Fuente on the James Mitchell injury:
It was just one of those things that sports gives and takes away. I was asked in the postgame if James was going to be okay and we felt like, the medical people felt like, he was going to be fine, he just took a hit there and then later in the night I was sitting in my office after the game… The next morning, they set him up for an MRI and found out it was more serious than what we originally believed and it’s crushing for James; James means so much to this team. You can trot out his statistics and watch his film as a blocker, but he’s really much more than that. He is one of the two guys that were far ahead in the captain voting, him and Chamarri Conner. He’s a member of the leadership council. He’s really developed as a leader. We’ve talked a little bit about that on this show. You just feel for James. His first thoughts [after the injury] tell you a little about him. They weren’t about his future, they weren’t about anything other than this football team. We’ll go get him fixed and keep him around this team. Both parties need each other: we need James and he needs us right now. Sometimes when you get hurt you can get a little distant and James has never been hurt before, so I want to make sure we do a good job keeping him around this football team because both of us need each other.
On the depth at tight end:
That’s a great room in general, in terms of if you just look at their grades and the way they go about their business and the things that they do. It’s a great, great room. It’s one of the few places where we do have some veteran guys beneath James. Nick’s been playing since he was a true freshman. Drake’s role will continue to improve and it has improved as Drake’s become a better player, a true developmental player. I look for those guys to fill in and do a great job.
On other guys getting more reps during camp due to James Mitchell’s shoulder injury:
Yeah, that’s true. We have a small list of guys that we monitor their reps maybe a little more closely than others, guys that have a little bit of mileage on them, that have played a lot, that maybe don’t need as much work and we would benefit from other people getting some more work. James was one of the few people in that category, so we got plenty of work for Nick, Drake, Ty and Cole. I feel good about where they’re at for their talent level. They’re ready to go be good, productive players for us.
His reaction when Braxton went down in the game:
Your first thought is, ‘is he okay?’ I felt like, and I talked to him a little bit afterwards, I felt like he just kinda got caught in between whether to slide or dive on the ground. He was just in between and he took a bad shot. I went over there on to the field, obviously hoping that he was okay; never dreaming that he’d come back in the game, just hoping he was alright. Number one for them was standing there, and number one had a pretty sullen look on his face. I didn’t want to interfere with the doctors, but I just grabbed number one and said ‘hey you’re just playing hard, everybody knows it wasn’t deliberate, just kinda clear your mind.’ And then when Braxton started getting up and moving around and it seemed like he was just going to be a little bit sore, which he is, obviously we felt better. As far as the headsets, it’s like, ‘get Knox [Kadum] ready.’ He’s gotta go take some snaps, he’s gotta make sure he’s loose, and Knox was. And Connor [Blumrick] played well and played productive when he was in there, but Connor had some warning that those things may happen. Knox got no warning. All of the sudden, boom – you’re in, it’s first and ten, the ball’s on the left hash, we’re in eleven personnel, here’s the call and go execute. I was really proud of Knox and he works hard and is prepared and has come a long way in his time here.
On Fuente’s time as a backup quarterback:
First of all, the backup is always the most popular guy, right, because everybody thinks whoever the backup is can do a better job. It is a difficult job. Being the parent of a quarterback is a difficult job and being the backup quarterback is a difficult job. The backup quarterback, from week to week, the amount of preparation these guys have to spend, the amount of extra time is significant, and with zero promise of playing. All guys have to do some extra but that room requires quite a bit extra. To do that, week in and week out, without knowing if you’re going to get kind of repaid for your work or get the opportunity to see that work pay off, is a difficult task, but Knox has done a really good job with it.
On how the student section arriving early helps the team:
That’s it. I mean, they’re there early. I just remember making the walk so many times and looking over there to that gate and seeing just a flood of people trying to get into the game and that’s not the case. They’re already there and they’re loud and vocal in pregame and it just creates a little bit of buzz and energy in the stadium as you’re preparing to go play.
On what he saw from the younger guys at the end of the game:
Well, I was pleased. We had a couple young guys lose their mind out there, quite honestly, but I’ve seen some of those guys, and I’m not going to tell you who, but I’ve seen some of those guys practice well, and I think they just were pretty nervous. I think now they can get over the hump. We weren’t able to play them in the first game, obviously, hopefully they can settle in and be more productive and people that we can put in the game on a more consistent basis. Defensively, I thought we played pretty well there. We got a stop with our backups; we played some guys, they still played fast. JHam did a good job of giving them things they could execute. Obviously, we gave up a touchdown, but it wasn’t a sloppy, ugly, situation, which sometimes happens. On the offensive side, I wish we could’ve gone and got more points with the second group, but we had a couple guys go a little haywire, but by and large across the board, most of them performed at a good level.
On the performance of the backup linebackers, specifically Dean Ferguson and Keshon Artis:
Yeah, both of those guys earned those opportunities. I think it was wise of us on the defensive side of the ball to get them in there in “meaningful” time, time when the game’s still in question, to display our trust in them and I don’t know if that will happen every week, but I think it’s good for those guys. I’ve always believed in trying to play multiple people. I think it helps practice, it helps, quite honestly, everybody’s attitude, it helps just the mojo around your team, but you’ve got to earn that opportunity. You’ve got to prove it day in and day out in practice, but we can put you in the game and then you can go execute what what we’re asking you to do and those two guys had done it for some time now and deserved that opportunity.
On the performance of Nasir Peoples:
He continues to get better and be able to play faster. Occasionally, he sees something a little bit new that we’ve got to get rectified or help him play a little bit quicker when he sees those things. I’ve been pleased with his production and his attention to detail at that position. There really is a lot that goes on back there and when you really sit in the room and watch the film with Justin and hear about the conversations that they’re having and what they’re asking those guys to do, it’s a lot more intricate than just cover the wide guy. There’s a lot going on there and I’ve been pleased with how all those guys have handled that.
On the missed opportunities throwing deep:
I felt much better, actually. After Corn’s conversation with Braxton, I felt better. I just think we’ve got to find a happy medium here. He’s making plays. He’s taking care of the football. He’s handling the operation very well. He’s doing so many things so well. He’s making plays with his feet. For us to ultimately be explosive and productive like we want to be, we’re going to have to be able to make some more plays throwing the football and I just think it’s going to come down to a happy medium of him being comfortable cutting the ball loose a little bit and us what we’re asking him to do and making sure that fits in where he’s comfortable. There’s give and take with that. It does us no good to say, ‘this is what we’re going to do,’ if it doesn’t fit our personnel. For as old as he is, he’s still relatively inexperienced as a starter. I think there’s a little bit of growing there that both we have to do as coaches and Braxton’s got to learn to play and take care of the ball, but also know when to give our guys some chances down the field to go make some plays.
How important is winning the hidden yardage battle on special teams:
That’s what wins ball games. It gives you a chance to win games when things are really tight, all those opportunities for hidden yardage. If you think about just the special teams’ performance from last week, the things that I didn’t notice until I watched the film was Peter as a holder fielded a low snap and got the ball down. As a punter, there was one snap that was a little low and Oscar Shadley’s been fantastic, but if it’s not perfect, then we want to know what’s wrong with Oscar because he’s been so good for so long. Just a little bit low and he fielded it and got the punt off. Our coverage units have been really good, we finally got to cover a kickoff; that’ll certainly be tested this week. Our kickoff return unit made plays. We ended up with a penalty on Drake on there which was a tough call. The guy tripped and fell down and they called Drake for holding, so it’s pretty hard to get upset about that. Keshawn is attacking the coverage unit on kickoff return, and it was good to get the big punt return, although the deep snapper tackled us, which Tayvion has yet to live down. He weaved through all the skill guys but then the deep snapper managed to tackle him and keep him from scoring a touchdown.
Jaden Payoute and Jaylen Jones taking the next step:
For us as we go through the season, I really believe as Jaden gets more comfortable and confident, he’s going to continue to play a big role. Kaleb Smith is in the middle of playing a huge role for us and nobody knows it. He’s doing things away from the ball, he’s making plays on special teams, rolling up his sleeves, and he’s going to go make plays, but Kaleb can’t play every single snap. Jaden is one of the guys that got in with the younger players and didn’t short circuit. He went in there and was normal and played. His issues have just been getting healthy and feeling good and I think he’s going to still continue to improve and play a huge role. Our two freshman wideouts are going to have to keep coming along like Da’Wain Lofton and Jaylen Jones, they’re going to have to keep working and keep getting better. They were both here at semester and they’ve been through fall camp, had great fall camps, and then hit a little bit of that freshman wall and now they kind of get their legs back underneath them and know that we need them as we move forward. We can’t just turn a blind eye to them because this is what happens during the season. If we’d have never given Nick Gallo and Drake DeIuliis any reps and just James Mitchell through all fall camp, we’d be in panic more right now. That’s just not the way the season goes. Continuing to bring those guys along is going to be paramount to our success.
How imperative will staying disciplined be for the Hokies against West Virginia:
It’s going to be huge. I’ll tell you, that interception by Jermaine Waller is a perfect example. We have shown our guys probably three or four clips of interceptions in college football that have been called back for roughing the passer. It happened in the first week of the season, we show them those, talk to them. If you watch that play, TyJuan Garbutt beats his man, comes up to the quarterback and pulls up as the quarterback delivers the ball, which is exactly what we’ve been talking about: smart, smart football. Jermaine intercepts it and is running it back, but then TyJuan, you can see him on film, he’s kind of away from the play and he starts pointing. He’s pointing and we’re watching this all as a team, because I’m pointing this out, this smart play that TyJuan made and then I’m like, ‘TyJuan, what are you pointing at?’ He says ‘I was telling Amare [Barno] to go block that guy. I said, ‘TyJuan, I don’t think he is there to take your directions from you on who to block, you’re like an air traffic controller,’ but this was a good example of that and it’s going to be even more important. What happens is you play on the road and it enhances your emotion. You can be on the road and be up fourteen to nothing and the other team kicks a field goal and it’s fourteen to three and it sounds like you’re down by twenty points. Momentum is a real thing and when you’re on the road and it’s loud, emotions cause us to lose our mind. They cause us to act out, they cause us to do silly things. What we have to do is we can use that, playing on the road, to fuel our energy and our passion, but we can’t let it cloud our judgement. It’s going to be incredibly important. We’ve done it at home, dealing with emotions, now we’ve got to do it on the road.
On the opportunity the West Virginia game presents:
What more could you ask for? You take care of your business and you get rewarded with this opportunity. This is exactly what we all dream of and want to be a part of and are games we want to play in and games we want to coach in. I don’t mean that towards any disrespect to anybody else in the country, but when you get a chance to play a game like this in an atmosphere like it’s going to be, that’s got to get your juices going. It’s going to get you fired up to go to work, to go get up early, to go practice hard, to go prepare to give yourself a chance to go into a hostile environment and try and win a competitive event. We’re so lucky to get to go do this, to have this opportunity, and I think our kids understand that too, I really do. We’ve got to be prepared for the environment, we’ve got to be prepared for the team. The team we’re playing plays their tails off. They play hard and they are well coached and they are talented. They should’ve not lost the first game. They got bit by some of the things that happen to teams in the first game: a couple turnovers, they fumbled a punt return, those things. And they lost a close game that, in my opinion, they shouldn’t have lost. They’re the better team, in my opinion. This is going to be a heck of an effort it takes, on top of being on the road, but what an awesome challenge, let’s go get it.
Is it a pro or con to play a team coming off a big FCS win:
I’ve read, actually, a study on this and they say that those big wins do more for your team than a bye week. Playing a game like that where other people get to play and lots of people get to play, everybody feels good, everybody’s bee-bopping around because the young guys got to play, the down-the-line guys got to cover kicks and all that sort of stuff, does more for you the next week than the bye week. I don’t know if that’s right but some scientist studied it, wrote a paper on it, and I’m nerdy enough to read it so I thought it was kind of interesting, so we’ll see. I’m sure they are feeling good, I’m sure they’re healthy. They got a big win and the Hokies are coming to town.
On his familiarity with West Virginia head coach Neal Brown:
I haven’t crossed paths with Neal very much, I’ve observed from afar. When he took over the Troy program, it was historically a great program, but most recently it had not been very good. He did a really good job getting that up and running. That was kind of when I was at Memphis; roughly similar times. I have a lot of respect for, quite honestly, how far the Troy program had fallen and what a great job he did getting it back and they’re right back in it. Everybody talks about the Big 12 and ‘nobody plays defense in the Big 12.’ Well, I can tell you West Virginia does. If you go look at the statistics from last year, they’re a top-20 defense in the entire country. They only averaged giving up 20 points. Only one team scored on them last year worth a darn and that was Iowa State. Now, they didn’t play Oklahoma, there are some things with their schedule, but they can play on the defensive side of the ball as well.
On Raheem Blackshear’s increasing comfortability level:
[He’s] comfortable with the scheme, he’s practicing well. I’ve just been really pleased with him and that whole room, quite honestly. I’ve been pleased with Jalen [Holston] and what he’s been able to do. Keshawn [King] is a guy that I have talked openly about his need to be consistent and he’s done that. He’s just got to continue to fine-tune some of the small things that will give him a chance to let that talent show. There’s a couple young guys as the season goes along, it may be interesting to see if they start to work their way in there too.
On C.J. McCray:
First of all, he’s a great kid. We just love having him in the program. He’s done everything we’ve asked. Very appreciative. He’s one of those guys that got here and we started feeding him and next thing you know, he gains 25 pounds in the summertime. [He’s] just a really good athlete. He’s got length, he’s getting size. We worked him at linebacker and it just became pretty apparent that I think his position of the future is defensive end. So he’s still figuring that part out and he’s not as far along as Amare [Barno], but it’s similar in terms of him just jumping in there and being green and trying to figure this whole thing out, what techniques were asking him to use and all that sort of stuff. I see some glimpses of it, he’s done a couple of things when I’m down there running the scout team offense for the defense. Every now and again, something flashes in the corner of my eye and it’s usually C.J. rushing the passer or spilling a block. I think in the long run, he’s made a wise decision and embraced that move and I think has a chance to be productive.
On Wilfried Pene:
Yeah, Wil’s done a good job. We don’t have very many more guys to go to. We’re a little bit thin there, but I’ve been really pleased. Wil was eager to move to defensive line, he’s working on the inside now some. I think, in the long-term, that’s where his body’s going to be. I thought at one point he may end up being an offensive lineman, I mean he’s going to be that big 285, 290-pound guy, I think when it’s all said and done. I think he’s in his natural spot. He’s playing the defensive line, he’s figuring it all out. Except for that nose ring he’s got, I think he’s pretty awesome.
On Jalen Stroman and Malachi Thomas:
Yeah, Malachi’s the one that I think’s going to continue to come on and play on special teams and get some opportunities to play at running back. He’s earned that opportunity. He doesn’t say two words out there, but he usually knows what he’s supposed to be doing and I think has some real talent. And then the familiar name of Jalen Stroman is playing on special teams and he’s going to contribute on the defensive side of the ball at free safety. He’s just really heady, kind of a wise beyond his years type of freshman that has been a little bit banged up through fall camp and maybe slowed him down just a tad, but I think as the season goes, along he’ll continue to play a big role for us.
When to expect Keonta Jenkins back:
I expect him to practice tomorrow. I think it was a mild-foot issue that I think he’ll overcome. I thought James [Mitchell] was going to be fine too, but all indications are that he’ll be back practicing this week and should be good to go.
Virginia Tech has held the Commonwealth Cup for 275 days. #Hokies
— Commonwealth Cup (@CommonwlthCup) September 14, 2021