Ahead of hosting Richmond this weekend, Virginia Tech football head coach Justin Fuente spoke with the media on Monday for his weekly press conference.
Following the 27-21 heartbreaking loss at West Virginia on Saturday, Fuente touched on the Hokies’ right tackle situation, red zone struggles, quarterback Braxton Burmeister‘s decision-making, the kicking issues and Amare Barno having two quiet games in a row.
“I don’t know who’s going to play right tackle”
Virginia Tech right tackle Silas Dzansi left the game with just over three minutes left in the first quarter on Saturday in Morgantown. The 6-5, 325-pound redshirt junior from Woodbridge, Va. was on the sidelines in the second quarter with his right foot in a walking boot.
As a result, the Hokies rotated between Tyrell Smith and center Brock Hoffman at right tackle for the remainder of the game. Parker Clements, a freshman who backed up Dzansi at right tackle earlier this season, got hurt in practice in the week leading up to WVU and did not make the trip.
The snap counts at right tackle:
Tyrell Smith: 32
Brock Hoffman: 24
Silas Dzansi: 18
“It was a tough situation to put Brock in,” Fuente said to the media on Monday. “We didn’t have Parker Clements on the trip because he got hurt in practice last week, so that contributed to the issues. I don’t know who’s going to play right tackle. Both of those guys, Parker and Silas, were out there yesterday. I hope they continue to get healthy. We have a staff meeting tonight where I’ll get an update on their status.”
Across the board, Hoffman and Smith struggled. Luckily, Tech plays Richmond and then has an open week before Notre Dame on Oct. 9, which means there’s time for the Hokies to adjust and get healthy.
Red Zone Struggles
“Yeah, we stunk,” Fuente said about the Hokies’ red zone woes. Virginia Tech had three trips inside the Mountaineers’ ten-yard line that resulted in zero points. The breakdown:
The Hokies ran 12 plays. Braxton Burmeister was 0-of-5 for 0 yards. Tech rushed five times for nine net yards, with three carries being plays for negative yardage or no gain. Burmeister was also sacked once, and Tech was called for one false start in the second quarter.
Out of the offense’s 12 plays, ten of them went for zero or negative yards.
“We jumped offsides on the three-yard line,” Fuente said. “There were two times where there’s a little bit of time factored in there, but it was poor. And that’s poor for everybody. You don’t get down there three times and come away with nothing and not reevaluate and talk about and look at all aspects. Top to bottom, it wasn’t very good.”
Braxton Burmeister’s Decision-Making
Burmeister finished Saturday’s game with 19 completions on 31 attempts for 223 yards and two touchdowns. He connected with Tayvion Robinson for a 23-yard score in the first half and hit Jalen Holston on a check down for a 29-yard TD in the fourth quarter.
Burmeister struggled towards the goal line, though, just like Tech’s entire offense. He was 0-of-5, targeting Robinson twice, Tre Turner twice and Kaleb Smith once. He was also sacked once on a fourth down play from the six.
Some said Burmeister should’ve kept the ball on this second and goal play from the WVU 3 with just over a minute to go. As I discussed with Chris Coleman and as he and Will Stewart talked about on Monday’s TSL Podcast (linked to Burmeister discussion), though, that play was a designed run to Holston all the way. For whatever reason, Fuente and the staff have limited Burmeister on designed run plays so far this season.
“No, I do not recall [any missed reads by Burmeister on read options vs. WVU],” Fuente said. “Certainly, there are some decisions and some plays that we – Braxton, I – wished we had back. I don’t remember a bunch of issues with zone read calls.
“I think it’s on us to continue to mold things to give us an opportunity to have success, so he feels comfortable and is able to make good decisions. In the RPO game, there are times where we need to make better decisions, and we’ve got to be able to give the ball out there. I think we’ve got to continue to evolve things so we can make more plays throwing the football.”
“He converted a third and 24 basically all by himself,” Fuente said. “There’s three guys right there and he takes it right in, turns, runs around all of them, dives and gets the first down. You can’t coach that. But if you can take that and combine it with a little more efficiency, in terms of operation and decision making throwing the football, I think you’ve got something really special.”
One of the other areas of concern Fuente was asked about on Monday was the kicking game. John Parker Romo, a senior from Peachtree City, GA, has been Tech’s kickoff man for three seasons now.
With Brian Johnson graduating after last season, Romo stepped into the role of kicking field goals, too.
After nailing his first career field goal from 48 yards against North Carolina, though, Romo has missed his last two kicks. He failed to convert from 31 yards against the Tar Heels two drives later, and at the end of the first half against West Virginia with the ball at the WVU 7, his 24-yard attempt sailed wide right.
“We’ll continue to look at that [the kicking game], too,” Fuente said. “We’ve got to. We owe it to everyone on the team at all positions. We’ll continue to look at Will [Ross] and see how he does, and hopefully Parker settles down, can trust his fundamentals and punch some shorter ones through, but we have an obligation to evaluate all of it.”
Quiet Two Games for Barno
After a six-tackle performance against North Carolina where Amare Barno finished with 3.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, a forced fumble and a quarterback hurry, the Blythewood, SC native has almost been invisible.
The Preseason All-ACC selection started and played in both games against Middle Tennessee and West Virginia and didn’t record a tackle for Virginia Tech. In 41 snaps, per PFF, against the Mountaineers, Barno recorded just one total pressure.
“I don’t get the feeling that they [other teams] are game planning around him [Barno],” Fuente said. “But I’ve been pleased with what we’ve done. It’s not been perfect on the defensive line but we should be not just productive there, but we should be sound there. We’ve got guys that have played a lot. Garbutt gets the strip sack in the game. We’ve been pretty gap sound, not all the time and not as much as we want, but it should be a group of guys that play well every week.”
TyJuan Garbutt and Norell Pollard were Virginia Tech’s leading tacklers on the defensive line in the last two games. Garbutt had four tackles and one TFL vs. MTSU (and one sack and a fumble recovery vs. WVU), while Pollard had five tackles and half of a TFL against the Mountaineers.