Tech Talk Live Notes: The Louisville Win, And A Top 25 Liberty Team

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Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente recapped the Louisville game and talked about facing a Top 25 Liberty team.. (Jamie Rhodes-ACC Pool)

On the fast start against Louisville…

It was very clear to everybody [against Wake Forest], not that we didn’t play hard, but we didn’t play well. For us to give ourselves a chance to win every single week, we have to play a certain way. There are teams that can bridge the gap with gobs of talent, but we’re not one of those teams. We need to understand what it takes to win and give ourselves a chance to win. I was really proud of the way our kids took that coaching and understood that and put it into practice at Louisville. We started out on defense on the first play with a sack and forced a punt. Then, we went down there offensively and built momentum, particularly in the first quarter.

On throwing ten passes…

We found out that they were going to be down a few guys on the defensive line. We didn’t have a pow-wow and say, ‘We’re not throwing the ball.’ You have to go with the flow of the game, but I was proud of how efficiently we played when we did throw the ball. Obviously, when we’re able to run the ball efficiently and make some plays throwing the ball, that’s when we’re at our best.

It just worked out that way, we didn’t set a target number. I was actually shocked because I didn’t read anything, and I didn’t know. I had no clue that we had only thrown it ten times. I knew it probably wasn’t a big number, but I didn’t know we had only thrown it ten times until we sat down and got ready to sit with the media and Pete [Moris] slid the quickie stat sheet over to me. Part of that was intended and part was unintended, but I was proud of the way that the guys were efficient.

On limiting Louisville possessions…

It certainly helps if you can shorten the game a little bit. We didn’t just try to run the play clock all the way down, but we only snapped the ball 62 times offensively, which is a really low number, especially in this day and age. We have been snapping the ball less throughout this season than we have before, but still scoring at a pretty decent rate. I hope that can continue because it alleviates some stress on your defense and your special teams, but it’s all centered around whether you can score. You have to get points to be any good.

Finding a way to take the ball out of their hands is another effective weapon. You can’t go through the game and know exactly how it’s going to play out. There are offensive coaches out there that just want to score, but for me, it’s about trying to manage the game. How can we contribute to our defense’s success and put them in situations to be successful? You can’t be playing 120 snaps per game defensively because that takes a toll on you throughout the season.

On moving Tayvion Robinson to the slot…

We have been trying to find an answer into the boundary and felt like it was hurting us more than helping us by keeping Tayvion into the boundary. Putting Tre back out there to the field was the best way for those two guys to produce. They’re our best two outside players along with James Mitchell. It was a little bit difficult with no spring and all of the things we went through in fall camp, we felt like we really needed Tay to get into the boundary. We just decided that we were going to let those guys go back to the field and get back to being productive.

On Khalil Herbert…

He’s got really good vision and has a really good feel for the stretch play. We played a team that is great at running the stretch play, so they should be good at defending it because they see it every day in practice. I thought they were very good. We popped a couple on them. Khalil has a very good knack for that play and really good vision with that. We were able to get a few other schemes going for us with the inside zone and a couple of gap schemes going where we got the ball to the unblocked hat and made him miss.

You guys have heard me say this for years, right now, when we get the ball to the unblocked hat, Khalil can make that guy miss and score. It’s leading to bigger chunk plays, more efficient offense and obviously better rushing stats. That leads to more points and more opportunities in the red zone.

On Raheem Blackshear…

I’ve talked to Raheem at length about how he’s one of the guys that has had his growth hindered by everything that we’ve gone through. What I’m saying is, now we’re in the middle of the season. There aren’t many practices where we’re just going out there and trying to get better. It’s all scheme-oriented and focused on the opponent we’re playing. We do some good-on-good, but it’s hard to bring guys along in the middle of the season. There’s no bye week in sight, no rest in sight. It’s just continuing to go, and missing so much of that time has hurt his versatility a little bit. He was out and was banged up a little bit.

He is still coming along and becoming more of a factor in what we’re doing. We had a couple of things schemed up for him that they optioned away, and we had big plays going the opposite direction, either with Hendon running the ball or checking it down. I think it’s only a matter of time until he starts to show up more in the stat-sheet.

On allowing big plays…

We ultimately won the game because they couldn’t run the outside zone, and that’s what they hang their hat on. I thought we played great at defensive end and outside linebacker. We asked those ends to do a lot during that game. They’ve got the stretch that they have to run down from behind, but they also have to cover the boot with a very athletic quarterback. I was really proud of them for that.

That being said, we had one run get out on us in an inexplicable situation with eight seconds to go in the half and it goes all the way. We had a guy there that can’t make the play. He’s going to tackle him for a 15 to 20-yard gain, but we didn’t have the footspeed to get him out of bounds. We were a little bit concerned about playing too soft and getting that guy into space. Our three-technique guy got reached out of his gap and the guy scored. We had been really good about that all night.

The other one was on third down and long, and it was a little bit of a frustrating play to give up that big, long pass. Those are things that if we want to take the next step, we have to eliminate those. We were in position to make several more plays. Then, on the very last drive, it’s fourth down and JHam brings blitz. We have an unblocked hat that just can’t tackle the quarterback, and [he] has a miracle and throws it for a touchdown.

There were so many good things on that film that we did take away from them. There’s also so many things that we have to continue to improve if we want to be the team that we want to be.

On his reaction to the 90-yard touchdown run…

That happens, and you say the things that you need to say under your breath, and then you think, ‘We’ve got to get the team back.’ As soon as I get into the locker room, we have to deliver this message. What was pretty cool was that, when I walked in, the players were delivering that message. They were taking responsibility and ownership of it. They were shaking it off and letting everybody know that they need to go back out there and play.

I pulled everybody up and told them that we can’t do anything about that play. That’s gone, nobody likes it, but we’re still up by seven. You can begin to think that you’re down by 20 because you made a big mistake, but that’s not the case, we’re up by seven and we get the ball to start the second half. Everything is going to be fine. You’re playing with great energy and great toughness. We can go do this. It’s one thing to get up there and go say it as a coach and look into everybody’s eyes, it’s another thing to have the players saying it and repeating it back to each other. That’s when the confidence kind of grows.

On the leaders of the team…

Hewitt is one of those guys and Ashby is one of those guys. The offensive guys are our offensive line. They have good leadership qualities. Those guys do a really good job. They don’t feel like they have to step into what the defense did on that last play though. There is kind of a pecking order when it comes to that bad of a play right before the half. You saw a lot of the defensive guys step up right before we went back out saying that we’re good, let’s get ready to rock and move forward.

On TyJuan Garbutt…

He was a little rusty. We didn’t want to play him and that wasn’t the plan, but we lost two guys. Wooten didn’t make the trip and Belmar didn’t make the trip. You get a little bit concerned because all it takes is a few positive tests on Friday or Saturday morning and now you have nobody to play in the game. We talked to TyJuan and said that we knew it was a week earlier than we thought, but do you want to go?

We wanted him to give us ten or twelve snaps or a few series just to give some guys a break. He was on board; who doesn’t want to play football? Practicing is no fun; playing is really fun. He was all-in and went out there and played fine. Even he will admit, he was like, ‘Coach, I’m in bad shape and I’m too heavy right now.’ He came out there and gave us some good snaps.

On Chamarri Connor and Alan Tisdale…

Alan was all over the place, good and bad. We have to continue to get him reined in a little bit. When I think of him, I think of the fourth down play on the stretch play by our sidelines. He was like a missile going through that B-Gap to make the play. He was fantastic.

Chamarri has been a really productive player for us and is becoming a really good leader. JHam had a really good understanding of the safeties and the DB’s and what they can do and what we should avoid having them do. It’s leading to Chamarri and Divine being really productive for us.

On Dax Hollifield…

Dax received special recognition from the head coach on Sunday. I think we should point that out to our other players. This is a guy that has played a lot of football over the last few years, but hasn’t played much on defense these last few games. He’s played on special teams, but here he is on the sideline cheering his guts out for us to go win the game. He’s cheering for the guys that are in there playing and he’s a fantastic player. Dax, as you know, is a great kid and team player and a very productive player, and he’s going to get plenty of snaps as we go through this season.

On special teams…

Those two field goals were huge for us at that point in the game. It was a little bit like a tennis match going back and forth, so him adding that cushion there really helped us out. To have your hands team out there three times, we said the whole time that we knew they were checking which way to kick the ball from the sidelines.

As [James] Shibest so eloquently put it, we’re going to play poker with them. We’ve got Gallo in there trying to make them make the call which way they’re going to kick it. Then, he lines up and they switch the call. On the third one, it’s Gallo running back and forth, and we drew a delay of game. Those things are pressure packed and teams are getting so creative at what they do.

That kicker at Louisville was very special because he could line up like he was going to onside kick it to our left and still kick it to our right. Not many guys can do that and kick it accurately. It’s like having two kickers out there because we don’t know where the ball is going to go. James had them really prepared and they executed well.

On Liberty…

I think it starts with their offense and their skill players. They have one big tailback that can run you over and one small tailback that can run right by you. It seems like every time you turn on the play, he’s hitting the crease for a big, long run. They have two smaller wide receivers that can really run and are exceptionally quick that continue to make plays all over the place. They have a really good offensive line that is sound and knows what they’re doing.

Then, the quarterback (Malik Willis) is running the show. He’s leading the country in yards scrambling, and he throws the ball from every angle. I’ve seen him throw the ball sideline, off-balance and on the move. He’s throwing the ball really well and can fly. We had the guy in camp, and he could play wide receiver, he could play defensive back and he can play quarterback. He had an unbelievable senior season in high school, decommitted from us and signed with Auburn. He went down there for a few years and it didn’t work out, sat out last year, and now he’s playing and he’s everything we thought he would be in high school.

Then, you flip it over to the defense and they’re huge on the defensive line, they’re experienced in the secondary. They can make big plays all over the field and do a really good job of preventing big plays that they themselves create so much offensively.

On Brock Hoffman’s matchup with Ralfs Rusins…

We need to turn it into a battle. We need to find ways to run the football and play a little bit of keep-away. We’re not going to go out there and take a knee, but we have to find a way to be efficient and handle him up front. They beat Syracuse and they could have scored 50. They beat them handily and they could have blown them out of the gym. They’re ranked in the top-25. We have a ranked opponent coming into Lane Stadium on Saturday.

On Liberty being ranked…

It is a big game for us. I’ve coached at some places like that where other coaches would say it’s like their Super Bowl. That made me mad. Yeah, it’s the next game for us, too. For Virginia Tech, this is a big game. We have an undefeated team coming into our stadium. I told our players that since 2009, Virginia Tech has won one home game against a ranked opponent, and that was last year vs. Wake Forest. We’ve beaten a bunch of them on the road and in neutral sites, but right there and to get this place back to where we want it to be, let’s start Saturday at 12 o’clock.

Our guys don’t have to look at the film very long to tell that this is a very good team coming in here. It certainly got our guys’ attention if it didn’t before. If you watch the film, anybody can see that this is going to be a battle.

On trap games…

If we’ve learned any lesson, it’s that we have to play a certain way with a certain level of emotion. Certainly, there’s an element of execution and preparation, but we have to have all of that every single time and that’s really difficult to do. The ‘trap’ term, I understand that from the outside, but that’s not on the inside right now. We have a weird schedule; they were off last week while we were at Louisville. With this weird schedule and election week, it’s affecting us, but it’s not affecting them. We have to handle our adversity and be ready to play in the same mindset that we were last week.

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2 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. I see us being ABLE to win all remaining games. I think we will win 3. I think Liberty and UVA are wins. I think Pitt and Miami are coin flips. I think Clemson is a loss. However, every single one of these games could go either way….it really is that kind of year. Keep in mind that both our losses were fairly close and a couple wins were fairly close.

    I think this staff will be good if they can start recruiting in the top 30. If we can get to 24th, 28th ranked classes, we have a staff that can get the best from them. The more success, the further the imagined or real slights to some high school coaches fade into the rear view mirror. I like the portal success. I think it will make more transfers want to come our way.

    QB…..Hooker is obviously #1. I think that QP ought to be #2. Burmeister is good as long as he isn’t playing catch up. He feels pressure and then makes bad decisions. I can empathize.

  2. Thanks for the content. With the U, Pitt, Clemson, and Wahoowa coming up it would be easy to overlook Liberty – if that happens it will be a long day. These guys will be highly motivated and can play. Need to have an efficient, mistake free game of running the ball down their throats.

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