What was special about the crowd on Friday night?
I think there was a lot of pent up exuberance from a year away and you could tell in pregame warm-ups when we were announcing the starting lineups. People were just going bananas. There was definitely a buzz and a sense of energy in the air and when you’ve gone a year without hearing that or feeling that, the first time you get a little bit of it, it gives you that feeling in the pit of your stomach. It was a pretty unique and cool experience but I’ve never seen a group of people that were as energized, as into the game from the beginning all the way to the end, as our fans were Friday night. Usually, you come out at halftime and you look up and the corners are empty, people are getting hot dogs and beer or whatever, but we started the second half and everybody was there and ready to rock and roll. It was a pretty special night.
On the significance of the win t-shirts and giving the fans the opportunity to buy them:
Brad Wurthman deserves a tremendous amount of credit for it. I just [felt we should] include everybody because we did know leading into this, it was going to be a special night and having a chance to include everybody that played a huge role in the victory, not just on the field or behind the scenes, but actually in the stands. I think is a unique and cool opportunity. Our win t-shirts that we give to everybody in the program after every victory, it would only be wise to include everybody this week.
On the defensive performance:
It was just a great overall performance. We knew that no matter what you do or how you move the pieces around, you’re going to end up in some one-on-one battles and you got to find a way to win those battles and we won a whole bunch of them. Whether they’re on the perimeter or whether they’re in pass rush mode or flushing the quarterback out of the pocket or one-on-one blocks. Whatever it was, we found ways to do it, and the coaches put together a great game plan and our kids played really fast. When we looked at the video, the execution level was really high. We didn’t do a whole lot, quite honestly. It wasn’t like it was all this exotic stuff that we threw out there and tricked people, but what our kids did do was execute at a high level throughout the entire game, through the ups and downs and sudden changes, and they played incredibly fast with great emotion and they put on a really good performance.
How was the offensive script?
It went exactly like we hoped it would go. We talked about this in the post game. We planned on taking the ball if we won the toss. We did not win the toss, so they deferred and we got the ball anyway. There was a little bit of a mindset of playing keepaway: Trying to keep them off the field, keep their quarterback on the sidelines. [He] can’t score if he’s standing on the sidelines, but none of that means anything if you don’t make first downs, if you can’t run the football and if you don’t execute and for a little while, particularly in the first half, we executed at a high level. I wish we’d have executed a little bit better in the second half and maybe we people could’ve taken a deep breath and relaxed a little bit more towards the end of the game, but we didn’t and still found a way to get the job done which is nice but it was really nice to kinda take the air out of the ball a little bit to start the game.
What did you see on film regarding the struggles in the beginning of the second half?
We missed a couple throws, we had a couple execution errors and Braxton [Burmeister] played his tail off. We had a couple calls that kind of didn’t go our way. I kind of feel bad about his interception. Tre Turner is the guy we’re trying to throw the ball there to and he just got tackled. Braxton threw his eyes up to find Tre on the post route, which is where everybody thought that’s where the ball was going to go, and he just was literally getting his stuff ripped off of him as he was trying to run down the field and then he got pressure and tried to flip it to James [Mitchell] and it got intercepted. There’s just a few things there and they are stout. When you look at them in warm-ups and you see the dimensions of the people they’ve got on the defensive side of the ball, they are vastly improved, but I still think we left some points out there.
How gratifying was the defensive line’s performance, specifically TyJuan Garbutt?
The entire group deserves a tremendous amount of praise. They really played hard and you know, it’s not easy to play defensive line. It’s a tough, physical position that requires great effort and stamina to play at a high level. We do rotate some guys through there, but we’re not super deep. It’s not like we’re playing 15 guys on the defensive line. It’s been great to have TyJuan back, not just because he’s been productive, but because he’s in such a better place. I’ve always said this about him: He’s one of the most grateful kids that we’ve ever had come through this program in terms of grateful for the opportunity to get an education, grateful for all of the things that Virginia Tech provides for him that have nothing to do with football. When you throw on top of that a guy who’s been through some things and has found his way out of it and is now in a great place and enjoying his teammates and having fun being around the guys and doing well, it’s pretty gratifying.
Thoughts on Amare Barno’s performance?
We kind of lined him up at linebacker a little bit the other night, dropped him into coverage a little bit and spied him on the quarterback, but what a great example of somebody who trusted us when we went to him about moving positions. He went about it in an incredible way and I saw his mom at fan day and I told her, ‘I just want you to know how you all handled that was incredible. You listened, you talked about it and we had great conversations and you trusted us and now you’re reaping the benefits of that.’ He’s a really special individual, really a great young man that we enjoy having on the team, but also super talented. This is a guy that is still just scratching the surface. I know I’ve been saying this for a year now but I’m telling you, he’s just one of those guys that continues to get better every single day as he continues to learn how to play defensive end.
Thoughts on Armani Chatman performance?
Armani is a guy that is in that rotation that is also playing at a high level. Everybody wanted to talk about Jermaine [Waller] and Dorian [Strong] coming into the year, and those guys played well, but I’m really proud of Chatman and his progress that he’s made. You also look at the guy that’s down there covering those punts, forcing the punt returner to fair catch and that’s Armani. He had a really productive game, not just defensively, but on special teams as well, and we’re gonna need that to continue throughout the season, but it’s nice to be able to rotate those guys through a little bit.
Thoughts on Chamarri Conner’s performance?
I really like what Justin Hamilton has done with those guys. He’s freed them up to do a few different things and Chamarri’s getting comfortable in a leadership role, but he’s also getting comfortable in disguising the defenses and being a better communicator out there. He’s always been a productive player, but now he’s moving into a role where he’s a really headsy, productive player that can disguise some things and do some different things for us that maybe he had never been asked to do before.
Was Braxton Burmeister targeting James Mitchell on his second touchdown pass?
I do not believe he was. He may claim otherwise, but I do not believe that he was. I think he was trying to throw it to Tayvion [Robinson] and I didn’t even see James, course you can hardly see anything on the field, but he let it go and I saw Tayvion going along the back of the endzone and I was looking at him and then all of the sudden these big paws just reached up and snatched it out of the air and I was really glad those paws belonged to our player. I don’t think he was throwing it to him, but it was a touchdown, that’s all I know.
On Raheem Blackshear’s comfortability level this year:
He is much more comfortable and confident and he’s been able to [participate in] spring practice and fall camp and all those things that we’ve talked about ad nauseam. It’s good to get him involved because he does have a unique skill set, whether that’s getting out of the backfield or splitting out at wide receiver, he’s got some things that he can go do out there, and it was pretty obvious that he was into the game and having fun and he’s going to be back there along with Keshawn [King] returning kicks and having a chance to contribute that way too. It’s good to get him involved and let him have a little bit of success.
Has Nasir Peoples forced his way into the starting lineup?
That’s basically what he’s done, he’s earned an opportunity to get in there and play. Devon [Hunter] still played in the boundary safety some and I think they’ll continue to share some reps, but Peoples has just become a little bit of a Swiss Army Knife for us. He can line up at all three of the safety positions, he’s got a great knowledge and understanding of what we’re trying to accomplish and provides us with a little bit of artificial depth if we needed to move him around a little bit, but he’s really found a home there in the boundary and was really productive in a tough game to play for a safety. They have these things called run-pass conflicts where you’re responsible for a gap in the run fit but also there’s somebody running a post behind you and you’re also supposed to help the corner out, so it puts you in some difficult situations. He did a really good job of taking up space and forcing some gives and also being able to tighten up some of those windows in the backend to make it difficult to throw the ball.
Thoughts on Kaden Moore and Johnny Jordan:
Johnny is going to continue to rotate in there and it was pretty cool, not to say anything bad about anybody’s previous university, but that was Johnny’s first time to see that. He was pretty fired up and he had a good time out there playing. It’s great to have Kaden continuing to come along. I think he’s going to continue to improve. We had a tough objective there because their defensive line is pretty talented in my opinion. Big and strong, but so is Kaden. He’s a big, strong kid so he more than held his own and I’m hopeful that he’ll continue to improve. It was nice for him to get him some playing experience.
Thoughts on Peter Moore’s performance?
He was great. They brought block looks both times and he just stood right in there and got it off in time and just killed it. Averaged over forty yards per punt and just acted like he had been out there a thousand times before. He was also the holder on field goals. Really proud of Peter and how he played on, obviously, a big stage.
On almost blocking two punts:
I still can’t figure out how we didn’t block the one. With Jalen Stroman, I don’t know if it was under him or through his hands or what. It looked like on film that it came underneath him and then I saw a picture that looked like it was through his hands. I don’t know how he didn’t get it, like he was right there. We felt good about that unit, of course, the punt return unit underachieved dramatically last year. We have a chance to be difference makers on that unit this year, if we can do a great job continuing to field the football, but also some of the people we’ve got on that [unit], some headsy, talented young players. Tre Turner’s a starter on it right now, an older player that’s been productive on it. I think we have a chance to hopefully do something special multiple times on that team.
On Tayvion Robinson returning back at punt returner:
No, he did, and that one was a tough one. I felt like it came off on a line and it rose on him, and it was kind of a knuckleball, but he did a good job fielding it and he’s just been really, really good throughout fall camp and, again, he was a freshman two years ago, played as a true freshman and had no offseason heading into the next year, and that’s a huge opportunity for development and growth. [He] wasn’t the same player we all assumed, me included, he would be as the natural progression from year one to year two and part of that’s just because he hadn’t had the experience, the practice and the weights and the conditioning. Now he’s getting himself in good shape, he’s much stronger. I think he’s a much more confident player, and I’m looking forward to him having a fantastic season.
On the Hokie Alums in the NFL making appearances:
There were a lot of good players on that sideline. It was pretty cool. I think about the day that we announced that it was a sellout, all the sudden my phone started buzzing off the hook from all those guys wanting to come back and get tickets. Of course I want them to come back, so we found ways to get them taken care of. It’s great to have them on the sidelines. They’re now watching some of the younger players that were [here] when they were [here] play and have success. I think we had, off the top of my head, three first-round draft picks on the sideline, plus several other guys that are playing in the NFL. It’s cool to have them come back and have them want to come back. They feel the same way about our opponent as our current players felt about our opponent, so they wanted to come back and support us.
On facing an unfamiliar opponent in Middle Tennessee:
It started on Sunday. I had a meeting with the leadership council and we talked about that very thing, and what was pretty cool was they asked to have the meeting. I was going to meet with them anyway, but they really wanted to make sure that we delivered the message to the team that we needed to refresh this thing and get ready to go. We had six months of thinking about the home opener. We have six days for the next game. We made it a big deal in our program because it was a big deal, but we also have to pack that up and put it away. Now, we enter this other stretch of our season, starting with Middle Tennessee State, where we play four non-conference games in five weeks, and it starts right here at home. If we want to be the type of team that we talk about being behind closed doors, then we’ve gotta be mature and we’ve got to handle success the right way, and we’ve got to put that stuff behind us and we got to move forward. Tomorrow morning at 6:40 is our first special teams meeting and we’ve got to have a great attention to detail. We’re not going to have two weeks of preparation for this one. We’re not going to have multiple. It’s going to go fast. Before you know it, we’re going to be taking the field and we’ve got to be ready to go. Middle Tennessee is a very good football program. Rick Stockstill’s been there for sixteen years and he is a fine football coach. You don’t last in this business that long if you don’t have a great program. Those kids play hard, we played them when I was at Memphis, and they can run, so we’re going to have to do a good job of controlling what we can control and that is us getting ourselves ready to go play at a high level. I told them, ‘We’ll have a bunch of fans there, but it’s not going to look the same. It’s going to be nice, it’s going to be awesome, but there’s no comparing it to [Friday night]. We’ve gotta move forward and take care of our business right now.’
On Middle Tennessee’s offense:
Bailey Hockman is an ACC starting quarterback. He started eight games, I think, last year at N.C. State and they won quite a few games at N.C. State last year. He throws the ball really well. He’s a left-handed kid that’s got experience. He’s played in our stadium before, certainly it wasn’t full, but he’s played here. He’s played against us, so he’s got some understanding of what we’re trying to do and the scheme we’re trying to get done.
On Middle-Tennessee’s defense:
Scott Shafer is the defensive coordinator there. Scott Shafer’s been a head coach. He’s been a defensive coordinator at some really prestigious places. He’s going to challenge us on the outside. [Their defense] is modeled after the Pittsburgh defense; he’s coming from that coaching lineage where they’re going to get down and press and try and pressure you and eat you up and load the box and make it very difficult to run. On top of that, they returned a punt for a touchdown last week. [They’re] a really complete program and team that has an opportunity to have a really good season.
Things Fuente wants to see improve from last week to this week:
I’d like for us to make an impact play on special teams. There weren’t a lot of opportunities last week and they fair caught every kickoff, which I was a little surprised at, but we didn’t have an opportunity to return a kickoff, they kicked it out of the endzone every single time. I think we’ll get an opportunity to return one in this game. I’d like for us to make an impact play on special teams. I’d like for us to play the screen game better on the defensive side of the ball, we did not do that very well. We’ve got to continue to execute through the entire football game on the offensive side of the ball. We cannot have either mental or physical lapses. The game won’t be perfect, but we’ve got to find a way to maintain that level of consistency throughout an entire football game.
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