Tech Talk Live Notes: Brent Pry Previews Virginia Tech-North Carolina

Brent Pry
Virginia Tech and Brent Pry have a challenge on their hands on Saturday with North Carolina. (Jon Fleming)

On Thursday night, Virginia Tech football head coach Brent Pry joined Zach Mackey and Mike Burnop on Tech Talk Live at McClain’s at First & Main. They discussed improvements from the West Virginia game, upcoming weather conditions, the game against North Carolina and other topics.

This season, Tech Talk Live will air on Thursdays at 7 p.m. ET across the Virginia Tech Sports Network.

Brent Pry

How was practice this week?

It was good, it was a good week. Had a good Thursday today, which is a big mental day for us. The guys on Tuesday and Wednesday were really good. Offense started a little bit slow yesterday, but man, they picked it up and finished strong. I think as a coaching staff we feel good about the week.

You had three games in 13 days. Do you think the guys are a bit fresher now, even coming off a loss?

I think so. Sunday, we had to jump start them a little bit, but once they got going, they were in a pretty good place. Three games in 13 days is a bunch. When I look at the film from West Virginia, I think we did the right things as far as preparing them. They had a bunch of gas in the fourth quarter, we just didn’t play smart. It wasn’t that we didn’t have anything in the tank. We’ll probably stick to that plan moving forward in the future.

You had five officials at the last practice, can you touch on that?

Obviously, you have a one-hitter in the first week, and then you clean it up, then you go five the next week and you feel like you got it under control. For it to flare back up told me that we had to do something a little different. We’ve always had officials at practice, but I just reinforced with them what periods, call it game-like, be demonstrative, almost stopped play. Then at the end of practice, the officials addressed the team on the penalties that occurred and why they occurred, which was really good.

They did a great job, to be honest, it was the best practice we had officiated to this point. We talked with the captains and then talked with the team once the captains kind of felt the same way, and we implemented some consequences by yardage for any penalty received in a game. That’ll be carried out on Sundays just to make them more mindful about their play and what they’re doing.

On penalties being harder to talk about due to being in a different situation every week:

You know what I told them, I said, “You don’t want to put it in the hands of the official, you’re playing hard.” Dax [Hollifield]’s play, I think that could have gone either way. There was a play earlier in the game on their side that didn’t get called, and another one with us and Josh Fuga that didn’t get called. You don’t want to put it in the hands of officials.

When you have a chance to be smart, play smart, and just make the effort to pull off, make the effort not to grab and get hands, make the effort to get that hand off the face. You just want them thinking a little bit more about it. By no means do we want to slow the guys down or play costs or play guarded, that’s not the message. It’s just being mindful about playing smart.

Jalen Stroman
Jalen Stroman had a targeting penalty late against West Virginia that will keep him out of the first half against UNC. (Ivan Morozov)

Some of those penalties were more costly. Jalen Stroman has to sit out the first half vs. UNC due to targeting:

It puts a little more onus on some other guys. Ny’Quee Hawkins is going to have to play a little bit more, Nasir [Peoples] is going to have to take on a little bit more, DJ Harvey. That’s when guys have a chance to step up. They all are going to have a little bit more opportunity than they did. We’ll get straight back in the second half. That’s a learning lesson for all of us. He’s got to be a little bit better there, just mindful of letting that facemask lead away. He’s been rolling in, he had a good week, and I think he’s in a good place. But we’ve got to be smarter there too.

Do you feel like college football as a whole is getting better on the targeting?

Yeah, I really do. I think the rule has done what it was intended to do, and it’s made it safer. There are less dangerous hits out there. I think defensive players have gotten more mindful and are being more careful. We have to coach it. I think the college coaches are coaching the targeting piece and how to avoid it, how not to target, how to hit properly.

I do like the change in the rule this preseason, that those guys don’t have to go to the locker room. That never really made sense. To me, that’s kind of going above and beyond and making your point. The penalty, removal from the remainder of the game, and consequences for the next game I get. That’s the same thing, right? The NCAA did what we’re trying to do with penalties within our program, just make guys think more cautiously, more mindfully about, hand placement, hat placement, those things.

After practice, one of the officials emphasized how important defensive holding was as it’s a guaranteed first down. That got the guy’s attention, didn’t it?

Yeah, it could be third-and-15 and you hold defensively, it’s automatic first down. It’s not just 10 yards, it’s the first down and it’s very costly. So the thing that we’ve talked a lot about, and this was many conversations at Penn State, is guys get handsy when they don’t need to be. Sometimes you see the pass interference or the holding when the guys getting away from them. You always have a chance to recover, don’t hit the panic button. The worst ones are when you’re in pretty good position and you just feel like you want to grab it. We’ve done everything right, the boxing gloves and all those things, to try and keep guys from grabbing. Maybe we’ll see these Sunday night sprints make a difference.

Kaleb Smith had a great game last week, was a big part of the offense:

He’s certainly one of those guys. You know what to expect from Kaleb, whether he’s 80%, 90%, 100%, this guy’s going to make plays. He’s going to help our football team. He’s just one of those guys. He works. He’s tough, he’s smart, he’s older. Right now, he’s off to a good start for us.

How have you prepared for the weather you might see in Chapel Hill?

Yeah, you talk about it all. We’ve talked about it all week. We’ll have another conversation Saturday morning at the hotel. After the quarterbacks and the kickers go out in pregame, we’ll have a talk in the locker room about it, and how’s it going to affect us. We obviously did wet ball work for a couple of days this week, which is where the quarterbacks, the receivers, the running backs, the managers are spraying them with the hose and spraying the balls. We’re having fun with that, but we did that a couple of days. We had two meetings with Stewart Carter, our equipment director, about extra socks, extra cleats, extra undershirts, all those things that at halftime, we could help the players feel a little bit better about the wet conditions.

We even went as far as if there was a delay. I’ve been part of three- and four-hour delays, where we’re in the locker room and the guys are going crazy. We’ve talked about how do we get them hot food? How do we stretch them out? How do we make them comfortable? What kind of video access do we have? All those things in light of any situation that would occur with bad weather. I think it’s trending where Saturday could be a little better. Now the conversations about traveling tomorrow and making sure that we’re leaving at the right time and could there be some return on the way?

Who answers all those questions, whose responsibility is that?

You always go up to compliance, right? You check with Derek Gwinn, those guys and what are we able to do? You’re not allowed to watch the first half of the game, let’s say the first half [played] and got delayed. You’re not allowed to stream that, our video coordinator, Tom, is not allowed to put that on a projection screen and coach off of it. There’s no in-game video like there is in the NFL. We could watch games that are going on across the country because you go stir crazy in there. We were at Michigan State in a tiny locker room for four hours, and we found a way at the end to get some hot Chick-fil-A sandwiches. Our staff wants to do better than that if that situation would occur.

The rain is one thing; what about the wind?

At one point this week, they were projecting 20 to 25 mile per hour winds, which would be a significant factor. A lot of quarterbacks can spin it in the rain. The wind, that’s another story. That’s a monster for the kickers and quarterbacks. That would be a little bit more of a conversation. We lost a game in Illinois one time, a kickoff got caught and blew really crazy back at the kicking team where it was right there for them to recover. It was huge play in the game, and it was out of our guy’s control.

Last weekend, you guys were up at six o’clock in the morning recruiting. What was the response?

It was awesome. We took seven coaches and jumped on the school jet, went out to Stafford, Virginia, and hit the recruiting trail all day long. Bunch of schools and two games that night, flew to Richmond, spent the night, went to a game in Richmond at two o’clock on Saturday. The narrative from the coaches, the high school coaches, were so just thankful and appreciative that after a tough loss in a late game, here we were at eight o’clock in the morning walking in their door. It’s just our message to them.

It’s that we’re serious about recruiting the Commonwealth. We’re going to do it and we’re invested in it, and we’re going to work at it. We’re committed to it. That’s what they felt all day long. We got that from coaches, every school we went in. It was a big deal, it was the right thing. I’m not going to say it was easy, but it was the right thing to do. We saw a bunch of our commitments. So it went a long way. Well worth the trip.

On Mike Villagrana organizing the recruiting process:

He’s the guy that coordinates it. All right, where do we get the most bang for our buck? Especially when you have the head coach on the road, I can’t get out as often as the assistant. So where do we go? Who do we see? What makes sense geographically to see as many good players as possible? What’s important? Finally, I told them, listen, at five o’clock, I’m done. I’m going home to see Amy and the kids. I mean, Sunday the grind starts again. It was good trip.

You mentioned you guys were pressing a bit, how do you fix that and get that point across?

It’s just talking about it, right? It’s having a conversation. Hopefully you have a relationship where they trust what you’re saying. The message was, we don’t have to go above and beyond, no one person has to do more than what we’re asking you to do in the framework of the offense or the defense to be successful. The plays will come, and the talent will show, but you don’t have to do somebody else’s job. You have to really hone in and do the absolute best job at doing your job. Make sure you do that. I think they get it. It’s a good learning lesson. We’re still figuring out this football team a little bit. Week-by-week, we learn more and more, and there’s more things that we can talk about, that we can learn and grow from.

Jadan Blue dealt with tragedy, but he’s continued to grow and develop with the Hokies. (Ivan Morozov)

The story that came out [by David Teel] about Jadan Blue is just remarkable:

I would say this Jadan: the tragedy that he endured, he’d only been on our campus for two weeks and following all of that, we had a conversation as a staff, we weren’t even sure he’d be with us this fall. We talked about getting a waiver to redshirt him, give him time to grieve, give him time to spend with family and he just didn’t want to do that. He was back and forth all spring from Baltimore and Blacksburg, and administration, great support, paying for flights, paying for train tickets, doing all kinds of things to make it work for him and his family.

There’s nobody on his team I’d like to see have success more than Jadan. He’s been through it like nobody’s been through it. He had a good game there two weeks ago, had a couple of targets last week, but he’s had a great week of practice and I look for him to continue to grow and develop and really help us.

You’ve talked about wanting to run the ball better, how much of it is trying to get guys healthy?

I think that’s a part of it. Malachi Thomas, a talented and a great kid, he’s closer and closer every week. He’s making the trip this weekend. It’s going to be a game-time decision. I don’t think Keshawn [King] has been completely healthy until probably this week. If you look at the film and you talk to the offensive staff, it’s about executing in the run game.

We’re just not doing what we need to do, all 11, on enough snaps. That was a big point of emphasis this week. We have to be able to run the ball better than what we have, whether that’s executing better, spreading it out a little bit, making it tougher to defend. Whether it’s Malachi, whether it’s Keshawn, it’s been a big emphasis there. We’re going to get going in the right direction. It just needs to happen sooner than later.

Have any younger offensive lineman showed progress?

They’re coming. I’ll tell you, Braelin Moore, really getting us excited about what he’s doing, Xavier Chaplin, getting excited about what he’s doing. Some of those guys are really coming along. I think it’s a good young group. It’s just tougher to play on the o-line as a freshman than anywhere else on the team.

What was your overall takeaway from the West Virginia game?

We played good red zone defense. Anytime you can minimize points, that’s why we were in it, right? We weren’t playing very well. At 16-10 with 10 or 11 minutes left, we didn’t tackle well enough, which was something we had done for three weeks. We got hesitant. We played cautious, played out of sorts at times, all in all, that’s a pretty explosive offense. When they have 16 points with 10 minutes left, you feel like you should have a chance to win the game. and we did. We did, we just didn’t get it done the rest of the way.

Cole Nelson is playing more and getting better every game, isn’t he?

He’s got me excited. He was nursing a back [injury] for a little while coming out of spring. I’m not sure there was anybody I was more excited about, and he got a back injury. He’s been nursing it and he’s been playing through it. Coach [J.C.] Price and I were just talking this week, it really looks like he’s back near 100%.

How about Jaden Keller?

He’s everything you want him to be. … He’s definitely making improvements, proud of the progress he’s making. We have him and Keli [Lawson] there right now and they’re going series for series. Keli’s going to get a bit more of an opportunity this week, just like we did with [Jayden] McDonald, just like we did with Keller, we’re going to do the same thing with Keli. That’s been an ongoing thing. That Will linebacker is a tough spot on defense. We’ve got to figure it out and get the right one or two guys that we can win with.

How will the receivers match up against North Carolina?

They’re trending in the right direction, Grant [Wells] and that group. That has to include Connor Blumrick, it has to include Keshawn out of the backfield. I mean, Stephen Gosnell is a guy that’s making catches every practice, that keeps getting better and better. Christian Moss has to keep coming. Jadan Blue we talked about. Jaylen Jones is a guy in that depth chart that has a chance to step up. We’ve got a group there. We have some candidates. We just have to keep moving in the right direction.

On Stephen Gosnell getting more involved and having more confidence:

He really does [have more confidence]. He’s a long guy that can run, he was out of shape when he got to us and maybe that was the issue at North Carolina. He was carrying too much weight. We had a good conversation about where his weight needed to be and just to get healthy and lean. He did a great job, him, Carly [Harris,] Coach [Dwight] Galt, those guys had a good plan for him. I think he’s in a good place. He has to stay healthy, he had some nagging injuries in his time at North Carolina. If he stays healthy, I think we’ll keep developing him and Benji [Gosnell,] his brother. Those are two guys that can really do some things with the football.

Dax Hollifield
Though Dax Hollifield was flagged twice last week, he’s been solid on special teams and will wear No. 25 at UNC. (Jon Fleming)

Who is wearing No. 25 this week?

Dax Hollifield. He does a great job on our punt team. If you ever watch that film, he is as reliable as anybody. I’ve been around on our punt protection, that unit, we’ve been pretty solid right there. We have to keep it that way. Dax was a big reason why.

There are a lot of Virginia kids on the North Carolina and Penn State rosters:

Yeah, that’s right. That’s the two schools. I have a ton of respect for Mack Brown. I love James Franklin, but man, stay the heck out of the Commonwealth. I’m not going to talk dirty, but we’re going to out-recruit you, we’re going to out-work you. North Carolina did a good job, the opportunity was there, I don’t know that we were as invested in the state as most people would like us to be, and they took advantage. That’s kind of how things work.

On North Carolina having one of the top offenses in the country:

It’s one of the best in the league and probably the best in the country. They have explosive wideouts, explosive tailbacks, they have a redshirt freshman quarterback and I’m not sure I’ve seen one at that age play as well as he’s playing. He can run, throw, flick of the wrist, manage the game. He’s very impressive.

How much stress does Drake Maye running the ball put on the defense?

We’ve had that conversation about Grant because Grant runs it pretty well. At the same time, Drake doesn’t just run when he has to, he likes to run, he’s going to take a look and if it’s not there, he’s pulling it and he’s going, he eats up that grass. He’s a ranging kid, he’s got big strides and he’s not fearful. In fact, the coaches are probably mad. He’s taking too many hits because he gets every yard he can.

The North Carolina wide receiver crew is one of the best in the country:

You have to change up the coverage, you can’t just sit in one or two things, you can’t let the quarterback see it. You can’t let those guys understand the coverage and hit the routes at the right depth and where they need to be. We have to mix it up. The defensive backs need to play well, we have to have great footwork, great pad level, great transitions. It’s a big challenge. At the same time, we’re going to get after the quarterback, he’s the decision maker. He’s the guy who has to deliver the ball. If you can make him uncomfortable, it gives you a chance against a group like this.

Last year, they were last in many defensive categories. What do you see in North Carolina’s defense that has given them so much trouble?

Early on, there was a lot of confusion. If you look at the video, I’m not sure what’s going on. You had guys jumping around and not on the same page. Anytime you play defense that way, it’s a problem. I do think they’re starting to iron that out. They’ve been a little more consistent here recently. They kind of bend but don’t break, they keep their defensive backs at good depth, try and keep the ball in front of them. I think they rely on their offense, to be honest.

Do you know Gene Chizik or Mack Brown, or even Larry Fedora when he was at UNC?

I know Larry pretty good. Amy and I have been out to dinner with Larry and we share some mutual friends. I’ve had a lot of respect for Mack Brown. If my memory serves me right, he was the head coach at North Carolina in 1997 when I was here, and they put a whooping on us in the Gator Bowl. They had a great year, really didn’t belong in the Gator Bowl. We kind of solicited to get in, and got in, and they had a really good football team that year.

Coaching in the Big 10 and coaching in the SEC, I’ve never really been around Coach Brown much, but a ton of respect for him. Tons of respect for Gene Chizik. I do know him a little bit, just being defensive coordinators along the same track. My brother was actually a grad assistant at Auburn when Gene was the defensive coordinator. They had an undefeated season.

On Stu Holt playing for North Carolina:

Good long snapper there. I joked with him all the time about Mack being his granddaddy, you know, be careful what we say around Stu this week because his loyalty to Mack! He’s very proud. He’s prideful about his experience in North Carolina. I would be too, his dad was a longtime Hall of Fame coach in the state of North Carolina, had the opportunity to play at Carolina, to have a nice career. He has a lot of ties to that state and to that program.

Keonta Jenkins
Keonta Jenkins and Virginia Tech have stopped the run well. Can they do it again against UNC? (Ivan Morozov)

Carolina has struggled to run the ball. Is that another element you hope to continue to stop this coming weekend?

I think for anybody, even a pass-happy team like North Carolina, if they can’t run the ball, it makes it more challenging. Notre Dame did a great job. They were physical, they loaded the box. That made a difference in the game. The thing about it is if you can run the ball, it also helps because you’re keeping Carolina’s offense off the field. Notre Dame was able to do that.

Is it better to be solid at covering kicks or have a better return game?

You want to be good at both. Let me say this: if you go back and you take away the snap over the head on the very first field goal attempt, we’ve been pretty good. You don’t want penalties on special teams and you want to own the ball. You don’t want to create an opportunity and lose a possession. We’ve been really good that way.

When you when you dissect the film, we’ve been that close on hitting a return, particularly on kickoff. Field goals, punt returns, it’s never easy. You have to get more comfortable with it. DJ Harvey’s a redshirt freshman. Right now, he gives us the most confidence and he’s got a little bit of wiggle to do something with it. Hopefully each week he gets a little more confident and a little better.

Have you been pleased with the ball security aspect of the game so far?

We’ve done a nice job. Those things are important. You go back to that first game and the turnovers were just tragic. We’ve done a better job and I credit coach Bowen and the offensive staff. They do ball security every Tuesday. I watched the drill. It’s a tough drill, everybody on the staff trying to knock the ball out. There’s been a big emphasis and it’s paying off. We have to continue that. Your opportunity to win a game when you don’t turn it over for Virginia Tech in the last 15 years, it’s 87% chance of winning the game if you win the turnover battle. Pretty substantial.

How about Dorian Strong?

That’s a game-time decision. I hope we have him. He’s a tough kid, a smart kid. He’s our best cover player, he’s a veteran. Those hand injuries are tough, so we’re going to take him to game time, take Malachi [Thomas] to game time, J.R. Walker, those three guys, they’re all in a good enough place, they make the trip.

4 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. I need to see Bowen get more of these young kids involved and not give up on the run game so fast and find a way to get the ball in the hands of his best receivers and playmakers. To me he has failed there big time. I would take what I have seen from Cornelson anyway over what Bowen has shown.

  2. I think Coach Pry and his staff are doing their best to figure out and fix the problems on offense. Hope to see improvement on Saturday.

    1. Agreed. However, one of the biggest issues is predictability in the run game. Every defense knows that the only thing that VT does is run between the tackles. Through4 games, there has been no effort to get to the sideline (for example)

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