Tech Takeaways: Virginia Tech Finds Futility Under Fuente Once Again

Yeah, that will just about do it.

I wrote back in 2019 about Virginia Tech’s abysmal loss to Duke and how it might serve as a tipping point in the Justin Fuente era. That felt like a loss that Fuente and his staff simply wouldn’t be able to come back from.

While that might have been premature, I’m now confident that what I was feeling was justified.

The Hokies entered their matchup on Saturday against Liberty as 14.5-point favorites, a rarity against a top-25 ranked opponent. The Flames were 6-0, but they achieved that mark beating exclusively awful competition.

Virginia Tech was supposed to slap Liberty back into reality, bringing them back down to Earth. Instead, the Hokies found themselves yet again upset by an inferior opponent.

The manner in which it happened was the most frustrating. Virginia Tech’s defense leaked like a sieve on Liberty’s nine-play, 72-yard drive to give Liberty a 35-28 lead with 1:41 left to go. After the Hokies quickly marched down the field and tied the game, Liberty again moved down the field towards the redzone.

With just a few seconds remaining, Liberty lined up for a 59-yard field goal attempt, only to have it blocked and returned for a touchdown by Jermaine Waller. But all of it was for naught, thanks to Fuente‘s timeout before the kick.

Liberty took another play, completed a pass for eight yards and won on a walk-off 51-yard field goal by Alex Barbir.

It was as heartbreaking of a loss as one could imagine, something Virginia Tech fans are becoming all too familiar with.

The fanbase is checking out

Virginia Tech will not win an ACC Championship under Fuente. They may never play for an ACC Championship again under him either.

Fuente’s Hokies have consistently declined in his tenure. The program has looked worse and worse on the field and on the recruiting trail, save for a 6-1 stretch in 2019. Fuente reached his peak in 2016 and he is nowhere close to hitting that mark again.

For one reason or another, Virginia Tech has an issue underperforming. This is a consistent issue, one that shows up multiple times every season.

In 2016, the Hokies fell flat on their face in shocking losses to Syracuse and Georgia Tech.

In 2017, the Hokies got run off their home turf by Clemson, blown out on the road against Miami and lost in knuckleheaded fashion vs. Georgia Tech.

In 2018, Virginia Tech lost to Old Dominion, looked lifeless for most of the season and needed a rescheduled game against Marshall to become bowl eligible.

In 2019, Fuente oversaw the worst home loss in school history in a 35-point loss to Duke. Virginia also ended their losing streak against the Hokies, costing Tech an ACC Coastal Championship.

So far in 2020, Virginia Tech has been upset twice — Wake Forest held the Hokies to just 16 points and Liberty bested Virginia Tech as two-touchdown underdogs.

These monumental disappointments year after year have soured the Virginia Tech fanbase, who has yearned for a landmark win to signify progress. Fuente hasn’t earned that landmark win, and his teams have far too many landmark defeats. In the last three seasons, Virginia Tech has lost to every other FBS team in the Commonwealth.

Fuente and his staff will not regain the trust of the Virginia Tech fanbase. Fans do not directly result in wins and losses, but it’s a real sign that this marriage is doomed for divorce.

Hamilton hasn’t justified his promotion

Justin Hamilton‘s first season as defensive coordinator has been quite awful.

Virginia Tech has consistently looked lost on defense, allowing points in droves. The Hokies have struggled tackling, found themselves out of position several times each game and have ultimately failed to generate defensive stops when necessary.

Hamilton was billed as an up-and-comer of sorts, but his unit has consistently struggled. Their best performance came in the season-opener against NC State, a game in which Hamilton was sitting at home and many of his players were out because of COVID-19.

I think it was reasonable to expect Hamilton to take his lumps in Year One, but we have not seen enough signs of hope to justify being patient. Hamilton’s defensive backs have played worse as the season has progressed, his linebackers have played poorly for most of the season and his defensive line has been far too inconsistent.

Hamilton was clearly unprepared for Saturday, as he allowed Liberty’s do-it-all quarterback Malik Willis to complete 20 of his 30 throws for three touchdowns, all the while Willis was running for 108 yards and another score.

After Fuente’s timeout that called back the blocked field goal, Hamilton’s unit played prevent defense with just a handful of seconds left on the clock. Willis fired a quick strike to CJ Yarbrough, putting the Flames in position for Barbir’s game-winning field goal. Hamilton’s defensive call literally gave Liberty a better chance of winning the game.

No time for weeping

Virginia Tech doesn’t have time to lick their wounds and heal from this loss.  They host Miami next Saturday.

There is no realistic path for the Hokies to pick up a win in that game. The Hurricanes boast one of the better offenses the Hokies will see all season and their defense has enough talent to bottle up Virginia Tech’s offense. Even if Khalil Herbert returns from his hamstring injury, the Hokies’ goose might be cooked.

After Miami, Virginia Tech travels to Pitt, who picked up a resurgent win over Florida State this weekend. The Hokies then have an open date before back-to-back games against Clemson and Virginia. Both of those teams are trending upward, while the Hokies are spiraling down.

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