On Monday night on Tech Talk Live, Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente discussed the Hokies’ heartbreaking loss at Notre Dame and moving on to Pitt this upcoming Saturday.
How long do you allow yourself to be bothered by decisions made during the loss?
Forever. I mean, they don’t leave you. You have to turn your focus into the next game, good or bad. Whenever things happen, that’s the thing about football, it turns around quick and you’ve got so much prep work to get done. You can’t let it affect you, but it never really leaves you. You think about it and you play it back and you have an idle moment where your mind drifts off and that’s usually where it drifts to. There’s a million different variables that go into a football game as you can imagine, and then there’s several things that happen that end up being inconsequential, actually, in the big scheme of things, and some things that end up being consequential.
How was everyone on Sunday when you reconvened?
Like you would imagine. Exactly like you’d want them to be, quite honestly, after something like that. As quiet as a group as you could find. In the weight room and running. We love to say that we’re owed things or that life is always fair or things always work out but that’s just not reality, as much as we want that all to happen, it doesn’t. Some of your biggest growths goes through hard times. I told them, I said ‘if you’re looking for someone to get in here and mope and whine and cry and complain, you’re in the wrong place men.’ Pitt’s coming to town. Right now we’re undefeated in the league and our non-conference schedule is over with. Part of the thing that we talk about in day one in our program is to put our best foot forward, give our best effort in whatever’s in front of us, regardless of what’s behind us, good or bad. Total focus and effort on the next task at hand and that’s where we’ve got to go.
Is this team more capable of bouncing back than teams you’ve had in the past?
Well, I think so. I think there’s some resiliency in this group, some toughness. There’s probably the most important factor in all of it is there is sweat equity in this group. There’s a lot of kids that are, quite honestly, adults now that are in our program that have worked hard, they’ve invested a lot. They want things to turn out well and a disappointment here or there is not gonna dampen, it may dampen their spirits temporarily, but it’s not gonna affect their long-term vision or their long-term work. That’s what we’ve seen and that’s what I expect we’ll see tomorrow morning.
How everyone on the team got involved early in the Notre Dame game:
Well certainly. We can’t go through the season and we can’t go through a game playing twenty-two guys, we’re just not gonna last. We have some positions where we’re in the process of developing that. Wide receiver and running back is one of them. Those guys have earned opportunities. Jaden Payoute played only the first half, but was really productive, not maybe in the stat sheet, but for our perspective. He’s ready to rotate in. He’s ready to go. Same with [Da’Wain Lofton]. [Jaylen] Jones was just still not 100% so he didn’t get into that mix. Same thing at running back. The place where we’re still trying to find some guys that can get into that rotation is in the defensive backfield. We’re playing three corners pretty regularly which is a good thing, but at safety we’re not really rotating very many guys in there, we’ve got to continue to bring some of those guys along so we can help play some more people. We’ve been able to sub some guys in and out on the defensive line, but the secondary is where I really wish we could find and continue to develop as the season goes on, one or two more guys that can get in there and take some snaps.
On the handling Dax Hollifield’s absence:
Well, I feel great about Keshon [Artis] and Dean Ferguson, first of all. We talked about this a couple weeks ago. We’ve gotten those guys in, early in the game and they’ve played well. They’ve been productive. Those two guys will have to fill-in and be able to provide some depth at both the mike linebacker and the will linebacker. Obviously when we get Dax back, things can kind of go back to normal, but I feel good about those guys, they’ve been really productive when they’ve played on defense. They’ve been really productive special teams players, very good core special teams players for us. I certainly, I’m not minimizing Dax’s effect on the team, I’m just saying it’s not like we’re throwing in a true freshman out there that’s gonna look like a guy that’s standing in the expressway while the cars go by. We’ve got two guys that have played quite a bit.
On being aggressive and getting the field goal before half:
I hate to use the term “stealing points” but we executed and got three points there. Parker did a great job knocking it through. There’s a lot of things kind of at play there and that is, you know first of all the worst thing you can do is just go chuck it three times, incomplete, stop the clock, and turn around and punt the ball again. That’s a little bit why I’m upset with myself is when we had the ball when we were tied. We took a shot that we missed by three inches on second down that I think would’ve won the game for us. But still, the clock stopped there, giving them some more time. When we had it at the end of the half, they had no more timeouts left. So it was a little bit easier, because they can’t stop the clock. If you get in a bad situation, you hand the ball off and the half’s over, so it allowed us to be more aggressive. We made a really nice play on the kinda dash play to the right that we completed the ball and then made another completion and got to go kick a field goal on the last play of the half and Parker stepped up there and absolutely just smoked it right through.
On the miscommunication between Burmeister and Turner on the deep pass in the first half:
Obviously one guy read it incorrectly and weird reading the route. The route’s being read and it was a little bit of a weird look. We actually caught them with no deep safety, they got messed up on the shift and the motion. There is a fine line and sometimes those things happen and you’ve got to be on the same page and in that deal we weren’t. So you take what should be a nice long completion and it ends up being second and ten.
Was the ineligible man downfield call that took away the touchdown a good call?
I think by the letter of the rule, it is. Basically it was an RPO that if you hand the ball off you’re fine, if you pull the ball and throw the ball you’re fine. What happened was we pulled the ball then pulled the ball down and scrambled and held the ball and held the ball and threw a touchdown. The linemen weren’t doing anything. They weren’t engaged, they weren’t downfield. The play had gone so long and they had been running the inside zone. Everybody had left to pursue the ball. It wasn’t like they had any effect on the play, but by the letter of the law they were three yards down the field so that’s a penalty.
On John Parker Romo:
He’s been really good on kickoffs. [Notre Dame’s] kickoff return unit was really prolific and they did not have a return all day. Then to drill the long field goal, really with no doubt, he just really smoked it. He missed a couple on the right hash there early in the season that – it wasn’t that he didn’t hit the ball well, it was just a little more of an alignment issue. Hopefully we’ve got those kind of finer points ironed out for him and he can continue to knock it through for us.
On Peter Moore:
[He had] a huge punt down there to the two-yard-line and I thought we were gonna get another one on a really long one. I thought Armani Chatman did a great job hustling all the way down there for one that we couldn’t get to. Those were some question marks [when] we started the season off in terms of ‘How will Peter react? He’s never been the guy.’ Well he’s just really performed well and he’s a pleasure to be around. He takes practice very seriously and it’s fun to see a guy, to the outside world, kind of come out of nowhere, but for us a guy that we’ve had in the program for a while, go out there and have some success.
On Keshawn King’s success as a returner:
He did and [Notre Dame was] really good on their coverage units and they started kicking the ball all over the place, which I’m really upset because I think we left some opportunities on the board, because we work on that. If you have success returning kicks the first thing they do is start to kick the ball different places or to your off returner or whatever. Well we have a whole system to try and handle that as well in preparation for that, saying ‘we know we’re gonna have success,’ because we want to be the aggressor. Like you can always fair catch them, but we want to be the aggressor and take those opportunities, because we do feel like we spend a lot of time on special teams and it does benefits. He’s been explosive and that whole unit’s done a pretty good job.
On the directional kicks to Raheem Blackshear later in the Notre Dame game:
They kicked the ball cross field. Usually, for the most part, when a kickoff team puts the ball on the left hash, they kick the ball to the left side. When you start to kick the ball to the right side, all the way across the field, the thing that made it a little bit odd was they kicked the ball in the middle too. So if they kick it all the way across the field you have one set of rules, if they kick it in the middle you have your same set of rules. We had a couple young guys in there by the end of the game that didn’t quite handle the adjustments as well as we wanted.
On over a hundred recruits visiting this weekend:
We got incredible feedback, first of all, from not just the atmosphere and everything that went with it, and the crowd and the support, but from our team, from our players and how they played, and the passion and the toughness that they showed. It was a really positive event for that. They get there at all kinds of different times and some of them get there early and we get a chance to have some of our recruiting staff show them around campus and that sort of stuff. Some of them get there a little bit late, so you’ve got to be ready to handle all kinds and we have a nice event there in the indoor facility where they can eat, and fellowship, and hang out. As soon as we get off the bus, I’m trying to get my clothes changed as quick as I can, because Mark Diethorn’s knocking on my door because he’s wanting to bring guys in, and I’m like ‘let me put my shirt and my pants on first, Mark.’ We change as quick as we can and we get rolling right up until we start to take the field there. When we’re on the field we get a chance to say hello to kind of a larger group of them and host them and put them up in the stands.
On the carry distribution among running backs:
Keshawn [King] rolled an ankle or something, so he was done in the second half. Our plan was to let him get some more [carries], but that kind of went out the window. Malachi [Thomas] is somebody that I think we need to continue to bring along, like he’s got real talent and toughness, he’s just kind of a ballplayer, I’m just telling you. He’s gonna be a really good player here as he goes through his career. To be honest with you, there’s not a dominant guy, so there are guys that do certain things better that we try to – I don’t wantthe other team to know exactly the play based on who’s in there, but there are some guys that we try to play to their strengths when they’re in there, and then a little bit of that is a product of how the game goes.
On Connor Blumrick’s performance:
I loved him in there. I felt really good about it, and I don’t mean that in any way derogatory towards Braxton [Burmeister]. You put him in there to run the ball a little bit and he’s kind of what I’ve always said like, guys that know they’re going to play a little bit, practice a little better. I’ve just seen over the last several weeks, I don’t know if renewed is the right word, but a concentrated attention to detail from him when he’s at practice but not in the drill. A guy that’s obviously taking mental reps whenever somebody else is in there, Braxton’s in there. Really had come along so felt like it was a good opportunity or something that warranted us continuing to kind of bring that along. So we were in the middle of bringing that along, and obviously Braxton was out for a little bit and Connor jumped in there and was filling in fine. I wish he had put a little more air on that one ball that they ran underneath, but he’s gonna be fine, it’s non-surgical. He should be back in about a month, I think, and he’s a pretty tough cookie so whatever timetable they get him, I know he’ll try and beat it. Hopefully we’ll get him back here for the late run.
On the quarterback depth chart being Burmeister, then Kadum, then Bullock with Blumrick out:
That’s the direction we’ll go. Tahj [Bullock] has been with me running the scout team and he’ll need to go back up there and start getting some reps and kind of get ready to go in case we need him.
On Josh Fuga’s performance:
He played really well. He played really well and he’s just a guy that’s always bringing juice and energy and works every single day. It’s good to see him out there having some success. That’s a tough position to play. We talk about it in recruiting all the time, like you’ve got to be tough to get in there and play defensive tackle. It’s not a spot for the weak at heart. It’s nice for all of the – I don’t want to say grunt work – but all the hard work that you’ve got to do, sometimes you don’t get a lot of recognition, it was nice for him to go make some plays and get a little recognition.
Were you surprised Notre Dame went with Tyler Buchner over Drew Pyne?
I didn’t know what direction it was going to go. As the week went on, the less I felt like Pyne was gonna play, which is exactly what ended up happening. I don’t know. We talked a little bit about just quarterback situations at midfield before the game. Until you get a guy in there, in the game, and get him playing, you really don’t know what you’re gonna see. As much practicing as you do and as much simulations as you try and do and as much work as you put in and you see them every single day. The NFL wastes millions and millions and millions of dollars on quarterbacks that can’t play, and it’s a tough thing to figure out. If you could figure it out with 100% certainty, my God, you’d make a boatload of money now, like you could figure that whole thing out. We were kind of laughing and joking about that, we see them every single day at practice and it’s still sometimes hard to figure out.
On Pittsburgh Quarterback Kenny Pickett and their defense:
Well, I’m gonna tell you, Pickett is playing better than anybody that I have seen in the country. It’s been interesting to watch his progress, and you talk about a guy that has stayed in school, because he could’ve gone to the NFL last year. He had that kind of leap between 2019-2020. The year 2019-2020, he had a big leap, and at the end of last year, he could’ve gone to the NFL. He stayed and he has made an elite leap now, like separated himself from a lot of people, and I don’t know who the experts say the top quarterbacks are, I’m just telling you, I’ve been doing this long enough, this guy is big time. I mean I turned on the dang Georgia Tech film and it was like nothing I’ve ever seen. They scored 42 points in the first half. He’s hard to sack. He has an understanding of what’s going on. He’s got receivers that are good players. He’s got anticipation. I mean he’s really, really playing at a high level. The defense is a Pat Narduzzi defense. They’re all going to be in the box, and they’re all going to be pressing, playing tight coverage, and they’re gonna make it really, really hard to run the ball, and if you go out there and throw three incompletions, you’re gonna be punting and Pickett’s gonna be back out there playing catch out there. You’ve got to be careful with this one. It’ll be an interesting game to see how the flow goes and all that sort of stuff, but it’s gonna be a tremendous challenge. They’re probably playing as good as anybody that I’ve seen in our league right now.
How do you try to slow down Pittsburgh’s offense?
Well, I think that’s what you’ve got to talk about to start with is slowing them down, like you’re not gonna stop them or shut them out. They’re in that groove. Can you eliminate some of the huge chunk plays? Can you make them earn things? Can you crawl down there and play tight coverage and disrupt some of the timing? They throw the ball so well and they run the ball just enough. It’s not like Mike Leach where he just blatantly says he doesn’t want to run the ball. This is a group that they’re gonna do that if you give it to them. We’re gonna have to be on top of things without Dax [Hollifield] for the first half and trying to get a feel for how it’s all gonna go and try and eliminate some big plays.
On the targeting rule and how Dax will handle being out the first half against Pittsburgh:
So the rule changed, I don’t know, last year or two years ago about those guys. It used to be [that] they had to go take the walk of shame. They had to escort them out of the stadium, and I’m glad that we put an end to that, that was just unnecessary in my opinion, but the by-product is he’s gonna be there prowling up and down the sidelines. He’ll probably walk four miles in the first half up and down the sidelines, but I’m sure he’ll be warmed up by the second half, that’s for certain.
On Pittsburgh’s loss to Western Michigan:
Well, [Western Michigan] did a couple things. They won some one-on-one battles on the outside and really kind of wobbled Pitt, forced Pitt to make some adjustments that, I’ll say it, that I don’t think they wanted to make, but they are capable of making, but it’s not what they wanted to do so they made them play a little bit different. The quarterback was on fire and they converted some key third downs, some third and longs. Then they turned Pitt over. Pitt had a couple turnovers, a bad snap, so they had a couple short fields and the next thing you know you’re in a battle there and they found a way to hold on to win it.
On last year’s team looking slow against Pitt:
Well, I just think that was a by-product of the entire journey that we’d been on, and I can’t remember where that was in our string of nine straight games coming off of all the COVID stuff, but we were a slow football team. We cannot afford to be a slow football team again. We’ve got to do a great job monitoring it and making sure our guys are ready to go the best we can.
Virginia Tech has held the Commonwealth Cup for 303 days. #Hokies
— Commonwealth Cup (@CommonwlthCup) October 12, 2021