Tech Talk Live Notes: Justin Fuente Talks GT Win, Previews BC

It was a happy result in Atlanta for Justin Fuente and the Hokies on Saturday. (Ivan Morozov)

Virginia Tech football head coach Justin Fuente discussed the Hokies’ win over Georgia Tech on Tech Talk Live on Monday. He also looked ahead to Boston College, who Tech plays on the road on Friday evening.

Justin Fuente

Georgia Tech Win

On the brotherhood victory shirts and the brotherhood displayed in the win:

I struggle with the words to describe these kids in this locker room. I don’t know, in a day in time when it’s easy to quit and blame other people when things don’t go your way, they refuse to. They’ve been through so much and I think they should be admired. I know I admire them for their perseverance and their toughness and the things that they fought and continue to battle through. As a coach, you can handle all the stuff on the outside, that’s part of the gig, but you really want to try and protect your football team the best you can from it, even knowing you can’t. You really want to free them up and go play and I really felt like we did that. 

They just kind of cut it loose and there was good and bad in the whole game, but they just played the next play and played as hard as they could and were rewarded. That’s all you really want, is for the kids to get rewarded, because you see the hard work, you see how they’ve stuck together, and you just keep thinking, ‘man, these guys deserve to get a chance to celebrate and be happy.’ Deserve’s got nothing to do with it; you have to actually go do it, nobody’s going to hand it to you. They went out and took one on Saturday and were rewarded with a fun locker room and joyous smiles and fellowship.

What have you learned about this team?

I think part of the thing is how close we are to being the team everybody’s talking about. Really three plays away, three games – literally on the last play of the game, or figuratively, almost on the last play of the game three times. To rebound each time off of that and go put forth incredible effort and preparation, because it’s not particularly fun. It’s really difficult and the times we live in make it even harder emotionally, but let alone the physical toll it takes. 

This is a tight knit group of guys, we have some really young players that aspire to be like our old players, which is exactly what you want. We’ve got some older players that are setting great examples, that have great relationships that’ll last them for the rest of their lives. We have those relationships with coaches and players on this team. When you want it more for somebody else, then you have something special. When you take more pride in someone else’s success than your own, I think you have the makings of a pretty special group.

On the poetic justice of finishing the game against Georgia Tech, despite the similar late circumstance that the team has faced in losses:

There’s so many things to point to in that game, but you can sum it up with over four minutes to go, we have a two-score lead and we’re kicking off, which is the exact same situation we were in a week ago. Leading into this game, we talked a little bit about how this is the time of year where the young players have to step in and they have to produce. They have to come in and play a bigger role and make some of those plays. 

In covering that kick, with a nine-point lead, Jalen Stroman makes a tackle, true freshman. In that moment, it kind of all came together that, yes, the young guys have to come in and not just fill a role, but go make a play, he makes the tackle and other guys did their job too, but he made the tackle, which was kind of symbolic of the message throughout the week; it’s going to take old and young alike. Then obviously we got stops and were able to run the football and ultimately end the game.

On the offensive production in the first half:

We got the big play on the third down and then really settled in and were able to kind of ham and egg. We made a big play on third and one; Braxton [Burmeister] made a really good play hitting Tre [Turner] on a short yardage deal. I thought the key was we stole three points at the end of the half there. We got the ball with a minute something left, they still had two timeouts and we’ve talked about this a lot. 

The first thing we want to do is not have our defense have to take the field, because we were on our own ten or eleven yard line – something like that. The first run doesn’t go for much but Raheem [Blackshear] busts the second run on second and long, that was a big play, because now, boom, we go into two-minute mode and we get the ball down there and find a way to get three points right at the end of the half, which just kind of added to our momentum heading into the second half.

On the flag that was picked up at the end of the first half:

Well, they said there was no contact. That upset me, because I said ‘you can’t tell me there’s no contact.’ [The ref] said, ‘there’s no contact.’ I said, ‘well are you telling me that nobody was touching?’ I felt like I was refereeing a fight between the girls. ‘Are you telling me nobody was touching anybody on that play? That’s what you’re telling me? There was no contact, there was nobody touching anyone?’ ‘Well, I’m not saying that.’ I don’t know, they picked it up.

On Malachi Thomas’ success helping Raheem Blackshear get better:

I feel like that. I haven’t asked Raheem about that and Raheem may disagree with me, but that’s how I feel. I feel like just the mentality of, ‘let’s move the pile north and south.’ I saw Raheem, for the second week in a row, really get tough yards going north and south. He’s not the biggest guy in the world but he’s certainly not afraid of contact. 

I think there’s been a conscientious effort by those guys really through the lead of Malachi and watching Malachi continue to fall forward, continue to just kind of peck away at that rock in terms of pouring the ball up there, finding creases, getting the ball north and south, keeping us on the chains. I think Raheem’s gotten into that and also he has a little bit more of that speed and elusiveness when he gets into the open field, but you can’t do that if you aren’t content with continuing to pour that thing up in there.

Brock Hoffman went down with an injury against Georgia Tech but came back a few plays later. (Ivan Morozov)

On Brock Hoffman’s toughness after coming back in after getting hurt:

I don’t know, I just accused him of wanting some sympathy [laughs]. He is a tough football player and he wants to play. There’s push and pull athletes: athletes you’re always trying to push to try and be better, to try and push through adversity, to push through some pain, and then there’s pull athletes, athletes you have to protect from themselves. You’ve got to make sure they’re not out there hurting themselves or the football team and that’s kind of the conversation we had, like, ‘Brock, I’m going to leave you in, but you’ve gotta be functional. I know you don’t want to come out, but you can’t go in there if you can’t maneuver around,’ and he seemed to maneuver around really well.

On Malachi Thomas’ pass-catching ability:

He’s got really good hands. Matter of fact, he’s worked quite a bit at punt returner. I feel great about his ability to judge the ball and all that sort of stuff. We’ve just gotta be a little careful, he is still a true freshman and he’s a ballplayer. That’s one thing that holds young players back is, they can run the football and they understand that, but can they play without the ball in their hands and that sort of stuff and he’s made huge strides, thus enabling us to trust him on a more consistent basis in the game. I feel great with him catching the ball, it’s just usually those balls tend to go to Raheem, because Raheem’s a pretty skilled receiver as well.

Are you hopeful Chamarri Conner will play this week?

I am. He practiced today. He’s as tough as a – I don’t know what I was going to say – an old shoe or something. He’s just a tough guy that loves playing football. I’m hopeful that he’ll be okay and he looked pretty good, probably better than he thought he was going to look today.

On Mario Kendricks:

Mario is, I think, going to be okay. He is, just like Chamarri [Conner], beat up like everybody else, but he’s tough and he cares about this team, so we’ll see how he feels as the week goes on.

On the fumble forced by Jaylen Griffin:

That was big and I was so happy for Griff, because all of us that have siblings understand what he’s going through there with his brothers on the other team. He’s the big brother. You’ve got to find a way to win the game and it was cool to win it for him. That was a huge play. They had taken the ball down and kicked a field goal, if I’m not mistaken, in the first drive and we hadn’t done much on our side of the ball. 

I think it was the first play of the drive, if I’m not mistaken, but immediately we get the strip-sack and fumble recovery and get three points out of that to kind of, basically erase all the time that had been on – you know, we’re still back to even like we were at the end of the first half with that time off the clock. Big play for him and happy for him to get the win.

On Alan Tisdale playing with a downhill style:

His comfort in the scheme and his ability to continue to prepare. It sounds simple but he’s just so much more comfortable, which allows his athletic ability to take over and it’s been really fun to watch him and Dax [Hollifield] grow and kind of bond together. Their relationship is pretty special, I think. For Alan to mature and then get to have success. I’m going to tell you, Alan Tisdale cares about this football team and cares about trying to find a way to get the win and he played really well. Was recognized as the defensive player of the week for us, internally. Just really proud and happy for him.

Amare Barno (11) had a solid performance against Georgia Tech. (Ivan Morozov)

On Amare Barno’s performance:

He had a sack there towards the end of the game. He’s just so long. We need to continue to recruit more length, because it just, obviously it eats up space. The ability to make tackles and bring people to the ground when you’re strong and can reach and grab. Not every tackle is a face-up tackle. A lot of it has to do with being able to grab a hold of people and find a way to get them on the ground, especially with the way the game is played in all this space now. It really showed on that sack. He just continues to get better against the run and he continues to get better in his pass-rush maneuvers and [Justin Hamilton] and the defensive staff have done a great job moving him around and giving him different responsibilities. It’s been pretty fun to watch.

Boston College

Do you know who’s going to be starting at quarterback for Boston College?

I do not. I don’t know who’s going to play. I don’t feel like there’s a huge departure in their overall philosophy based on who’s playing quarterback. Yeah, I mean sure, one’s young, one’s a little bit more mobile. They all have their things that they’re a little bit better at, but I think their philosophy is to run the ball and throw the ball to number four, which I don’t blame them. He’s a special, special player and they like to push the ball down the field. The one thing we did in the game last year was eliminate the huge plays. We created a couple turnovers that helped us out, but really tried to prevent just the huge bombs which they had been pretty proficient at getting, particularly to Zay Flowers.

On Boston College’s defensive line:

I feel like watching them on defense, I mean it starts with man coverage, but that’s not all that they play. It starts up front and they are, I would say, not just talented, but a well-coached defensive front. I mean, when you watch them and you really watch their techniques and what they’re asking them to do and how hard they play. They do a great job with those down four guys and they rotate a few guys in there and get a lot of production out of them. They don’t stay blocked. They’re not happy just to stay in a gap. They’re going to shed blocks and try and go make plays.

On the explosiveness of Boston College returner Travis Levy:

He’s a great player, whether returning or running the football. It’s going to be every week now, we’ve gotta be prepared. I mean, there’s good players across this league and good skill players in this conference that you’ve gotta find a way to try and contain them. I don’t know that you’re going to stop any of them, but you gotta keep them from running wild and going crazy on you and he’s one of the first ones you notice.

On what makes Boston College star wideout Zay Flowers so hard to cover:

Well, his speed. That’s the thing, and I don’t know that he’s a particularly long kid, but he can really run. I don’t know him, but they do so much with him, I would guess that he’s a pretty highly intelligent kid, like they’ll move him all over the place. They give him the ball in the run game, they flip it to him on the jet sweep, they throw out-and-ups, they throw across the field posts. I mean, they do a lot of stuff with him. To me, as I said, he’s the fastest guy on the field, which certainly helps.

On Boston College’s offensive line:

Last week, they had to shuffle some people around, they had a guy go out. Again, I personally, maybe I’m a little biased, but I think the quarterback position has so much influence on every other position. It can alleviate so much pressure on a group of wideouts or the running back core or the offensive line. When you’ve got one that’s that good, that’s out, I really do believe it affects everybody on your offense and it can lead to some inefficiencies that you hadn’t planned on.

On Boston College’s punter Grant Carlson dropping a lot of punts inside the fifteen-yard line:

Sometimes those are the hardest ones to cover though, when you kick the ball a long way. The term ‘out-kicking your coverage’ is real. It is a real thing. They’ve got some really good cover guys, but our punt return unit has been pretty dangerous, what we kind of envisioned that it would be heading into this year. Hopefully we can find a way to scheme some things up and either put some pressure on him or find a way for Tayvion [Robinson] to get one and get loose.

When the Eagles and Hokies met in Blacksburg last season, Virginia Tech won 40-14, courtesy of three rushing touchdowns from Hendon Hooker. (Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times)

On the impact that Gary Patterson had on him:

When I walked into that program as a young assistant coach, I was just blown away by the organizational structure, by the discipline on the football team, by how we practiced, how the whole thing ran. I was like a human sponge. I wanted to know why we did everything, how we did everything. I kept all these – I still have meticulous notes and records of every practice schedule in my five years there, every two-a-days, everything that I could, because I was just blown away by what we were doing. The thing that I always appreciated, and not only was he a great coach and did a great job there, but he was always somebody where I could walk in there and ask questions to and I always appreciated that. Sometimes that’s not always the case and I think he understood kind of one of the things that somebody told me as a head coach all the time. 

He said, ‘you may be a head coach, you may be sitting at your desk doing something and somebody knocks on the door and they need thirty seconds of your time and you need to understand that that thirty seconds for that person is the most important conversation that they’ll have all day. And it’s just another in a long string of conversations you’re gonna have throughout the day or fires that you’ve gotta put out or things that you’ve gotta do,’ and I think Gary did a great job of that, because I was the one knocking on his door asking, ‘how do you do this’ or ‘why are you guys doing this’ or ‘what are we doing with this’ or ‘do you like what we’re doing here?’ Like, ‘tell me if it stinks,’ and that kind of stuff and I always appreciated that part of it with Gary.

On Jerry Kill becoming interim head coach at TCU:

Gary and Jerry are best friends. They’ve been in each other’s weddings and they go back many, many years. Now Jerry’s running it and I just hope Jerry’s health is good, because he’s had more than his fair share of battles. He’s by definition the definition of toughness. He’ll do a great job seeing those guys through the rest of the year.

On showing so much emotion:

Friday morning – I’m an early riser by habit and by nature, but I was up absurdly early. I was going to make breakfast for the girls but nobody wants to eat breakfast at 4:45 in the morning, so I was just pacing in the kitchen with my headphones on, because I didn’t want to make any noise, I was trying to be respectful of everybody else. I couldn’t wait for the game. I felt like I was eighteen years old again, like I was just so fired up to get our guys together and go prepare for the game and just had a lot of fun with them.

27 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. I agree on almost every point made except one. A good leader/CEO has to put the organization first. Fuente seems to have the defense and special teams groups moving forward. It is NOT his job to play OC to prop up his friend. If he puts the needs of his friend before the team he may as well find a good job in at a lesser level. It’s hard to fire a friend, but that’s why he’s paid handsomely.

    Make the changes or go. Pretty simple, but not easy…

  2. I’ve said it many times, sometimes with a little pushback, but “In Fu I trust.” He is building it right, but I’m sure there will be staff changes in the off season. Just hope Fu isn’t one of them.

    1. I agree with you 100%. Justin is good coach and fit for VT. Sure, he needs some tweaking on the offensive coaching side, and I’m sure he knows what needs to be done. Go HOKIES!!!

    2. I concur; In my opinion the only fans that can’t see that are the irrational ones. If you took the time to take your emotions out of it and look at things realistically you would recognize that we (fans, athletic department and administration) didn’t exactly put him in the best situation to be successful…it took us 6 years to recognize it. Irrational fans will look for anything to complain about and use as an excuse.

  3. I have all the respect in the world for Fu. A super guy and person. Of he would have kept the receiver coach that went to Bama, and his DC had not cheated on his wife, we would be ok.He embraced VT and has hired hokies.He has learned a lot from mistakes and has the locker room.Him Lovell had to choose to stick by his friend and not go to the moon on Apollo 13, or not and go. He left Ken Mattingly at home. CJF has stuck by Corn. This is a tough choice. He was never going to be the man following CFB.At this point,a change for him and VT would be good for both.

  4. Based on Hendon’s Performance in the last few games last year, I’m not sure he could have been guaranteed the starting QB job for this year and I don’t blame him for going to the portal , this is his last year to hope for a job at the next level .

  5. This is why I can’t understand them letting Hendon get away…
    Again, I personally, maybe I’m a little biased, but I think the quarterback position has so much influence on every other position. It can alleviate so much pressure on a group of wideouts or the running back core or the offensive line. When you’ve got one that’s that good, that’s out, I really do believe it affects everybody on your offense and it can lead to some inefficiencies that you hadn’t planned on.

    Fu KNOWS this. He understands this. There is something that doesn’t smell right here….. it smells like Corn to me.

    1. I think Braxton is hurt and that’s really limited what he’s been able to do this year. Seems like one of those situations where he has labrum surgery or something after the season ends and everyone goes “Ah, that’s what it was”. I also think that the whole Clemson thing with Hooker was a big deal and gave everyone kind of an out in letting him walk. That and Braxton playing well down the stretch. Maybe I’m wrong though and they just made a bad decision.

    2. This is just pure speculation on my part and could be totally wrong, but I think that during the Clemson game the combination of the cold and the pressure of the moment was just too much and Hooker had some kind of panic attack or emotional breakdown that led to poor play and him eventually getting pulled. The embarrassment from what happened may have been too much and he just needed to start over fresh in a new environment.

      1. One can only speculate, but that’s what I think too. Your HR department probably has lots of stories like this. Many situations where the individual will successfully move forward, just not there.

      2. I think you nailed it my friend…not sure of the psychological possible mental health dynamics, but you make good sense…hope nothing but the best for HH..we are first and foremost- HUMAN

  6. Great read. Humanizes Fu and the team. Hope all the Fu haters read it and chill out a little. Too much Fu venom on the board. The team may not be where people want it to be, but the coaches and team are working hard. A little more respect for them would be nice.

    1. AGREE! And those idiots shouting “fire FU” in front of his little girls and recruits after the Syracuse game need to get down the road and become Tennessee fans and bring their allotment of golf balls and mustard!

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