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.