Virginia Tech Football: Takeaways From Justin Fuente’s Press Conference

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Virginia Tech and Justin Fuente are 5-5 searching for a sixth win and bowl eligibility. (Ivan Morozov)

Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente spoke with the media on Monday after the team’s 48-17 win over Duke. The Hokies (5-5, 3-3 ACC) have two games remaining, both on he road, at Miami and Virginia.

Here are some takeaways from the press conference:

Injury Notes

Fuente provided some updates on two players that were injured over the last few weeks: center Brock Hoffman and wide receiver Tre Turner.

Hoffman participated in Senior Day ceremonies before the Duke game but was wearing street clothes with his letterman jacket, and he had a walking boot on his left foot. Fuente said his injury is not season-ending.

“He’ll work to get back,” Fuente said, “and hopefully he can play this week.”

As for Turner, Fuente went into detail on his status on Monday, Nov. 8 after the Boston College game. In summary, Turner has an upper-body respiratory injury. Fuente said he had never heard or or seen what Turner’s dealing with, and said flying exacerbates the injury.

In his post-Duke update, in reference to a tweet from Turner that mentioned him driving to Miami, Fuente explained that Turner might end up having to drive down to Miami due to his health and the air in his neck/throat.

“Yeah, he might be [driving to Miami],” Fuente said. “It’s the same old deal. We’ll figure it out. Whatever the doctor says is best for him.

“We’re not going to let him drive himself, I can tell you that much,” he said with a laugh. “We’ll figure out who is going to take him. If that’s what we have to do, we’ll drive down there.”

Turner finished with 37 all purpose yards against Duke: eight from two rushes, and 29 from one catch. Last time Tech was down in Miami in 2019, Turner didn’t make the trip due to a lower body injury. He has 35 catches for 631 yards and two touchdowns this season.

Running Back Rotation

Keshawn King hadn’t played since early October, but he exploded for Virginia Tech on Saturday. (Ivan Morozov)

In three of the past four weeks, Virginia Tech has put up over 230 yards on the ground. This comes after the Hokies just had one game of 200-plus rushing in the first six (MTSU).

After a rough week at Boston College, Tech rushed for a season-high 297 yards on 41 carries, which comes out to 7.2 yards per rush. Malachi Thomas had a quiet week, just 10 yards on seven rushes.

Outside of that, however, Virginia Tech was lights out. Factor out Thomas and the knee that the Hokies took at the end of the game and the stat is impressive:

33 carries, 289 yards, two touchdowns, 8.75 yards per carry.

Raheem Blackshear and Keshawn King were particularly impressive.

Blackshear was Tech’s leading rusher with 117 yards on 12 rushes (9.8 ypc) while King, who hadn’t had a carry since Notre Dame in early October, ran the ball nine times for 90 yards (10.0 ypc). The two each had a touchdown, too.

“I would say that Raheem’s adjusted a little bit and really… it’s kind of like he’s satisfied as a hitter to take a walk,” Fuente said. “He’s satisfied with hitting an opposite field single. He’s satisfied with pouring it up in there and getting four tough yards, and as a byproduct, I think some of the bigger runs have come from that as opposed to swinging for the fences every time you touch the ball.

“I thought he was just a little bit of trying to make everything perfect as opposed to just punching a hole in it and looking at the results. … I don’t want to diminish those feelings amongst our players; I just want them to understand how those feelings come about. Doing the ordinary time after time and then the big plays come.”

Fuente said Tech’s running back rotation is still flexible, and he noted that Thomas got banged up against Duke.

“I’d say it’s still flexible. Malachi [Thomas] gets dinged up in the game and provides opportunities for other people. We have a good handle on it [the rotation].”

Either way, the Hokies have really made progress in recent weeks. It seemed like it was going to be a tandem of Thomas and Blackshear the rest of the way, but Fuente said he was impressed with how King practiced and thought he deserved that opportunity. That choice clearly paid off.

Kaleb Smith Rewarded

Kaleb Smith scored his first touchdown of the season vs. Duke, which was well-deserved. (Ivan Morozov)

It’s brought up all the time about how players do things that don’t show up in the stat sheet. In basketball, it can be good defense. In football, it could be blocking.

Wide receiver Kaleb Smith, often times, is one of those guys. He has 18 catches for 243 yards this season, though he’s only had more than three catches in a game once, back at West Virginia in September. He hadn’t recorded more than two in one game since then.

People have become accustomed to Smith’s run blocking ability. Among all eligible receivers with 100+ run blocking snaps, he ranks fourth in run blocking in the entire country, per PFF, with a grade of 88.6.

Against Duke, he had another great game in that area, posting a rating of 89.1, his best grade of the season to date. But he also was rewarded for all of the work he put in with a touchdown, his first of the season.

Blackshear was lined up under center in the wildcat. He took the snap, pitched it to Burmeister, who found a wide open Smith in the back of the end zone for six.

“I was really pleased,” Fuente said. “He had a big huge third down conversion and the reverse pass touchdown. That’s kind of put him in the category we talk about with a lot of these kids. I see them behind the scenes every day, how they work and the dedication they have to the team and each other and to their craft.

“It’s nice for them to get rewarded in a public venue occasionally because they do work really hard and do a lot of things that don’t show up in the box score, and that’s certainly Kaleb.”

Linebacker Play

Defensively, the Hokies were frequently in the Duke backfield on Saturday. Tech recorded seven tackles for loss and four sacks, and the linebacker duo of Alan Tisdale and Dax Hollifield had 3.5 of the TFLs and 1.5 sacks.

Hollifield finished with a team-high 12 tackles, while Tisdale posted nine, the third-most on the team. The two seemed to get constant penetration against the Blue Devils, stopping plenty of plays behind the line of scrimmage. Duke finished with 36 total yards lost, and Tech only allowed 4.0 yards per carry against Mataeo Durant, formerly the ACC’s second-leading rusher.

Alan Tisdale, seen here sacking Duke’s Riley Leonard, played well alongside Dax Hollifield on Saturday. (Ivan Morozov)

“Whether it’s a blitz or hugging up the guy or the guy you’ve got to cover is blocking, it gives you an opportunity to react and rush the quarterback,” Fuente said. “We had one of those for Dax. It shows good understanding of what we’re trying to get accomplished.

“We have tried to move those guys a little bit and give them chances to blitz. They’ve been able to make some of those plays.”

Other Details

  • Virginia Tech’s game at Miami is a 7:30 p.m. kickoff on the ACC Network. Wes Durham, Roddy Jones and Taylor Davis are on the call. The latest line, per Vegas Insider, is Canes -7.0.
  • The Battle for the Commonwealth Cup does not have a set kick time yet. Virginia and Virginia Tech will meet in Charlottesville on Saturday, Nov. 27, though the ACC has exercised a six-day hold on the television network and time.
  • Keshawn King was named to the Paul Hornung Weekly Honor Roll this week after his performance against Duke. King led the Hokies in all purpose yards with a 47-yard receiving touchdown, and he rushed nine times and returned two kickoffs. 
  • Raheem Blackshear was named the ACC Running Back of the Week. He had 117 rushing yards on 12 attempts and 40 yards receiving on two catches, while he also scored two touchdowns.
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24 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. After 6 years, Fuente has driven the VT football program into the ground. Severed damages were done to the fundamentals of recruiting, retention and most of all, players development. No more delusion, is this not obvious to everyone ? There has to be some accountability to the University, players/students/families, alumni and everyone of the Hokies Nation. It’s clearly not working out with Fuente, the school needs to move on from this guy.

  2. Next two games will decide Fu’s fate, if it hasn’t been decided already. I believe he’s still learning how to be a CEO, but he has the potential to be good one. Let’s see how the cards fall, and root for our Hokies for a bit longer. I always hate to see football season end; even when we aren’t at our best. Go Hokies!

  3. If Whit has already got one in the wings, it is too late. Otherwise, winning out in style may well save his job with the understanding that Corn and Jafar must go

    1. A win against a bad duke team doesn’t change things, it just further illustrates how poorly the team has been prepared to face other opponents. We have better players than Duke, just like we did against ODU, Wake, Mid Tenn, Liberty, etc, etc and should beat them all soundly. Bad game planning, poor personnel management, poor in game adjustments and decisions have cost our team too many wins. I wish it had worked out but this is not the guy.

      1. You forgot the biggest reason, poor execution. Now you’ll day it’s up to the coaches to have them prepared, and I agree. But all the prep in the world goes out the window if a guy blows an assignment or muffs a play.

      2. Perfectly said. Let’s not overreact to having beaten a woeful Duke program. Glad VT did it, and happy for the players that they earned a definitive win during this rough season. But the overall trend lines of the program are not positive and/or are stagnant. Time to make a change and wish everyone well, and begin what will be a multi-year rebuild (and that’s if we hire the RIGHT coach/CEO for the program) …

      1. You guys could be tandem drivers with a movie type name – “Hooch, Tech, & Tre – Miami or Bust”
        Line up for the academy award!

  4. I’ve no idea what Turner’s breathing problem is but it seems like they could just give him oxygen to breath while he flies. That sounds bizarre. I hope it doesn’t hurt his draft status.

      1. I’m guessing the reason he can’t fly is due to changes in air pressure. It could be really dangerous for him if that’s the case.

    1. Air trapped in the soft tissue in the neck. This is a freak think to have occurred. The issue is that if he flies, the bubbles will expand. This would, at the least, be very painful for him. The air will eventually leave on its own. Until then, he has to be careful. The air pocket must be in an inaccessible place in his neck or is many small bubbles. Otherwise, it could conceivably be removed via a syringe. However, a medical guy I am not. So there may well be other factors at play.

    2. It’s very possible that he had a pneumomediastinum…my son just suffered from this two weeks before Tre. If it is, he should recover fine – most do in a few weeks with no recurrence – barring any setbacks from injuries of course.

  5. I’m pulling for Fuente to win out and hoping he returns because he is a great cultural fit and does a lot of things right. For that to happen, I think he has to replace his offensive coaching staff. It’s a great opportunity for Whit Babcock to put some $$ on the line that can bring in a talent there and capitalize on the huge number of athletes who will be hitting the transfer portal from all schools as scholarship numbers are reduced back to 85.

    1. Agree, he has made us realize our short comings in regards to facilities, staffing for recruiting and salaries for assistant coaches. Yes, Corn has to go, but Coach Fu, Coach Ham and Coach Smith are good men and great fits for our culture. Fans need to realize that we got behind because of the lack of investment in the program. While of love Coach Beamer, he kinda coasted into his retirement, and keeping Bud looks in hindsight like a bad idea (he never liked recruiting and near the end teams used his pending retirement against us).

  6. Justin Fuente knows the game of football. It is unfortunate that being the coach of our team has not been successful for him.

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