Disaster vs. Duke Depicts Virginia Tech’s Downward Spiral

The time comes in every unsuccessful relationship when you realize that things just aren’t going to work out. Part of you still thinks there’s a slim chance that things might turn the corner and all the heartbreak and struggle will be worth it. But deep down, you know that things have reached their breaking point. It’s just a matter of time before both sides head their separate ways.

Virginia Tech’s Friday night game vs. Duke served as that moment for me. The Hokies were taken to the woodshed by the Blue Devils, as Tech returned from a bye week to lose an embarrassing 45-10 contest in front of their home crowd on national television.

The Hokies came to play at the outset. The defense forced consecutive three-and-outs to start the game and the offense had moved the ball and secured a slim 3-0 lead. Tech had momentum and looked like the better team.

But then, another turnover kicked the Hokies right in the gut, sucking all energy and momentum from the sideline. Duke proceeded to score on seven of their next eight possessions, six of which were touchdowns. Virginia Tech was outclassed in every way. There was no doubt who the better team was and it wasn’t Virginia Tech.

Friday night’s defeat ends any serious hope that Virginia Tech had of winning the ACC Coastal Division, which is arguably the worst division in the Power 5 this season. But Friday’s defeat may have also been the straw that broke the camel’s back when it comes to Justin Fuente’s tenure in Blacksburg.

Here are the facts regarding Fuente’s recent job performance…

  • Virginia Tech is 8-9 since the start of last season. Their eight wins are against the following teams: Florida State, William and Mary, Duke, North Carolina, Virginia, Marshall, Furman and Old Dominion.
  • Since 2018, the Hokies are 4-6 vs. ACC opponents.
  • Since last season, Virginia Tech’s point differential against ACC opponents and Notre Dame is minus-105.
  • Virginia Tech is 1-4 in home ACC contests since the start of last season.
  • Friday night’s loss to Duke is the worst loss in program history since 1974.
  • Tech’s 6-7 record in 2018 was the program’s first losing season since 1992, when the Hokies finished 2-8.
  • According to the 247 Sports Composite rating, Virginia Tech’s recruiting class has ranked in the following spots since 2017: 26th, 24th and 26th. Tech’s ranking for the 2020 class thus far is 72nd.

Admittedly, Fuente is dealing with one of the youngest teams in the ACC, starting freshmen and sophomores at several positions on both sides of the ball. But does this look like a program headed in the right direction?

Fuente has achieved a lot in Blacksburg. He turned a senior-laded roster accustomed to losing into the 2016 ACC Coastal champs. He nursed a young and injured team in 2017 to a nine-win season. He’s handled the Frank Beamer transition as well as anyone could have asked for, and Fuente has played an instrumental role in securing donations to improve the program’s facilities and resources, namely the weight room inside the Merryman Athletic Center and the Student-Athlete Performance Center. Fuente even rallied a dead-in-the-water 4-6 team in 2018 to somehow extend the program’s record bowl streak, which now stands at 26 consecutive seasons.

And yet, Fuente’s on-field performance is nose-diving. And it’s a trend that’s been happening for nearly a calendar year.

Friday night’s game vs. Duke was a chance for Fuente and his extraordinarily young team to circle the wagons and knock off a team that entered Friday night’s game outside the top-50 on offense and defense. Virginia Tech could have hushed their critics and rallied a weary fan base. Instead, the Hokies were spanked for three quarters and looked like they didn’t belong on the field.

There are a lot of specifics to discuss from Friday night. The offense deserves heavy criticism, gaining just 259 yards for the entire game. Ryan Willis was benched multiple times for Hendon Hooker and neither quarterback produced efficiently. The defense folded like a paper bag after their hot start, allowing a whopping 234 yards on the ground and forcing zero turnovers. Through four games, Virginia Tech’s turnover differential is minus-8.

All these topics will be discussed by media outlets and pundits far more intelligent than me and fans should pay attention.

But the takeaway from Friday night’s mind-numbing loss is this — Virginia Tech is in a downward spiral as a football program and there’s little reason to believe that the current regime as presently constructed is going to turn things around.

There’s no easy solution to this. Fuente’s early successes earned him two small contract extensions, tying him to the Hokies’ hip through the 2024 season. If Tech wants out of the deal during or after this season, there’s a $15 million tab waiting. If Tech waits until next season, the tab only decreases to $12.5 million. Both of those figures are steep for an athletic department tight on cash.

Virginia Tech director of athletics Whit Babcock now finds himself stuck in a situation he helped create. Does Tech rip off the band-aid and part ways with Fuente now, or does Babcock hold out hope and risk plunging Tech further into football despair? These are the options and neither present a good solution.

Virginia Tech faces Miami next week on Oct. 5. The Hokies haven’t won in Miami since 2013. After that, Tech faces FCS Rhode Island and then hosts North Carolina for homecoming.

Over the next three weeks, Fuente needs to show his fans and detractors, his benefactors and his boss that he has things under control. Even if Tech goes 1-2 down this stretch, at least show that this team has a pulse. Give the fan base a reason to be optimistic about next season. Because right now, a large portion of the Tech fan base is getting the feeling that this relationship is doomed to fail.

5 thoughts on “Disaster vs. Duke Depicts Virginia Tech’s Downward Spiral”

  1. Good article, Ricky. I want to focus on the coaching. This was very disappointing on both sides. It feels as though Fu and Bud are so worried their young team they are trying too hard to teach them fundamentals rather than game planning and letting them play. You can’t be afraid to allow kids a chance to be great and prove your nervousness wrong. And when you hold on too tight, you end up sucking confidence out of young players. Let me put it this way: I’ll take three touchdowns if we have to have a few turnovers to get them with this team, then confidence will build, turnovers or not, and this team will be much better. The scouting reports and reviews said that Duke’s QB was solid, but that he had issues when pressured. How do we go an entire game rushing only 3 almost every play? Did Bud not do his homework? The few times we pressured Harris it ended with an incomplete pass or a stop. We let a 5th year senior QB have all days to abuse us. Play it safe and fall back into a defensive stance? How’d that work out? Attack! If it fails, so what! You WILL make some plays, and that’s the only way to get a young team confident. They may lose, but they’ll make some noise. The other part of the scouting report is that YOU CAN’T RUN ON DUKE, and their CBs are young and a possible weakness. Alabama couldn’t run on Duke, and we thought we could? We ran the ball 43 times, and only threw the ball 20 times!!! This is horrible coaching. Fu is so afraid of losing, he isn’t playing to win. Lastly, Cornelson. God bless him, I’m not sure he knows what he’s doing. I mean, I’m no x’s and o’s guy but every play call is 100% predictable, and it hearkens back to Stinespring days but without a Bud in his prime to bail him out. Literally, every time one of our running backs has a great run, Cornelson immediately runs the ball again with the exact same play or a variation of it. It NEVER works. Why? Because we aren’t a good running team, and because the other team KNOWS that VT will run it again because we get excited that we just ran it good once. This is a perfect time for a play action. Example: King runs for 30 yards. Team marches up to line, same formation, quick snap, and instead of handing it off AGAIN, fake the hand off and play action would take the other team completely off guard. We have never done this and for the life of me I can’t figure out why. It’s a microcosm of VT’s coaches not having a feel for the game, and playing not to lose rather than playing to win. Dictating what the other team will do and them doing it better is better than staying on your heals and hoping you can execute. Attack, guys. Stop playing JV ball. Create some formations and plays that are creative and if the players screw up, oh well. But if you don’t give them the chance they’ll NEVER gain confidence. At this point, you need to take the seatbelts off.

  2. I think Bud needs to go and soon. Like right now. Yes, the Offense has not been great and at times anemic, but the real difference in these last 2 seasons has been the D. We cannot stop anyone and thus we have had these blow outs . Over the last 17 games, we have allowed 30 pts or more 10 times. Forty or more 5 times. That is not Lunch Pail Defense. And its not due to young players. Bud is getting out coached and badly at times.
    Last Friday’s game was really bad as Duke just out-coached us. Too many plays the team wasn’t in the right set up or play call and Duke just took advantage. For example, Harris’ long TD run. He ran where no one was and it was not an issue of blown gap control, as Bud likes to say. We were stacked to Harris’ left and he just ran to his right where we didn’t have any defenders.

    Don’t get me wrong in that I believe our O is good – its not but I believe the real difference these two season has been our poor D. We just never were this bad – not in my over 30 years of watching. And I think Bud has packed it in already. I saw his fire go out last year . I thought it was health reasons that kept him from showing the emotions but this year I haven’t seen a return to old Bud. He is just going through the motions and because of that, he needs to just go ahead and retire now.

    1. My friend, both sides of the ball is poor. It is just easier on the eyes to see the defense getting crush, but the offense is just as inept. Cannot blame the poor performance on one unit as either is not doing it’s job.

      1. My friend, I thought I made it clear that I think that both sides are poor. We haven’t had a good O for quite some time (probably since TT). In fact, very inept at times to put it kindly . And we were inept with an “experienced” O-line with Jrs. and Srs. Which is much different that this year with playing two true freshman on the O-line.

        However, the real difference these past two years has been our inept D. Bud was great for many years, but time has caught up with him (along with the tapes!). These days, the book is out on our D. We haven’t been able to beat a running QB for quite some time and guess what – now nearly every decent team has a running QB. Which is much different from years past. We no longer have the days of playing a pro-style QB most weeks with an occasional running QB. Its quite the opposite these days. We are getting beat and beat bad on a regular basis because like an old dog, Bud hasn’t been able to come up with a new scheme (or players) that can defend the versatile QB.

        I could go on and on, but truth be told, our D is no longer feared. And that, my friend, is the real difference between 5 years ago and now.

    2. Bud Foster is still the best D-Coordinator in the country! The problem is that he has NO talent to work with. Fuentes has run off every good player that was recruited by Beamer. And Fuentes recruiting classes have been pure crap. There is a reason VT had no players drafted last year for the first time in forever. Bud is not the problem. In fact he should be elevated to Head Coach and given an opportunity to restore the program to its past glory.

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