Tech Talk Live Notes: Breaking Down Liberty And Looking Ahead To Miami

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Virginia Tech
Justin Fuente talked about the state of his team and looked ahead to Miami. (Virginia Tech sports photography)

On the loss to Liberty…

I think it’s pretty evident that we are playing how we practice and that’s pretty inconsistent. Quite honestly, we were like this in the Louisville game, too. We’re just not very sound and consistent in what we’re doing. On the defensive side of the ball, when you watch the film, we just have way too many mistakes. Offensively, we have some similar things that we’ve been doing for a long time and it seems like we’re making some simple errors. Then, when we are in position, we have to go make those plays.

We have not been able to execute on a consistent basis. Some things that, going into the season, you’re anticipating being huge, impact things have not been. Our punt return unit has not been impactful. Our kickoff return unit has been, but they’ve basically been taking it out of our hands, so it’s been hard to make plays on special teams. We all share in it, obviously it came down to the end. I was really proud of a lot of things with some individuals and the way that we handled some things to give ourselves a chance. We have to play better football. I could sit on here and make a million excuses, but it’s my responsibility and my job to get us to execute to the best of our ability, whatever that ability is. We have fallen short of that as of late.

On not being able to stop the run…

You’re just taking death by a thousand paper cuts as opposed to big plays. They came in and they swallowed their pride a little bit in terms of not pushing the tempo and being very deliberate to keep the ball out of our offense’s hands. Our offense had ten possessions through the entire game. That plan only works if you can run the ball. If you can’t run the ball, that plan goes right out the window. We could never get them behind the chains very much. It seemed like they were always right on the chains.

We knew that we were going to have to play four downs on defense when they crossed the fifty because of the quarterback run game. They were going to treat third down like second down and try to get into a fourth and manageable. We knew that. We could never get them into an uncomfortable situation. We did a couple of times, but not nearly enough.

On losing Rayshard Ashby…

We had a scrimmage in fall camp, one of the few scrimmages we got to actually do. He was not there, and we couldn’t get lined up. The fact that there was a little bit of insecurity without him there and we had to tell everybody what to do and get everybody lined up. He’s important to everybody and important to our psyche out there a little bit. He’s played so much ball and knows exactly what’s going on and makes almost all of the checks.

I’ll say that, but Dax [Hollifield] came in and filled in admirably at the mike position. Dax started at [backer] this week because Alan [Tisdale] was a little beat up early in the week and didn’t get to practice very much. Dax started, and when Rook went out, we just bumped them back over. Now, you’ve got Dax playing mike when he’s been playing [backer] all week. Alan’s in there and he’s had limited reps. That’s kind of the biproduct of the situation we were in.

On Hendon Hooker…

He really played well and has played well over the last two weeks. He’s taken care of the football and has been running the ball well when he’s got it, and he’s made good decisions with the football in the passing game. I really loved the two-point conversion. That’s the play that I haven’t seen him make yet. That’s the backyard play. I’ve seen him do what he’s coached to do, time and time again, which is comforting as a coach. That’s the play that where it’s kind of defended and he played a little backyard football, pressed the line of scrimmage and flipped it out for the two-point conversion. Those are the types of plays that I hope we’ll continue to see from him with a little bit of improvisation there to make something happen.

On Tayvion Robinson’s muffed punt…

Last year, he had no conscience. He was just out there returning balls. We put him in at halftime of the Wake Forest game last year, and immediately we were a weapon on punt return, and it was because of him, not anything else. We put him in, and immediately our confidence sky rocketed. We were making plays and he was fantastic.

He struggled a little bit to start this year. We talked to him, and I really felt like after the Louisville game and the first return of the Liberty game, Tay’s back. I thought we had moved on. It was an unfortunate deal. I feel for him because I know how much the team means to him and how much playing well means to him. That hurts him. We’ll see as we go through this week how we’re going to handle it. I don’t have a definitive answer right now as to what we’ll do. I want Tay to find a way to get back to what he was as a true freshman.

On Jaylen Griffin’s strip sack at the end of the first half…

We turned that in for an explanation. What concerns me, we were starting to take the timeouts because I was worried about them running all of the time down to end the second quarter. In my mind, we were going to start spending timeouts to save some time when we got the ball back. What I’m really concerned about is that if I hadn’t said I wanted a timeout, would they have reviewed it? That’s what I’m really concerned about. They promised they were going to, but I’ve heard that before. I’ve been down that road before where they say, ‘They’re looking at it coach, don’t worry about it.’ Then, things just roll on.

We turned it in for an explanation as to what those guys are instructed to do. What they’re instructed to do is swallow the whistle. If they’re not sure, let it go. If you see [the official] on film, he really felt like he was on the call. He thought it wasn’t close because he emphatically said he was down.

I’m proud of our guys because we talk all the time that we don’t care if you hear a whistle, if there’s a ball on the ground, recover it. If we get an immediate recovery and they review it and it’s a fumble, we get the ball. We jumped on it; we didn’t stand there staring at it because the whistle blew. That’s a great job by Chamarri [Connor]. In grading those things, the director of officiating sends something back and says that we should have swallowed the whistle there. If it’s close, let it play out and they’ll figure it out on replay.

On Khalil Herbert…

He’s been a tremendous part of the success that we’ve had offensively. I think it’s a complement to the rest of the crew that stepped up on Saturday in his absence. We knew he was dealing with it, but you never know, you better plan to not have him. I was excited that he felt good and wanted to go. He only played one play, so that didn’t last very long. We were ready for that to happen. When you’re dealing with a hamstring for a tailback, especially when you have hamstrings as big, strong and explosive as Khalil does, sometimes those take a little bit of work. We were ready for that.

What hurt us a little bit was losing Gallo in the second half. Now we’re down two tight ends. Our ability to get in 12 personnel was pretty much gone. We got into it a little bit and had to throw Tenuta in there at tight end. He’s not much of a pass-catching threat obviously. Those things happen during the game, and you have to be able to adjust. It helps if you have those conversations during the week. You better talk about those things if you’re uncertain about it because you don’t have that much time on gameday.

On letting Liberty score…

There are two things going on there. One is, do we need to start taking our timeouts? Once the quarterback hit the long run to get down there, then it was obvious that, in my mind, I was worried that they were going to just take a knee. We had already used one timeout. I was worried that they were going to take a knee and we weren’t going to have any timeouts left. That’s when you have to call the guys over, we have a signal for it too, but you have to call them over and say, ‘This is it. This is why we practice this.’

It’s like the ultimate swallow your pride moment for a defensive player to hear the head coach tell them that you have to let them score. That was the only path to victory. The only way that you have a chance to win there, if they manage the clock right, is for them to score and you to get the ball back with some time left, so you can actually operate. I went to JHam and told him, this is what we have to do. JHam is into the situational football, too, so he knew it. We got it called and we got it executed with some time left to go down and score.

On Hendon Hooker taking more hits…

They act like we know exactly who is going to get the ball on every pass play and every run play. It’s an option. One of two people may carry the ball, and that’s dictated by the defense. On a pass play, there’s three, four or five receivers that go out, and it’s dictated by the defense. We can do some things to guarantee that a guy has a better chance of getting the ball. I don’t know; I just kind of roll my eyes at that kind of stuff. I certainly don’t want guys doing things that are unsafe, but you’re in the middle of the game. These are the things that we’re doing to have success, and he’s competing his tail off to try and help us win.

On turning the page to Miami…

They’re hurting. It was obvious. You pour your heart and soul into work and for these kids playing, they played hard. We played with emotion and tried to do a bunch of really good things, but unfortunately, we didn’t do things well enough to deserve to win the ballgame. I tried to deliver a very good message on Sunday about responding and those types of things. I’m hoping our leaders will continue to echo that, and tomorrow morning we’ll hit the ground running on Miami.

On Miami…

First of all, you’ve got it right with “slow them down.” They have two games this year where they haven’t scored a lot of points. One of them was in a driving rainstorm against Virginia. They did a pretty good job playing defense against them, but it was pouring down rain. The other was Clemson.

They’re pretty dynamic offensively. King is the difference-maker for them. The last couple years, they haven’t been great at quarterback, and now they are. This is a guy that is super athletic, but can really throw the football. He’s surrounded by weapons. I’m sure they’ll have their tight end back and their wide receivers are, as you can imagine, they can really run. They can run the ball and throw it. It’s going to be a tremendous challenge for us. We have to have a great week of preparation.

When I think of Miami on defense, I know they’ve had great players everywhere, but it’s usually the defensive line. It’s usually big, athletic guys in a penetrating defense. Their defensive ends are both NFL players, and they’ve got some inside guys that are very good as well. It will be a tremendous challenge for us.

On last year’s win against Miami…

We went down there with two true freshmen offensive linemen playing center and guard. We are a different team on offense than we were then. Defensively is where we have to get our mojo back a little bit. We were a little bit of a frazzled team last year when we went down there. Hendon was making his first start, and he executed and the guys around him played really well. We took care of the ball and found a way to get a win.

Everybody talks about jumping out early in that game. That’s exactly what happened, they came back obviously, but Hendon and those guys had to make plays down the stretch to go get the touchdown that ultimately won the ball game for us.

Defensively, we had to make a stop as they drove the field there. It was a good confidence boost for our football team. We should take confidence going into this game that we can win, when we do things a certain way. We have to embrace who we are. That’s a lot easier said than done. We have to play a certain way, not just from an energy level, but from an execution level, in order to give ourselves a chance to win.

On how far Hooker has come since his first start…

He’s made tremendous strides. The good thing about him, Hendon probably disagrees with this, is the fact that Hendon did not have to play immediately out of high school. The fact that he could come and work and did the work to prepare. He got plenty of practice reps, and I think that helped him play well when he started playing. His confidence has increased, and he’s continued to develop and feel comfortable with what’s going on in the passing game and the running game. Hopefully he keeps that focus and continues to improve.

On using the tight ends against Miami…

I think it started last year with the run game. We were able to run the ball, not by gobs of yardage, but we were efficient running the football. That opened up some play action with Dalton [Keene] and James [Mitchell] out of some run sets. We threw the ball back across the field to Dalton twice and I think he scored a few touchdowns off of some nakeds. That really helps you when you’re running the ball because sometimes the tight ends can get lost in all of that stuff if the defensive backs don’t have their eyes in the right spots.

James is the one that continues to provide a lot of matchup issues, particularly for teams that want to play a lot of man coverage. People always talk about matchups and all of that stuff when they don’t really understand how that stuff works. When you start to get to a tight end in man coverage, you can find some ways to get him matched up on some of their lesser cover guys. If you’re a really skilled guy like James, sometimes you have a chance to hurt some people doing that stuff.

On taking the ball if they win the toss…

I think we’ll see if there’s an overriding weather issue or wind issue. I’ve monkeyed with that a little bit in my career, but not too much. It’s never seemed to work out too well, so I probably won’t. I do think there are some other things you can do. Particularly at the end of the half, you can try to ensure that the defense won’t have to take the field for one more possession.

In 2017 when we were so good on defense and very young on offense, we basically tried to win the game on defense and not mess it up offensively. That was a little different feel because you could punt the ball all of the time and didn’t have to worry about going for it. You were going to pin the ball on the five-yard line, the defense would stop them, and you’d get it right back.

When you’re not as strong [defensively], that may change your theory on how you handle those situations or the tempo that you move. You saw Liberty protect their defense last week by being very deliberate and running the clock down. The offense had ten possessions for us last week. That’s pretty low, and that’s a deliberate attempt by them to protect their defense. That’s another tactic that I think merits discussion, but it all centers around being able to run the football.

On different game times affecting the schedule…

It’s a little different because where it hits you is Friday in your meetings. What’s a little bit odd when we play at home is that we have such a long ride to the stadium from Roanoke. When we play on the road, we usually don’t have a 45- or 50-minute ride to the stadium. Our order of operations is pushed up even further at home than it is on the road. It can affect you with all of the travel.

I have been on the road with an early game and I look at the time and we’re still in the middle of the offensive meeting and it’s 8:30. We’re thinking that we have to get these guys to bed. Maybe I was just thinking of myself more than them. You start to think about how you traveled and did all of this stuff and you’re just ready to get some rest and get ready for tomorrow.

On the captains…

I think we have to make sure they know that they’re empowered. What’s a little different than it used to be across the board is the allegiance to those guys from the other players. I think you have to make a concerted effort to highlight what they’ve been through and all of the work that they’ve invested in the program. It’s just a little bit more of an individual world than it used to be. I’m not criticizing anybody for it, but it’s a little bit different. When the other players see those guys and have an allegiance towards them and their investment into the program, I think that helps. We’re empowering those guys to continue to encourage and bring guys along.

It’s a free year, so nobody is losing a year of eligibility. Let’s go suit up and see what’s going to happen. We’ve already played under the most absurd circumstances ever. That doesn’t mean that the games don’t count, they certainly do, but let’s go take advantage of them. Let’s prepare and go lay it out there.

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8 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. So according to Fu’s comments, they knew that Herbert had a gimpy hamstring before the game. If so, why is he on kickoff return to start the game?? Save him for the run game, and give someone else a shot at kickoff if you know he has a hamstring issue. Am I missing something??

    1. Agreed. Having Herbert back for the kick-off on a gimpy ham makes no sense. Especially since he is such an important piece in our Offense. He wasn’t very productive in the Wake game and we lost. He was sidelined after the kick-off in the Liberty game and we lost. Are we starting to realize a trend?

  2. I think you have to make a concerted effort to highlight what they’ve been through and all of the work that they’ve invested in the program. It’s just a little bit more of an individual world than it used to be. I’m not criticizing anybody for it, but it’s a little bit different. When the other players see those guys and have an allegiance towards them and their investment into the program, I think that helps. We’re empowering those guys to continue to encourage and bring guys along.

    Interesting comment. Is this lack of top down control or too much players coach? You have better pick your captains carefully and give them a lot of power to sit players or discipline others. Who takes fork away from some and puts the barbells in the hands of others?

  3. I don’t think we beat Miami, I know we don’t beat Clemson, Pittsburgh will be a dog fight that will be very hard to win, and I am not sure we beat UVA when our defense can’t stop a clock with even removing the batteries.

    Interesting there was no discussion about the “timeout”. The show is orchestrated.

    1. Yes, I was also looking for a comment on the propriety “under the circumstances” for calling the time out prior to the long field goal attempt.

      1. I thought it was the right thing to do. I thought it was going to be a fake (who tries a field goal 10 yards longer than anything the kicker has made in his life?), and he didn’t have the right personnel on the field for that. The way it worked out was bad, but I don’t fault Fu for that as much as I fault him for not having the troops ready to play from the get-go. It never should have come down to that. Our OL, which has been playing well, outweighs their front 7 by about 500 pounds. We should have been able to run the ball better, but we looked like we were sleep walking. Plenty of bad coaching to go around, but the ending was more serendipity for Liberty than bad coaching. IMHO of course.

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