knows they could play better. (Virginia Tech sports photography)

On the team’s performance against BC…

I just feel like there are so many things that we need to and we can get better at. I think it’s important that you shouldn’t let the outcome overtake what you need to improve. Just like if you fall short, you can still be proud of some of the things that you’ve done. I’m not downgrading the victory, I thought Boston College was playing really well and they’ve done a fantastic job so far this year and I’m happy to get the win.

There were so many things in all three phases that we can impact the game for Virginia Tech in a positive manner by doing a few more fundamental things a little bit better. That also encourages me and makes me feel good that we can still improve and get better. There’s probably a myriad of reasons for that, some of them because of the jumbled nature of fall camp and the first couple weeks of the season. There’s plenty of room for improvement for us in all three phases.

On Hendon Hooker…

He was really efficient. Obviously, in the passing game, I think he was 11-15, that’s a good percentage there. It’s kind of weird how the game worked out that we only threw it 15 times, but I don’t think we picked up many passes in the second half, or at least the fourth quarter. I’m really impressed with the way he ran the offense and ran the football. Only a few of his runs were designed quarterback runs. Most of them were reads, and I think that’s indicative of our ability to run the football with our running backs.

We caught them sucking down a little bit too far and Hendon was able to pull it and break off some big runs. He broke some tackles too; he ran over a guy on the goal line for the touchdown. He made some guys miss too. He had a few pull reads where they couldn’t bring him down and he got some extra yardage.

On the run game…

It certainly has become a focal point of what people were trying to stop. I feel so remarkably blessed because we weren’t even able to suit up Jalen Holston for this game, Keshawn King is working his way back, and he touched the ball once and returns it all the way to the 50-yard line and for a big momentum play. We’re starting to get some depth and some guys that are capable of helping us win games. It’s becoming apparent that the focal point of what people are trying to take away is the running game.

Raheem [Blackshear] is starting to feel comfortable. I talked to him a little bit about it after the game. He was unavailable until right before the first game, and we played him a little bit, then he came up with a hamstring. He’s now finding his groove to be a really productive player too. I’m really excited about where we’re headed with running the football and making everything else go on offense.

On Khalil Herbert…

That’s just a fine young man. I’m standing there during one of the many, long TV timeouts, and he is on the sideline explaining to Raheem what he’s seeing on the stretch play. That’s the play that Khalil has been really effective at. It runs right down the line of scrimmage, and sometimes he gets to the edge, sometimes he cuts it up the middle, sometimes he cuts it all the way back. He was coaching Raheem up on what he was seeing. Raheem is a little bit less patient on that play.

I’ll tell you what was pretty cool, and I talked to the team about this on Sunday. The world is a better place, and we’re a lot happier when we don’t care who gets the credit, when we don’t spend time pining for what other people have or have accomplished. I tried to make this message to our kids because there is so much of that going on these days. I saw so many great examples of that on our football team. I saw Jarrod Hewitt coaching up Amare Barno on pass rush moves. I saw Keshawn King taking great pride on our team scoring on the drive after his kick return. Those are the things that help fuel a football team along with talent and discipline and those things, but that unselfish nature in a selfish world is important. I’m trying to drive that point home, and using our veteran players as examples has been great.

On Doug Nester…

I’m really proud of our depth and our entire group on the offensive line. We have some guys there who have played quite a bit and really give us real, quality depth. Doug played both right guard and right tackle in the game the other night. Silas Dzansi filled in really well at right tackle. I was really proud of him. We shuffled the line up a little bit and took him out to get Hudson and Nester in at the same time. Silas was unbelievable on the sidelines cheering people on. That was a really cool example of team.

All of those guys deserve a tremendous amount of credit. We have guys who have played a lot but are really starting to gel together and take a lot of pride. Obviously, I’ll be really happy to get Luke [Tenuta] back. I thought he was playing really well. We’ll continue to run those guys in, and hopefully stay healthy as we try to sustain drives and stay on the field for long periods of time.

On the defensive performance…

[Justin Hamilton] is really happy, and he deserves it. To be through what he’s gone through, missing the first couple games and coming back and really not having much of a chance two weeks ago with all of the things that were going on. Our guys came back and played really hard. We made a lot of mistakes because we just haven’t played together that much.

I’m excited about what we can be, but we have to put together some good weeks of practice if we’re going to continue to improve. He keeps putting those guys in positions to go make plays. We have a safety that’s deep more often than not to help those balls that get chucked way up in the air down the field. We have two of the finest secondary coaches in America with Smitty and JHam, and when they’ve got their guys in there, we have a chance to be pretty good.

On Devin Taylor and Divine Deablo…

I’m really proud of Devin playing safety. We’ll continue to keep him there and see how that goes. We reserve the right to move people around again. Hopefully we’re on the downhill slide of that and we can start to get more depth back and get Waller back, but Divine brings so much more than just good play. He can play every position back there. He has a calming effect on the head coach too. He’s played so much, and he’s got such an even keel. He’s a smart player, and I think everybody feels better when he’s out there.

On Chamarri Conner…

He’s such a headsy, smart player. The strip he had on one of the turnovers was just clinic tape, exactly what you want your player to do. Dorian [Strong] jumped on the ball. It was just such a great play. He feels good in what JHam is asking him to do. He’s kind of freed him up and let him play. I think he has a chance to really blossom as the season rolls along. He’s coming off of the edge and playing in space. He’s just a good, headsy football player.

On the turnover margin…

As somebody always does, somebody reminded me that we gave them plenty of them last year. They owed us a few turnovers. They paid us back. All turnovers are big, but the first two were important. We were still trying to find our footing. I thought we played a lot better and faster on defense in the second half. We played a lot more man coverage and were more sound in the run game, but to create those two turnovers in the first half when we were not playing very well was huge to keep them off of the scoreboard when we were struggling defensively.

On changing momentum…

I think the biggest thing is to prepare them before the game. I do believe in momentum. I think it’s hard to get, and hard to keep, and easy to lose, and even harder to regain. It’s something we talk about in practice. As we create a competitive environment, usually, it’s offense vs. defense, sometimes it’s wide receivers vs. DB’s and other times it’s offensive line vs. defensive line.  When we create that competitive environment, invariably, one side starts to get the best of the other. We talk to those guys about being able to reclaim that momentum. Who is going to bear down on their fundamentals and their effort so they can reclaim momentum in the drill or what we’re doing in practice?

You can refer back to those in the middle of the game. We can say, ‘Let’s go get it done, just like we did in practice.’ We should never be surprised by anything. We always have to be planning for the next event, so when we’re put in the moment, we’re not surprised. I hope we do a good job of that; I think we do. We can’t always respond. Sometimes the other team is so good that we can’t respond or something else happens, but there were a couple of times in that game that we responded to adversity.

On the team’s COVID issues…

I’m not saying anything about anything going well or COVID. I don’t read much when it comes to what’s going in football outside of these walls. I read books. I know enough to know that there have been some people who have spoken up about how well they’re handling it or what they think should happen and the next thing they know, they’re dealing with those issues.

I hope we are on the mend. I know there will be adversity down the road. I’ll tell you; we have not had continuity; we have not had momentum. It’s been a new week or a new year every day around here. Last week was the most normal week we’ve had since the first week of fall camp. Hopefully we can keep stacking those normal days on top of each other towards normal weeks and then normal months.

On special teams…

I’ve been pleased. Our kickoff return unit has been productive. I think it’s a sign of respect when the other team gives you a crossfield kick like that. I want to give credit to James Shibest. He does a fantastic job with our special teams and the detail with which he goes about it is remarkable. A lot of guys wouldn’t spend time on crossfield kicks. With the new rules now, you can just fair catch it, but our kids executed that really well and ended up being a big momentum play to get it all the way back to the 50.

Then, our kickoff team executed really well on the squib kick from the 50 to pin them back deep. If you put it in the air, they can just fair catch it, so you have to squib it down there inside the 25, but you can’t kick it out of bounds and you have to try not to put it in the end zone. It’s a delicate kick, but Parker executed it really well and we downed it on the ten. They fumbled, the offense went in and did not get a first down, and we kicked a field goal. In my mind, that’s just stealing three points right there. That’s winning football.

I thought we looked faster covering punts. We’re getting better as we get healthier covering punts. Punt return is the one where we haven’t gotten any productivity…I was most excited about [punt returns] heading into the season. We have to improve there. I thought we’ve had some chances to make plays throughout the season, but have not done it yet. I’m hoping we can get that thing kickstarted on punt return.

On Keshawn King…

Quite honestly, this whole thing has been difficult on Keshawn. He’s missed time, but he’s also seen a couple of older guys have some success. I know he’d like to be out there every single down. That sometimes happens when young players play before they’re ready, before they’ve really had their chance to earn their way onto the field. I think he’s done a great job of not worrying about the credit and accolades, but trying to help us get a win.

He is going to play tailback. It’s going to happen this season, and he’s going to get in there and carry the ball in a meaningful way. That is absolutely going to happen, we just have to get him back up and ready. That was a big play, we recognized him in front of the team. It was good to see him smiling again.

On recruiting…

One of the many things that makes Virginia Tech special is gameday here. This is a proud academic institution, but Saturdays in the fall are special here and different from anywhere else in this region. I don’t mean any disrespect to any other schools in the league, but those are the facts. They take it seriously around here and love the team with fanatical enthusiasm. It’s disappointing that we haven’t been able to show that off. Other schools haven’t been able to show it off either, but ours is better than everybody else’s.

It’s been difficult. It’s been hard on the kids too. Some of these recruits aren’t playing, some are playing in the spring, and some aren’t playing [at all]. Some are playing in front of packed houses and can’t understand why other people don’t have fans. This whole thing we’re dealing with is so regionalized. You get on the phone with some of the kids and some are in school, some aren’t, some are just staring at a computer all day. The wide variety of what’s going on around the country kind of adds to it.

On Wake Forest …

They still have the same up-tempo philosophy with their formations. They’re trying to score and score quickly, and they’ve done that. They’re averaging 40 points per game. Sam Hartman, in a lot of ways, I think is a more dangerous player than Jamie Newman. He’s a great passer. They don’t run it quite as much. They still do the game where they ride the tailback almost to the line of scrimmage and pull it or fake a blitzer. He is playing at a really high level. They could be on their own one-yard line and they’re throwing bombs.

You can tell that Coach Clawson has a lot of confidence in his man. They haven’t turned the ball over much. They’re much improved on defense. I believe they have eight or nine starters back from their defense last year. They’re the only ones who could stay on the field with Clemson. They opened with Clemson and lost, but they played them closer than anybody else so far. This is a veteran football team. Last year doesn’t mean anything. As coaches or players, if we say that what happened last year is going to happen this year, we’re lying to ourselves. We have to prepare to go on the road and play a really good football team.

On Boogie Basham…

Basham lines up at field defensive end and he’s a big, strong kid. Well, he’s not a kid anymore, he’s a full-grown man. He is playing at a high level. He’s good in the run game and has some really good pass rush skill. They know exactly what they’re doing defensively, and they have answers for whatever you give them. As coaches, we’ll never say publicly who we think is well-coached and who isn’t, but we can tell who has answers and who doesn’t. I’m telling you; this team has answers. They’ve got answers in all phases of the game, they’re well-coached and will be prepared for this game.

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8 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Notice he does t want us too high after big win…lots of things to work on.

    Last week he was proud & felt bad for having to put the kids in that tough situation

    Never get too high, never too low, hmmmm, what other coach did we always hear that from ?

  2. “I know enough to know that there have been some people who have spoken up about how well they’re handling it or what they think should happen and the next thing they know, they’re dealing with those issues.”

    Me thinks Bronco in for a bucking this year…Thanks for the bulletin board material Coach Mendenhahahahahahahall.

  3. i couldn’t listen in live [ Thanks TSL, for covering the TTL with detailed paraphrases and notations! ] so i don’t know how the questions were phrased. but i sure do recognize CJF isn’t ashamed to give credit where credit is due (note farmvilleH’s comment, as well).

    for all that’s been dealt to this team, coaches and athletic department – i’m quite impressed with how we have surmounted the obstacles we have faced and not only won 3 games, but how this team is a “team” spelled without an “i” and a progressing, positive attitude is pervading.

    Go Hokies! keep it rolling Saturday

  4. Notice there aren’t any comments where he is taking credit for our success personally. He is quick to call out names of coaches and players who have contributed. He has surrounded himself with good people and that’s a sign of good leadership. glad he is on our sideline.

  5. Love his comments (non-comments) on covid.
    Also love that he is being so respectful to the people that haven’t had success yet, but will (i.e., K. King).

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