Virginia Tech’s lackluster start to the 2019 season has lit a fire under Hokies Twitter, pushing me to run an impromptu Monday Mail for this week.
Thank you to all of those who submitted questions. Let’s dive in.
What does Fuente and Cornelson say about offense struggling against poor defenses? Kansas lights up BC, Georgia State lights up Furman but VT struggles against both.
— bwaterhokie (@bwaterhokie) September 15, 2019
Brad Cornelsen doesn’t really do postgame stuff, nor does he talk to the media much at all. But I did go back through Justin Fuente‘s postgame press conferences and find a few interesting quotes.
“Yeah, we’ve got to be better than that,” Fuente said after Ryan Willis’ four turnovers vs. Boston College. “We’ve got to be more disciplined, we’ve got to have our eyes in the right spot. That’s part of playing quarterback… I still believe Ryan can make plays and take care of the football.”
“We’ve got to do a better job as a staff of giving us opportunities to run the ball,” Fuente said after his team rushed for just 98 yards vs. Boston College. “We’ve got to be better up front, we’ve got to be better at running back in our decisions and what we’re doing.”
And here are a few interesting quotes from Fuente after the Furman game…
“You play through all those ideas in your mind,” Fuente said when asked about making offensive changes at halftime. “It was disappointing that their stemming was causing us to jump offsides. Our defense does it all the time when we practice. That was pretty disappointing. Not all of those sacks are on the offensive line. I don’t know how many there were but obviously it wasn’t very good. We’ve got to understand where we’re protected and where we’re not at quarterback. So yes is the answer. But also, trying to evaluate exactly what’s happening, what we can improve and who needs to do what. So basically, I told the whole team at halftime, ‘We’re down 11 points and we have control of how this goes. We can hang our heads and sulk or we can go compete and do our best to rectify what happened in the first half.’ I don’t know that we wholly rectified it, but we at least played well enough to find a way to get it done.”
“We made a change, we put (Luke) Tenuta in there at right tackle, we got Keshawn more carries and moved forward,” Fuente said of his offense’s third quarter response.
“I would say across the board, we need to play better,” Fuente said about the offense’s performance. “Ryan (Willis) needs to continue to work to improve. We missed the big throw that ended up being an interception. We had the guy on the corner route, it was (Hezekiah Grimsley) I think, we just overthrew him.”
I take a few things away from those quotes — Virginia Tech is struggling to execute on all areas of the offense and he’s very conscious of Willis’ failures through the Hokies’ first three games.
However, Willis sounded more upbeat after his Furman performance, where he finished 17-of-21 for 123 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
“There’s a difference between making a mental mistake and a physical mistake,” Willis told The Athletic (subscription required). “I threw a ball a hair long. (Grimsley) jumped a hair early. It was a bad combination. My eyes were in the right place. I made all my reads today. It’s going to be the best I’ve ever graded out, I already know that ahead of time. What we do during the week it all adds up. I feel like me and the coaching staff are on the same page.”
I’m not sure how Willis is sure that his Furman performance will grade well, considering Willis threw for fewer than 130 yards against an FCS opponent and came close to being benched at halftime as he entered the locker room trailing Furman 14-3.
Virginia Tech’s offense has problems all over the place. Willis isn’t playing well, the offensive line is struggling and two of the team’s best playmakers, Damon Hazelton and Keshawn King, are battling injuries. Hazelton hasn’t even seen the field yet this season.
There are lots of players out for an undefined period of time. Do you have any thoughts/ insights on Garbutt (day-to-day?), DeBose, TJ Jackson, Jalen Holston (all season?)
— Jim Key (@_JimKey) September 16, 2019
Rumors are swirling about Damon Hazelton being in Fuente’s doghouse. He hasn’t been seen on the bench or stands in the first three games. Do you believe he will be the first star to transfer off this team this year? — Steve B.
Unfortunately, I do not have any real insight into these injuries. The team is very guarded about injury information and the journalists on the beat struggle to give the updates the readers want.
I would suspect that the TyJuan Garbutt injury isn’t too serious and that Garbutt will be back vs. Duke. I’d also bet that Hazelton will make his season debut vs. the Blue Devils. I don’t believe Hazelton is a dog house, I think the team is being extra cautious about his hamstring and they are saving him for the tougher part of the schedule, which comes after the bye.
I’m most confident that Jalen Holston will not play this season. Holston had some sort of knee injury that required surgery and at this point in his career, it’s not worth rushing him back. Holston can sit out the rest of the season and take a redshirt season, giving him two more years of eligibility. Technically, he could come back vs. Georgia Tech on Nov. 16 and still be under the five-game threshold for a redshirt season.
What’s been the story with Devon Hunter being buried on the depth chart? Just a numbers game, adjusting to new posn, or slow development?
— Dave Warner (@davewarner99) September 16, 2019
Devon Hunter’s situation stems from two main things — he hasn’t picked up the college game quickly and he’s stuck behind Reggie Floyd at rover.
Hunter battled injuries prior to his freshman season, holding him out of practices and putting him behind the 8-ball. He still didn’t pick things up last season and decided to sit the bench for the rest of the season to lengthen his college career.
This season, he’s directly behind Floyd on the depth chart and gets to play on special teams. His role this season should prepare him for 2020, when Floyd graduates and moves on. Hunter’s physique and athletic ability make him a better fit for this position than whip or free safety, which he’s tested prior to this season.
Ultimately, I think Hunter will be a good player. By next season, he’ll be entering his fourth season in the program. Players as athletic and steadfast as Hunter tend to eventually pick things up and become good college players. I believe Hunter will be a breakout player for the Hokies next season. But until then, he needs to continue learning from Floyd.
Other than Clemson Virginia looks like team to beat in ACC this year, you think this is year both streaks end. No bowl & lose to Va ? What would that do to Fuentes status. Because of big buy out he stays but needs to hire new OC & DC replace Bud. #Hokies
— T-Bone (@hallberg8147) September 16, 2019
I’ll be honest, I don’t think Virginia is very good. Their game vs. Florida State was a matchup of two sloppy, inexperienced teams that are benefitting from weak schedules.
Virginia may be the best team in the Coastal this season by default. North Carolina got exposed by Wake Forest this weekend, Duke hasn’t beaten anyone yet, Pittsburgh and Georgia Tech stink, Miami’s only victory is against Bethune-Cookman and the Hokies are battling their own issues. Virginia, meanwhile, narrowly defeated an incompetent Florida State team in Charlottesville, inspiring their fans to rush the field at Scott Stadium after winning a game in which they were favored to win.
As it was last year, both streaks are in jeopardy this season. Because Virginia Tech plays two FCS teams this season, the Hokies actually need to win seven games in order to be bowl eligible. Only one FCS win counts towards bowl eligibility each season and Tech still has FCS Rhode Island on the schedule. Can you look at the remainder of the Hokies’ schedule and find six sure wins? I can’t. Based on what we’ve seen, it will be a grind for sure.
As sloppy as the ‘Hoos looked vs. Florida State, Virginia is still 3-0 and is playing inspired football. They get Virginia Tech in Charlottesville this season and that might be just enough to finally break their Commonwealth Cup drought.
Let’s say the disaster season happens — Virginia Tech finishes outside bowl eligibility and loses to Virginia, breaking the two streaks that have defined this program for roughly two decades. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster is already on his way out and the only question would be whether or not Justin Fuente would follow him out the door.
Fuente’s buyout seemingly would prevent that from happening, as the Tech athletic department simply doesn’t have the cabbage to cover a $15 million bill. Whit Babcock would find himself between a rock in a hard place, either eating a $15 million tab just a couple years after running the department in the red or leaving an unpopular and struggling head coach in place for another season.
I honestly don’t know what happens in that scenario. Neither option is a good one and both is guaranteed to drive a steak directly into the middle of the fan base.
For the record, I don’t think we’ll reach this scenario. But if Virginia Tech hits DEFCON 1, expect this offseason to be the worst in program history.