On Thursday night, Virginia Tech head coach Brent Pry joined Zach Mackey and Mike Burnop on Tech Talk Live at McClain’s at First & Main. The trio discussed the last week’s win against Boston College, the upcoming game against Wofford, individual player performances and other topics.
This season, Tech Talk Live will air on Thursdays at 7 p.m. ET across the Virginia Tech Sports Network. On weeks with conflicts, such as the game vs. West Virginia on Sept. 22, the show will air on Wednesday.
On a dominating performance against Boston College:
It felt good. Credit to the players and the staff. They really worked on the things that gave us trouble in week one, and that’s what you have to do. You can’t make excuses. You can’t stiff arm it, you have to embrace it and work, concentrate, focus on what you have to get better at, and they did that. The staff and the players, it showed on Saturday. It was everybody, right? It was special teams, the way Peter [Moore] punted, and kicking the field goals. We had no touchbacks in week one, we had four in week two, all the little things. Defense played good, but there was a lot from all three phases.
On having only five penalties and no turnovers:
It’s hard to win a game when you have the mistakes we made in those two departments. You could handle one or the other, but you can’t handle both. Grant [Wells] did a great job managing the game and the guys were disciplined and focused. I thought our pre-snap stuff, sometimes there’s going to be penalties post-snap, but the pre-snap ones are the ones you want to avoid.
How was the environment at the game?
It was great night. I looked out there about an hour and 15 minutes before kickoff and the student section was full. Hats off to the students because that was impressive. The weather cooperated and the fans, I mean, it was unbelievable. It’s a packed house. The energy was fantastic and Lane Stadium, I can’t say enough.
I want to give a shout out to our recruiting staff, Lino [Lupinetti], Jalyn [Ballein], Serena [Rodriguez], Austin [Fields]. They do a great job and we had 133 recruits there. Jalyn was pulling her hair out. Lino didn’t have much hair to pull out. They did a great job. The recruits had a fantastic time, and that’s credit to the recruiting staff but also to the fans. The energy was electric in there the whole way through.
What was the response of the recruits?
We had some of them in the locker room, and we’re a work-in-progress. This was just the beginning. That was a win that felt good and was needed for everybody, the fans, the staff, the players, the community, it felt good to everybody. Let’s go get another one this Saturday.
How do you handle yourself on the recruiting front and trying to manage that while preparing for a game?
It’s good balance, and it’s good staff. We have a great plan. Mike Villagrana and his crew do a great job organizing the weekend. We had a heavy volume of walkups, which is a good problem to have, but that’s what led to the large numbers. You have to balance; you have to do everything. It’s all important. We had head coach meetings prior to coming down to the field with certain recruits, and then you had handshakes at the 50-yard line, then you had postgame stuff going on. We have to be able to recruit at a high level here. Part of it is they’re involved in everything we do when they’re on campus.
How was your first trip through that tunnel in a real game?
I was kind of embarrassed when I saw the video. I mean, somebody said I looked like Rocky Balboa running through there. It was exciting. I was just glad I came out on time. I’m watching that person with their hand up and I’m getting ready to run a 40-yard sprint. I came out, I just didn’t want to trip our guys up and screw the whole thing up on national TV. I wouldn’t have been good coach then.
Was it pleasing having a turnover in enemy territory that close to start the game?
We talked about it during the week. You have to start fast. We do things in practice on Tuesday and Wednesday where we go offense and defense head-to-head to start practice. We can’t go out there and get greased up and then get going. You have to go, go, go. We do a two-minute drill on Wednesdays; we do a good-on-good skeleton on Tuesdays. The way Armani [Chatman] came out there, the whole rep, he owned that wide-out and then turned around and became the receiver and made a great catch. Really strong catch and then the offense being aggressive and just punching it in, you can’t start much better than that.
Why did you guys wear maroon during the orange effect game?
I’ll just tell you this. I got enough on our plate. We all do. The uniform thing goes in one ear and out the other right now. That’s probably good. The equipment manager, Stewart Carter, and I go way back, and I just said, “hey, listen, we decided on a couple of outfits before camp started, and that’s what we’re rocking right now.” When there’s a curveball, you won’t know about it until we run out for pregame, it’s great. Orange effect, that was great. My family looked great. Fans look great.
Kaleb Smith came away with a few big catches, especially the big one in the endzone in the third quarter:
He’s a warrior, he’s been that way all along. He’s tough, he’s durable, he’s going to give it everything he has. Guys like Kaleb are invaluable, and we need him. He’s battled back, he’s practiced, he’s going to play Saturday, and he’s an intelligent guy. He’s invested mentally and he’s physically tough. He checks so many boxes, and that’s why he’s one of our team captains.
Connor Blumrick was more involved in the offense, having five catches and good plays on third down.
That’s been the conversation, I know it didn’t turn out that way week one, but as a defensive play caller, that guy’s tough to defend. Where’s he going to be, tight end, receiver, quarterback, what is he going to do? He’s a big, long guy that can run and catch and I was glad to see him help us offensively.
What about your receivers. Where do you want to see them improve and who are guys you want to see coming along in that position group specifically?
That group’s been challenged. We’ve talked a lot about [Da’Wain] Lofton, Kaleb, and of course Connor in his role, but Christian Moss, Stephen Gosnell, Jadan Blue, all those guys are trending. I don’t want to jump out there too much, but they’ve had good weeks. Gosnell made a couple of catches, Christian Moss and Jadan are doing it in practice. Jaden had a great block on Keshawn [King]’s run. We put that on a highlight for the team meeting on Sunday. Those three guys are trending right now, and we need them to be.
On C.J. McCray and his defensive play:
C.J. was playing defensive end and got mixed up in the trash, kind of got cut, is on the ground, gets off the ground and full speed, I mean arm violence, just busting it and makes a play about 15 yards downfield. Great hustle play. That’s how you have to play defense and we obviously showed that one to the entire team.
What other plays do you want to highlight?
We had a play where it was a great job by kickoff coverage team swarming down the field, Keshon Artis and a bunch of guys. The way you run down and cover kicks is exactly how you have to chase the football. That’s something we talk a lot about, so that was a great play. Jadan Blue’s play blocking on Keshawn’s run, there was some good plays in that game. We asked the coaches to turn in some different things, and is it something we want to show the offense, defense, special teams, or the whole team?
Another play that was big was Tink Boyd recovering that muffed punt:
That was one we talked a lot about and showed the special teams unit. We had a muffed punt. I think DJ [Harvey] was pressing a little bit. “Hey, just fair catch it when it feels like you need to fair catch it.” He felt like he wanted to run one, return one and it wasn’t the right one. Tink has great hustle, he’s naturally instinctive and the ball came out and he just dove, he went fetal on it and did a great job. Those are the unnoticed plays that to me are so important. That could have been a costly turnover.
You and the coaching staff get together and talk about recognizing six guys, how does that go about?
We talked about players of the game, noteworthy guys, plays that need to be seen and just commending somebody, or this is the example that we want, or a teachable moment. We show them those too and this is something we can all learn from.
Who are the Hokie Stone Players of the Week?
That’s our scout team players of the week, which are really important. We talk about those guys all the time, and I thought no better way to recognize our scout team guys than the Hokie stone. Those guys are holding it together, they’re so critical to what we do. We’re going to recognize those guys each and every Sunday, and we’re going to socialize that.
S/O to our 𝙃𝙤𝙠𝙞𝙚 𝙎𝙩𝙤𝙣𝙚 Players of the Week against Boston College 🙌
— Virginia Tech Football (@HokiesFB) September 13, 2022
Was it cool seeing Grant Wells bounce back after the first week and have the confidence that he did?
He a stud. He’s steady, he’s a veteran. I don’t worry about Grant that way. His demeanor is fantastic. I have a ton of confidence in him. It was no surprise to me that he came back.
Some of the recruits are listening right now?
We have Jalyn Ballein here and she’s got our 2023 commitments. These guys have announced they want to come play for the Hokies. She’s got them on the phone right now. I couldn’t be more proud of them. You guys are the foundation and they’re jumping in not knowing for sure what’s going on, but they are listening. They are believing.
I couldn’t be more excited about everyone. I’m so I’m glad they showed out tonight. That’s cool. We talk about the plays on the field and all these things, but we have to recruit our tails off and we have great people doing it. We have great recruiting staff, great assistant coaches, and we’re making it a priority. We’re making this state a priority.
How about TyJuan Garbutt getting ACC Defensive Lineman of the Week?
I don’t know if there was a better defensive performance in the league for sure. We’re going to be aggressive and TyJuan plays aggressive, and he’s got a nose for the ball. He’s got great instincts. He’s played a lot of football here, he’s been around and it was one of those nights for him, thankfully.
How about the defensive line, back-to-back solid games?
Each week, it starts up front, and we tell them that. Offensive line, defensive line, we go the way you go – if you don’t get it done, it’s going to be hard for us to play well.
How nice is it to be able to get a pass rush with four guys?
That’s what you look for all the time, right? You can show there was a bunch of snaps, we only blitz 27% of the time, but there’s 50% of time it looks like we’re bringing a bunch of folks. That’s hard for offensive lineman, if you slow them down just a hair, and that defensive lineman gets off on the ball. That’s the edge we need.
How did it feel getting the game ball after your first win as head coach?
I loved it. I didn’t expect it. There are so many guys that could have got that game ball. I was happy and proud that they wanted to give it to me so certainly going to get that sucker painted up. It’ll be right there in the center, right on my desk.
You must be happy about the fact that the offense responded to Boston College’s first score with an almost 80-yard scoring drive?
That’s what good teams can do. You have to answer. People are going to score points; you’re not going to shut everybody out, although I’d like to. You have to answer and if we stumble and we let one go, they have to come back and get something back on the board for us. That’s good team football and that’s special teams, that’s offense, defense, it’s all three phases. Nobody knows what the formula is going to look like on how you’re going to win the game. You just know you’re going to need all three phases to do it now.
On Keshawn King’s comments about how he understood the scheme much better:
He’s maturing right before our eyes. He bought in, he invested, he has a great teacher in Stu Holt. Keshawn’s a great student right now. He was a sponge, he wanted to learn, he wanted to be better, all the ingredients for him to flip the switch and become the player he can be, reach his potential. It’s all panning out.
What is the status on Malachi Thomas?
He’s probably still a week or two away. I don’t think you’ll see him this weekend. He’s been dressing out, he’s been practicing some. Keshawn looks good as gold to me. He split us for one for about 60 in practice. I think he’s fine. It would be nice to have Malachi back. He’s such a positive guy and he’s a talented guy. He’s certainly going to help us when he returns.
How has Keli Lawson come along?
I’d say I’m a big Keli Lawson fan. He’s a long guy, athletic, been playing receiver. I knew about him coming out of high school, messed with him as an outside linebacker at Penn State. I let him drop a few balls, but I knew what we wanted to do with him. Once he dropped that second one, I was like, “Alright, come see me after practice.” We made him an outside linebacker.
He’s playing Sam, he’s playing Will, he’s learning both. He’s got a bunch of football in front of him. He plays hard, he gives his body up. He’s a beanpole right now, he has to keep putting the weight on. We had a young guy like him at Penn State named Cam Brown, who’s a captain for the New York Giants right now. Keli reminds me of him, so I’m excited about Keli and he’s going to get some good action Saturday.
On William Ross’s first-ever football game being against Old Dominion:
We tried to be transparent. I know some people are like, “how does the head coach not know that?” Will’s been awesome. He was like a lot of kickers, he was a great high school soccer player and had a chance to go overseas, leave high school and go professional, and he didn’t want to do that. Plan B involved football. He got into it at the collegiate level without ever having played a high school game. He wasn’t even on a team. Stu Holt did the right thing not telling me until after the Boston College game.
How about your third down defense, and getting better offensively on third down?
[Tyler] Bowen and I talked a lot, we have to stay on schedule, have to get positive yards. You want to gain four yards on first down, get it to second-and-sixth. Do something on second-and-sixth and you have third and very manageable. We had some penalties, some errant throws. We’ve had some things that kept us from being positive on first down so we’re going to clean that up. Third down you have to emphasize, you have to talk about it, you have to coach it. You have to have periods for it. You have to be good on third down.
The kids have to know what they need defensively, what does the offense need? Is it 3, 4, 5? If you notice, we hold up a third down card every third down. Short, medium, long, extra-long. The safety communicates how much is needed. Offensively, we drill a whole period just on third-and-three, a whole period on third-and-four, whole period on third-and-five. These are the plays we like; this is where we have to be successful.
How about Boston College not getting a first down until there were four minutes and eight seconds left?
I was mad, we shouldn’t have gave that one up. We could have blanked them in the first half right there. It was one of those where we had to get after them up front. We had to play on their side of line of scrimmage and we were able to do that. 10 TFLs, five sacks, you have a chance to play good defense when you do that.
Were you pleased with the split between running and passing the ball?
You have to keep defenses off-balance. We’re doing that right now. We have to commit to that and stay in that world. I still think we could have run the ball both weeks probably 10 more times and liked what we got, but I’m a defensive coordinator. I understand they want to keep them off balance. You have to get the ball and disperse the ball around and do some stuff. Boston College had a good defense. They have good coaches, they have a good scheme, they mixed it up, they played the box a bunch of different ways. They’re going to give people some trouble, they’ll be in games just because they’re going to play good defense.
On the upcoming game with an 11 a.m. kickoff and the Military Appreciation theme:
Absolutely no better way than Saturday afternoon in Lane Stadium to show our appreciation for the sacrifices, investment, and commitment from our military personnel. I’m happy to be part of it. We’re going to talk to our football team about it tomorrow and what it means and the opportunity to represent and honor.
Who is wearing 25 this week?
Peter Moore’s in 25 this week. Awesome. Honestly, we could have given it to him the first two weeks, he’s been so consistent. The ball just comes off his foot. He’s steady. He’s clutch. We had a one year at Vanderbilt where our punter arguably was our MVP, we were Music City Bowl team and he was a big reason why. Peter’s invaluable.
How is it decided who gets the Lunch Pail every week?
TyJuan [Garbutt] earned that thing. He’s a rugged, tough guy. He’s got so much that embodies that pail, and that’s the kind of gear we need him to have for us to go where we could go and be the team that we can be. TyJuan needs to be a daggone good player. We’re pretty stingy with [the pail]. He had such a great performance. He was relentless and he was all over the field. It wasn’t just sacks. It was fumbles, recovered fumbles, it was PBUs. If a guy plays like that and doesn’t learn the pail, I’m not sure what kind of performance does.
— Virginia Tech Football (@HokiesFB) September 13, 2022
What changes will be made with the 11 a.m. kickoff time?
We did make some changes, but we’re going to do everything at our facility except for our nightly meal. We’re going to do a couple of shares, we’ll have a couple of older players stand up in front of the team and tell a personal story. How they got to Tech, what they want for their season, what their experience has been like. We have two guys that will do that. We’ll break bread together and a little FCA chapel and call it a night. We have to get these guys in bed a little bit earlier because we’re getting them up earlier. Normally we do special teams, offense, defense at Hotel Roanoke. We switched it up. We’re going to do everything in our facility, shorten things up, tighten it up. We get them to bed earlier.
What have you seen out of Wofford?
Honestly, they have some things they need to clean up. You don’t know when they’re going to do that. They have some decent personnel. They have good coaches, their offensive coordinator is one of the best in the business. He’s been around a long time. He’s coached in some big games. It’s not my first time squaring off against him. The head coach I have a ton of respect for, he was the DC at Pitt when we were playing a four-game series. The first couple games he was a coordinator and we’ve been kind of defensive buddies for a while, we squared off with them at Georgia and Georgia Southern. They came down to Statesboro and beat us in the regular season, and we went up there in playoffs and beat them, so I got a lot of respect for the Wofford program.
Three home games in a row:
I don’t know who we play after Wofford. But seriously, here’s the thing. Three games in 13 days. It’s three games in 13 days, so we’re constantly meshing the guys right now. It’s hydration, it’s sleep, it’s what you’re eating, it’s taking care of your body. You have a four-quarter game on Saturday and turn around and play Thursday, when you wake up on Sunday it’s a Tuesday as a game week and operations and preparation. We’re going to grade the film immediately after the game as coaches. I’m sure they’ll be disappointed there’s no tailgating for the staff. We have to grade film and the players are going to go right into re-gen mode, recovery mode: cold tub, hot tub, stretching, all that get the recovery process started just like we normally would on a Sunday.
It’s supposed to be warm on Saturday:
17, 18, 19-year-olds, they don’t understand that it starts on Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday. You can’t just hydrate on Friday night. You can’t just eat right on Friday night. If they want to be a pro? Well, we try and tell them this is how pros operate. This is what they do, right? This is their job. They’re eating right every night. They’re going to bed, they’re doing these things to make sure that they’re ready to give their best performance.
So it’s not as much about Wofford but more about Virginia Tech?
Absolutely. That’s true for us every week. Whoever the opponent is, it’s still going to be about us. It’s what we do on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, it’s going to tell the story on Saturday. You can’t just turn it on. You can’t be this, you can’t be that, it’s all about your planning and your preparation, how you compete on every rep, how you invest, how you stay focused. Then all of a sudden on Saturday, you’re in a pretty good place and you feel good about playing a good game.
What is the process, how do the guys go through that?
We use a 1-2-3 process, and what you’re trying to do is identify the things that the guys did well, that you want to highlight and showcase, because that’s a learning opportunity for everybody and it’s a chance to give them some pats on the back. You want to find the improvements and the areas we have to get better, the things that we have to correct. One of the things we’re going to do, we’re only going to talk about Wofford a little bit on Sunday. There’s going to be our players of the game, there’s going to be corrections, and that we’re taking the rest of that day and moving on to West Virginia, which we normally wouldn’t do.
On Jalen Holston having 20 carries vs. Boston College:
He’s very determined right now. If you told him he could get every snap, he’d want it. He’s just that kind of guy. He had a great spring, he had a great summer, he had a great camp, you know? He’s positioned himself to play his best football.
Game analytics are becoming more and more important in football:
There’s so much research that you can do and data that you can gather to help you make informed decisions. We don’t ever want to make a decision where we can have more information to help us make the best decision. That’s where the analytics come in, that’s the studying that you do all week. It’s always been part of it.
Randy Crockett, before all this computer technology, Randy and I spent a lot of time together crunching numbers and I’d be like, “Randy, I need to know, what are they doing on second-and-three-to-six and when they’re in the red zone, or what are they doing? Take the take the Boston College game out of it, just use Syracuse and Miami on this on this equation.” He would crunch all the numbers and give it back to us. We’d make decisions based on those numbers. It hasn’t changed just the way you get there has changed.
Has it set in yet that you’re a head coach?
I don’t know if it has, I don’t know what that feels like. I guess I’d have to ask Coach [Beamer]. It’s funny, I was coming in the radio show tonight. I’ve already lost count. It’s our fourth radio show, our fifth? Coach Beamer was here 29 years. How many radio shows is that? A lot.