On Thursday night, Virginia Tech football head coach Brent Pry and punter Peter Moore joined Zach Mackey and Mike Burnop on Tech Talk Live at McClain’s at First & Main to preview Saturday’s game at Rutgers (3:30 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network). They also looked back on the Purdue game and the longest weather delay in college football history.
What in the world did y’all do on Saturday? What was that like for you guys in there?
Yeah, it was challenging. We kept monitoring the weather, and we knew it had a chance to get kind of sideways on us, so we had a plan. We talked Thursday, we talked Friday as a staff and had basically a mini-itinerary based on what would happen if it’s an hour delay, a two hour, three hour and what does this look like? I had the misfortune of being part of one a couple of years ago that I think at that time was the longest in NCAA history. We took the Penn State team up to Michigan State and it was a four-hour delay or something like that. There are some guys on the staff that were part of that.
So we thought it through, had a good plan and the toughest part is the early going because it’s 30 minutes every time lightning hits within 10 miles. So everybody’s kind of in a holding pattern waiting for that lightning to kind of move out and it just kept coming and we kept getting a new 30, a new 30, a new 30, the guys are in the weight room. And finally we made a decision: let’s undress them, let’s get them into street clothes or in their warm up clothes, go up to the training table, feed them some spaghetti and get them to kind of decompress, and it was the right thing to do.
You guys eventually come back through the tunnel, but no Enter Sandman. It was different you guys were already on the field.
We figured it out and you got to back time everything. And that was kind of odd and weird. It was different. We even practiced Sandman. We practice coming out the tunnel, what everything’s gonna look like. And it was just a curveball. I said this in my press conference on Tuesday, so many people did a great job, hitting that curveball, having the field ready, concessions, everything. When I left there at 11 o’clock, there were people that had been there for 15-16 hours. So I appreciate what everybody did. It’s unfortunate we didn’t get to win because that makes it really all worth it, but that doesn’t change the fact we appreciate what everybody did making that happen.
How about the job the field crew did with the grass? They even brought out a vacuum.
Yeah, that vacuum is something else. When they told me they were running it out there, that was my biggest concern early was the rain that we were getting and supposed to get. Is it going to be safe for the guys to go play? Can we get footing, can guys move and can we run without injuring guys? I didn’t want to do that, it looked bad for a while, the photos that are out there on Twitter that everybody saw, it looked like, “Oh my gosh, how are we gonna play this?” And the vacuum did a great job and then I just think Emerson [Pulliam] and the whole grounds crew did a great job. That field was in really good shape considering the rain we got, there was decent footing for both teams and you were able to play pretty much a good football game after all that rain.
You told me after the game that you didn’t think the sense of urgency was there at noon that was there at six o’clock. Did you give a second pregame locker room speech too?
It was a little different because some of the guys were already on the field. So both starts were a little bit different, a little bit odd, but we had specialists on the field for both, receivers, DBs, they were already down there where the majority of the team came out for the 6:15 kick. Definitely everybody had to hit a curveball and I think that the kids responded well, I was proud of the way they came out. And they were ready to go. I think the plan was good and feeding them and getting them out of their uniforms and then redressing them and stretching them, a shortened version of everything and getting them back out there.
What do you think of that 10-minute halftime?
I’ll tell you what it was. It was nostalgic for me going into that old halftime locker room. I forgot what that was like. We were all sweating in there and on top of each other, but it was good. I think we kicked it around. I mean, 20 minutes, 10 minutes, five minutes. Do you want enough time? 10 minutes is what we settled on. There were a bunch of factors involved. There wasn’t enough time for our coaches to come out of the press box. We didn’t dress the non-travel guys, so all those redshirt guys and guys that you wouldn’t normally take, those guys didn’t dress after the rain delay. I don’t know if you noticed, they came out there in their travel gear and were involved and waving towels and active in the game. But they didn’t need to go into that locker room at halftime and it’s just not very big in there, so it functioned well for us on Saturday.
Give us the injury update. I know some guys got banged up in the game.
Yeah, we got some guys dinged up probably a little bit. You don’t expect that after two games to have the number that we have. But we’re working like crazy, rehab and treatment, trying to get them all back. To be honest, everybody wants to play, everybody wants to take advantage of the opportunity. So it’s been a good week that way. There are guys that are certainly questionable. There’s guys that I feel a little better about, guys that I don’t feel so good about. Most of them, we’re gonna go all the way through pregame and you see how they feel today. It’s that no-sweat Thursday so it’s kind of a walk through, tomorrow’s shortened, but explosive movements, good speed, see where they’re at. But then you rest them, you travel them and then pregame you kind of make a decision. How do they look?
What went into that decision to switch quarterbacks for the last drive?
First of all, at halftime, I don’t know if you saw Grant [Wells] take a low shot and get up, he was kind of limping a little bit and threw a touchdown pass after that. He went into the locker room a little bit early to get it taped and it really seemed like it was gonna be mild. Not much to it. He didn’t think that, the trainer’s didn’t think that, and as the game wore on, it just got a little bit worse. It started swelling, bothering him more. I think we had a discussion before we made the change to the series. Before that, we had a talk about, “Do we make it now knowing that we needed to throw the ball and throw the ball well?” We thought Grant gave us the best chance at that moment. But after we saw him with the rush and just not able to run like he’s normally able to, we made the choice at that time.
That was a tough spot to get Kyron Drones some experience, starting at his own nine-yard line.
He wanted to do it. I said, “Hey, man, I think we need you to go do this, Grant’s just not himself,” and he said, “Coach, whatever you want me to do, I’m ready.” So he charged out there. I think he made a couple of good plays, good play with his feet, good play with his arm and we’ll see what happens here this weekend if Grant [Wells] rolls or not. But either way, you know, Kyron’s [Drones] played a bunch of balls this week. He’s got a lot of time with the ones, he’ll be ready to go for us.
And he could certainly help the running game. Obviously, you need a little bit of a spark there after last week:
Yeah, when you have to defend the quarterback, it loosens you up defensively, you have to tie a defender onto him. I think Grant runs pretty well, but Kyron is a big guy that’s athletic that you’re gonna want to make sure you got a hat on him.
We saw what Bhayshul Tuten is able to do in the open field with that pass he caught and took for a touchdown:
I’ll even go back to the Old Dominion game. There wasn’t a lot of space there for him and he broke several tackles and got positive yards when they weren’t there. I think we got a good back there between him and Malachi [Thomas]. Nice one-two punch, and we gotta get him the ball more, get him the ball in different ways and make sure we see all of what Bhayshul [Tuten] can do.
And it’s a homecoming for Tuten this weekend, the New Jersey native of Paulsboro.
Yeah, that’s correct. He’s excited about going home and he’s ready to play. He’s ready to play well for us and he’s got a lot of abilities, a great skillset and approaches the game the right way. I think he’s only gonna get more and more comfortable with us.
You were down 17 at that point, but how about that fourth-down call to get the ball out there to Tuten in space?
Yeah, we lined up empty, which is always a problem for a defense, and motioned Tuten, what looked like he was gonna set back in the backfield, then got him back out quickly. The linebacker lost him, then he made a heck of a run and lowered his pads and kept his balance and he kind of allowed that guy to carry him right into the end zone.
That second score you had must’ve been frustrating. The defense gets the stop, you get the ball at the 34-yard line and have to settle for that field goal.
Yeah, you really want to score a touchdown there. That’s the emphasis with the kids. I’m thankful for the field goal, but there’s a four-point difference there.
One of the players that you announced on Tuesday that you’re going to be without on Saturday is wide receiver Ali Jennings (ankle).
He’s just such a strong leader. He played a great first game as a Hokie. He has a lot of people pulling for him. He’s handling it really well. He’s very positive, he’s upbeat, he’s recovering now. I wouldn’t put anything past Ali. It’s just what you would think, it’s a selfless act. He’s blocking his butt off on an explosive pass and it gets rolled up on, that’s the game, but all of his teammates are supporting him, his coaches are supporting him. He’s fired right back in supporting us, giving us a lot of good vibes for this weekend.
You guys need to figure out how to get some takeaways, right?
One would have been nice on Saturday. That was a difference in the game. We turn one over. We kind of got misguided on the route and should have broken out. Broke in and they picked one off in the red zone and scored the next play. I believe that was the difference in the game. And we had opportunities. There were some balls that were loose where they’re not chinning that thing and high and tight where we didn’t come in and punch or strip, but takeaways are the name of the game.
What did you see out of Peter Moore and your punting game on Saturday?
I’d tell you, we’ve been kicking the ball well, and I told him [Peter Moore] he could bring a guest with him tonight, and he brought Kyle Lowe with him, which is awesome. We’ve been kicking the ball very well, those two guys and John Love, we’ve got to continue that, that’s gonna pay off for us and be a factor in a game and us winning the game.
Peter Moore was ACC Co-Specialist of the Week and Keli Lawson was ACC Linebacker of the Week.
[Lawson] was all over the field. The exciting thing, the amazing thing is as well as he played garnering 14 tackles, he left some plays on the field. He’s got just a freakish ability, freaky skill set. He’s only going to get better. You have to remember this is their first extensive action, being in the starting lineup just having to play every snap, and I’m excited about the growth and development there.
Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano talked about the speed that you guys have in the middle of those linebacker spots with guys like Lawson. Has that been an emphasis? There’s a lot of versatility there.
Yeah, we need to run it to the second level. You have to be able to make it hard on O-linemen to climb to that next level and get a pad on you. You’ve got to take the space out of the running game. You’ve gotta eat up that grass, and we got some guys that are doing that pretty good right now. I think [Jalen] Stroman did that very well on Saturday.
Alan Tisdale played well. You said he was the most consistent linebacker.
He’s a mature guy. I like to call him Alan because he’s so mature. Everybody calls him Tizzy, but I’ve referred to him as Alan. And he’s been through it with what he had to deal with last year, and he’s in a good place and he certainly played a very solid football game for us Saturday.
You moved Alan Tisdale up to the top of the depth chart this week at mike linebacker.
Yeah, we just believe in those guys. We’ve got to develop four guys at inside linebacker that can roll in and roll out play well. It’s the same way out of the star position. Caleb Woodson played as many snaps as Keonta Jenkins out there.
It’s tough when the time of possession is just out of whack. It was a 16-minute difference on Saturday.
It’s a shame. You play pretty good defense, probably good enough defense to win the game, for three-and-a-half quarters and then you give up this long drive and you even get them in third-and-long. We don’t get the rush we quite need, they dump one off to the back and earn a first down and we’ve got to play more guys. Sometimes as assistant coaches, you get hesitant to play these young guys and we have to build depth. We got to have a healthy rotation so that we can be at our best in the fourth quarter with the game on the line. I think the other piece and Coach [Tyler] Bowen would say this, we met our explosive goal for the game.
I think we had seven plays over 20 and nine over 15 in the passing game, which is really good, but we didn’t have sustained drives in between and that takes a toll on your defense when you can’t just stay on schedule and occupy some time and move the ball and flip the field. We’ve got to do a better job there. We took the ball on our own five I believe, maybe our own eight, and we drove out, got several first downs. Peter [Moore] had a heck of a punt and they get the ball at their minus eight. You talk about flipping the field, great job by the offense moving, a great job by Pete kickin’ it, good coverage, but we need more sustained drives and that’s what I mean when I say complementary ball. We can’t just be one hit wonders. We’ve got to be able to kind of control the ball and then involve running it and play action and just staying on course, staying on schedule.
What are some of the challenges going on the road for the first time?
I’ve been to Rutgers a few times, they get a good crowd. You just want the guys to understand it’s a business trip, but enjoy the fellowship and let’s keep the main thing the main thing when we need to and I think we’ve got an operations team that does a great job planning things out down to the last detail. You want to make sure that your guys are finishing out their preparation. We have meetings on Friday night. We got a walkthrough on Saturday and we finish things out. Hydrate, eat, sleep, all those things are important and be at your best on Saturday at 3:30.
Rutgers is off to a good start, two wins at home.
I’m gonna tell you that Coach [Schiano] is doing a great job and I’m not surprised, he had a lot of success there back in the day and they’ve got great experiences, and he understands what it takes to be successful and competitive. They’ve got a good football team. They’re much improved, they’re a couple years into this thing with him, and we’ve got our hands full. It’ll be a competitive ballgame. We need to play much better and be at our best.
Their defense is top-20 in the country in a lot of different categories. What stands out to you about that unit?
I think they’re aggressive, which is a trademark of the coach’s defenses and something that we certainly respect, and then I think they’re very sound. I think they play hard, their sound is aggressive, it’s not rocket science. I think they’re doing a good job of that and they’ve got them a good group right now, they’ve got 11 guys that are fitting things right and doing some good things.
You also have to account for that quarterback they have, Gavin Wimsatt. He’s kind of a dual-threat guy.
Wimsatt was a highly-touted recruit that they feel very fortunate to have landed at Rutgers, and he can run, he’s got good length and size. He’s got a nice arm. I think he’s only going to get better and better. So we’ve got our hands full with him.
This Rutgers defense only allowed 14 points in two games. What’s that say about the mindset, the way they start games, how they’ve been able to plant a couple of zeros up there?
To me, more importantly, the message to our guys is we’ve got to start fast. We talked about it today: we need to win the first quarter. We do that, it’s going to go a long way in us winning the game, so let’s come out, it can’t be like last weekend, we’ve got to come out all cylinders and play defense, play offense, great kicking game, and let’s be up at the end of the first quarter.
How was practice this week?
We just told them, Wednesday, it was a good practice, but it wasn’t what we all wanted it to be. And it was much better yesterday. I think it’s been a good week of preparation and these guys are accountable and hard on themselves. We’re never going to have a perfect day. But it needs to be up to our standards and expectations and this week has been that.
Rutgers had 13 pass breakups last week, the most in a century for that program. How does that impact the quarterbacks when they’re making those windows a bit smaller?
Yes, they do a nice job of that. That’s something you coach and you work into a little pregame routine. We say that you shoot the hand, mirror the hand, and I think they did a good job. I think Temple’s quarterback, I’m not sure how tall he is actually, but he had quite a few of those, he just kind of side armed it and those guys were getting after him, but they do a nice job up front.
How did you feel about the run fits this week on defense?
We were better. I think the inside zone, the split zones and counter play were much better, although we didn’t fit the stretch play very well. That’s the outside run. And that’s the one [Purdue] scored on after the turnover and everything else was probably about 2.5 a carry and that play was much higher than that.
What have you seen out of Rutgers on special teams?
They’ve got a good specialist group there. I think they’re kicking it well. I think that can be a factor in this game. We’ve got to out-kick them, and if we do that… We’ve got to win the team’s area. I think that’ll be important in this thing.
Who gets to wear the No. 25 jersey this week?
Wow, he happens to be out here tonight. Kyle Lowe. You go all the way back to last year in college, he kicked the skin off that thing. We have a manager out the back of the end zone and that ball should kind of hit in the end zone, we hope, and then [the manager] scoops it up and takes it to the sideline. He fielded two of them out the back of the end zone, Kyle kicks [against Purdue]. So yeah, he’s done a great job. He’s been good this year again. And between him and Peter [Moore] and John [Love], we need to kick the ball well.
How about the lunch pail?
Let me tell you now, Dorian [Strong] is hanging on to that thing. He didn’t want to give it up. And he played a great game, they had a heck of a receiver in number four [Deion Burks]. That guy clocked one of the faster times in college football the week before, 22 something, and we put Dorian on him most of the night and he matched him up and he did a really good job with it. Dorian played about 90 plays and really defended the gap pretty well. And we’re so excited about what he’s doing. He’s had that pail. He’s very prideful, he’s practicing well, he’s playing his best football.
You said during your press conference that you challenged the staff. You went in there and said we’ve got to find out what we do well and do more of that and be able to do that. What’s that conversation like?
I think that’s the same with every unit. As you get into the beginning of the season, you start to understand what your identity needs to be, who you need to be. What can you do well, what are your weaknesses, where do we need to steer this thing? And so we’ve had some good conversations, Sunday and Monday, about what it needs to look like on both sides of the ball. So we need to see some results this weekend. I think we should be better, have a better plan, better ideas, get the ball to our play-makers and we’ve got some guys that have stepped up with the injuries we’ve had, but it’s been a good week. I like what we’re doing and I think we’re gonna give ourselves the best chance.
You talk about too many snaps for some guys. Is that the case with the offensive line? Most of those guys played every snap against Purdue.
We’ve got some other guys that are coming, that are getting on the cusp of feeling like you can put them in the game. You’ve got to trust guys. They’ve got to have a good week of preparation. And they have to have a skill set that aligns with being able to get the job done. And a lot of times it’s just, you’re feeling good about a young man then all of a sudden on Wednesday, he makes a mistake that you’re just kind of like, “I thought we were past that. You make that mistake in the game and it’s seven points, you make the mistake in the game it’s a takeaway or turnover.”
We’re just bringing those guys along. As I’ve said many times, you have to continue to develop guys all season long. I told them today, “You don’t know who is going to be in a role to help us in the end of October in Week 7, Week 10, Week 11. We fight and claw on to get that next win and it may be a guy right now that’s over there on the scout team field. And all of a sudden he’s pulled over and has to step up and play a couple games for us.”
What’s the schedule look like for the next couple of days?
We’re going to always try and get our Friday work done here. Early team meetings, guys are dismissed from class. The non-travel group will get an early lift in and we’ll get our fast Friday in and we get unit meetings and then a quick practice, meet everybody, shower, pack, get on the buses and head to Roanoke.
In an ideal world, are you a noon kickoff guy, a 3:30 guys or a night game guy?
I probably like noon. I like to get up. For a coach, the hardest part is just the waiting day when you’d like to get the hay in the barn. For me, your preparations are never finished till that last meeting or that last walkthrough. Then you kind of go, “OK, I can’t do anything else.” We’re gonna meet Friday night, we’re gonna walk through Saturday. So you’re kind of on and you’re trying to get every ounce out of every minute that you have in preparation until that last walkthrough or meeting and then you go, “OK, noon.” You wake up [on Saturday], you’re ready to go for pregame meals, breakfast.
Going back to last week, was there ever any talk about maybe not playing a game? Where was the point of no return after so many hours?
Yeah, there was discussion about that, particularly when I wasn’t sure if the field was going to come around for us, which it did, obviously. Here was the interesting point that I brought up to Coach Walters: we both shared the same open date. Not what you want to do, but a possibility. If you get to the end of the season and you’re not playing in a championship game, there’s also that weekend that people have done, so there were some different things kicked around. We both wanted to play the game. For me, it was about field conditions. I’m not sure for them if travel was part of it or what but our kids wanted to play. That was important to me. They really wanted to hang in there and try and play the game. And that’s the way it worked out.
With back-to-back night games now, you probably haven’t gotten to watch much of college football out there on Saturdays?
No. I mean, we’ve got so much going on and the TV we put on a little bit in the offices on Saturday for about 30 minutes in between everything, but you like to get a good win and go home and watch college football. That’s when it feels right.
I saw some Halloween decorations up on somebody’s house in my neighborhood the other day. What’s up with that? Is Amy [Pry] on that?
Listen, I can’t even pull in the garage right now. There’s three boxes that came in on crates that took up the entire bay of the garage, and they had spooky looking stuff on all sides. So I don’t know what’s in it, but I told her I hope you got a couple of assistants.
There’s been some Hokies doing some good things in the NFL. Have you gotten to watch any of that?
We do not, unfortunately, practice on Sundays, tons of meetings. To be honest, as assistant coaches, you grade to film after the game. So those guys were probably in there till midnight grading the film. And then I met with them at 10 o’clock, I met with the defense and I met with the offense. And then it’s full tilt all the way. We had family dinner Sunday after practice where the wives and the kids came in and ate with the team and the coaches, and when you get done with that, you go back to meetings and watch the new opponents, so it’s a full day.
It would be great to get back in the win column this weekend in Piscataway.
This is a great opportunity for us. We would look at it as being 1-0 this week and it’s still about us being better and playing to our potential. We need to do that, we need to merit the takeaways. We need to be able to throw the ball well, we have to find ways to manufacture runs and stay on schedule. I think we can play a little better complementary ball. Whoever does that Saturday is gonna come out with a victory.
How are things going so far a couple of weeks into the season?
Feeling good so far about how I’m hitting the ball and how the special teams are doing, so feeling good.
Co-Specialists of the Week in the ACC. That’s pretty cool.
Yes, sir. It’s really cool. First time in my career. I’m very excited about it.
You also got named a captain again, that had to be pretty cool.
Absolutely. That’s a great honor. That’s one of the biggest things just going into the year. I was just hoping the guys would vote for me again and just nice to know that I earned their respect and earned the staff’s respect also.
How about those gunners you’ve got down there? They really get after it and put you in a good position.
Yes, they do. They did a great job, Cole Beck especially on the play where he laid out and he swatted that ball back [vs. Purdue]. That was incredible. He laid his body on the line and just somehow got that ball to just stick right there inside the five. That was really special.
Do you guys have any kind of a game day routine that you go through?
I’m very routine-based. So I’m going out there and I’m hitting the same amount of punts on each hash and each spot and different locations and getting the same amount of reps with my long snapper versus just reps out of my hand. It’s the same thing for me every single time. So yeah, I’m very routine-based.
Is there a point where you know, ‘Hey, this is gonna be a good game?’
I always like to think that, but especially based on weeks where I’ve had really good practice days, that gives me a little bit more confidence, but going into the gameday, I like I like to think I’m gonna have a good game, good day.
What got you into punting? What made you want to be a punter?
I was a soccer player originally, kind of like every other kicker, punter on this planet, but it was actually funny as I was playing goalie for soccer. I wasn’t usually a goalie and I was hitting a goal kick and the ball just went really far. I didn’t know that I could hit a ball that well, and my dad after the game was like, “You should really think about being a kicker.” And I was like, “What are you talking about?” My whole family is all soccer players. My two sisters played soccer at the Division III level, my parents played soccer in college, just totally a soccer family. So I was like, “All right, I guess I’ll just try this kicking thing”. I said I really wanted to be a kicker in college for a while and then it turns out I could just punt a little bit better and just went with that.
Why do you think that there are so many Aussie punters? We had one in Oscar Bradburn a few years ago.
Well, I think a lot of college coaches like to do the roll punt because it’s tough on the returner. I would say that’s the main thing. I like the American-style punting better. I think that’s the more skilled version. I think that’s how you should punt the ball, but I think a bunch of college coaches like messing up the returner with balls on the ground and different rotations, stuff like that.
Do you remember when Oscar got hurt and you were down at UVa? First game, what was it like for you? Do you remember that very well?
Yeah, I remember it really well. So I didn’t know I was going to be playing until the Friday before the game. And I was so nervous. I was prepared, but I was nervous. Oscar got me ready to go, but to come in for your first game for it to be UVa, that was crazy, but that was good for me really just to see that pressure early in my career.
What was more nerve-wracking: this interview or punting in a game for the Hokies?
I don’t really get too nervous for games. Honestly, if I talk in front of a class, or school or do something like that, it gets me much more nervous than playing in the game.
How do you get that mindset of taking a bit off it and placing the kick where you want it?
That just comes from my preparation throughout the week, just working on different spots on the field. It’s kind of a feel thing, really, it’s how hard I’ve got to swing or where my drop has to be and how I’m aligning my body to directionally punt the ball, so it’s a lot of different factors with that. It’s kind of a feel thing for me and it’s just a reps thing too. If I get a ton of reps in different spots, I’ll feel good about how I have to hit the ball to get it to a certain spot.