Virginia Tech, one of the youngest teams in college football with a backup QB at the helm, lost to an experienced, playoff-contending, top 5 Notre Dame team on Saturday night in a result that wasn’t surprising to most analysts.
The reaction among a very small group of Hokie fans after losing to a team that is loaded with veteran players at all levels, has great depth, and is one of 3 or 4 teams that can challenge Alabama after VT started 2-0 in ACC play with a pair of road wins at Duke and Florida State, after losing almost the entire starting defense from the 2017 season, after 19 wins in the first two seasons of the Justin Fuente era that inherited a 7-8 win team that kept the bowl streak alive in part because of how weak the ACC Coastal was at times: burn the thing down.
Wait, what? Yes, we know you’re frustrated because Virginia Tech lost on Saturday night, every Hokie fan is a little disappointed because they’re a fan. It’s part of the title of being fan, but that doesn’t mean the facts back up these ridiculous claims either and that definitely doesn’t fit reality.
Yes, your instant reaction can feel right in the moment but if you’re still thinking that, your opinion doesn’t align with the actual facts of this Virginia Tech program and the normalcy of college football as a whole.
Yeah, I know I probably shouldn’t respond to this because we all know the ridiculousness of these statements, but some things just need to be said and be put to bed before ridiculous false realities pop up and make clarifying things a lot harder than I personally would like them to be. So here we go.
Instant Reaction: Justin Fuente and Virginia Tech can’t win a big home game.
Fact 1: Virginia Tech hasn’t won a home game over a ranked team since 2009.
Fact 2: Justin Fuente is 0-2 against ranked teams at home, both of whom were top 6 teams.
Yes, Justin Fuente has lost both of their home games against ranked opponents, but take a look at the two teams that VT lost two: a #2 Clemson team in 2017 and a #6 Notre Dame team Saturday. There may be 10=15 programs in the country who could be reasonably expected to win 1 or those games or at least contend in both of those games even with them being at their home field.
Yes, Virginia Tech has struggled at home not beating a ranked opponent since 2009, but VT also had quite the bad four-year run from 2012-2015 when this team was simply trying to go to bowl games.
Also one of other note, Justin Fuente didn’t coach at Virginia Tech till the 2016 season…
“This is my third year here. We lost to Notre Dame and Clemson in my time here. The way I see it is, we have yet to knock off a top-five team in Lane Stadium. I don’t think the narrative that we don’t play well on the big stage is true. I was told the West Virginia game was a big game last year until we won. I was told the Florida State game was a big game until we won. The facts are we haven’t beaten one of the cream of the crop teams. We tried very hard to do that today. Through some of their talent, execution and precision and a lack of our execution are the reasons we fell short. There are a lot of things that I’m really proud of. This team is continuing to learn, get better and understand what it takes to play at that level,” Fuente said.
The fact of the matter is that Justin Fuente has exceeded expectations for his first two seasons and who didn’t have the Hokies with 2 losses before the season at this point in October. In addition, Virginia Tech has shown they can win big games on big stages (though the ABC primetime Saturday night stage has seen them go 0-4 under Fuente in non-conference championships).
In addition, if end of season rankings were counted, Virginia Tech would actually have a win over a ranked team under Fuente when the Hokies beat Miami on Thursday night during Fuente’s first season. That Miami team wasn’t ranked at the time, but finished the season in the top 20.
Is there room for improvement for the Hokies in big home games? Plenty. But the other fact is that this is a building program that has faced two national title contenders at home and then a bunch of unranked foes. Yes, VT needs to breakthrough at some point and beat the “cream of the crop” as Fuente said, but the gap between the competition in their regular home games and their 2 biggest ones under Fuente is wider than the gap between Virginia Tech and UVA football over the past 13 years.
In addition, Virginia Tech should have another shot at this when Miami comes to town in late November in what sets up to likely be a de facto ACC Coastal Championship game. Let’s see some more data when an extremely young team is playing in a big game not against the #6 team in the country that is full of experienced players, and when that same young team has almost a full season of experience under their belts.
Instant Reaction: Why isn’t Virginia Tech’s defense playing like they did against Florida State?
Fact 1: Since the end of last season, Virginia Tech lost 7 possible 2018 defensive starters.
Fact 2: Virginia Tech only has 1 significant senior contributor.
Virginia Tech came out firing with a tremendous defensive performance against Florida State, but any realistic expectations would have known that the ups and downs would be significant for one of America’s youngest defense, even if that season opener skewed expectations.
Part of that is due to the fact that this Hokies’ defense has lost 7 potential starters for this season since the end of last season.
First, Tremaine Edmunds, Terrell Edmunds, and Tim Settle all chose to leave early for the NFL Draft. Then, Jeremy Webb suffered a season-ending injury while Adonis Alexander left for the NFL Supplemental Draft after he was set to be ruled academically ineligible. Later in the summer, Mook Reynolds was kicked off the team and after the loss to Old Dominion, Trevon Hill was kicked off the team. You could argue that this number should be 8 as Vinny Mihota has struggled to regain his form while recovering from his knee injury balanced with a move inside.
Not only did Virginia Tech lose a massive amount of defensive starters from last year’s team, they’re also down 8 players that, when coaches look at their potential future depth charts, would have been realistically seen as starters for a full season barring injury. There is not a single team in America that likely wouldn’t struggle dealing with that outside of maybe Alabama.
Not only do the Hokies not have the starting defense that you would expect to have, but the Hokies simply don’t have many experienced contributors. Ricky Walker is the only senior starter on the Hokies’ defense and with Vinny Mihota still recovering from injury and receiving limited reps, Walker is the only significant senior contributor on the whole team. Outside of Walker, Reggie Floyd and Houshun Gaines are the only other defensive starters that aren’t freshmen or sophomores with Jovonn Quillen being the only other junior or senior major contributor.
Add in Xavier Burke and the Hokies have 5 juniors or seniors out of 22 defensive players on their two-deep. I don’t have any in-depth information, but I would bet that’s the lowest number of juniors and seniors on a defensive two-deep in America and it’s probably not even close.
Bud Foster is one of the best defensive coordinators of all-time, but this is the type of challenge that requires time and will have plenty of growing pains even for one of the best defensive coordinators of all-time. That’s just the reality even if the opener skewed your expectations.
Instant Reaction: If Justin Fuente is good at his job, shouldn’t his recruits instantly be great?
Fact 1: No, football players take time to develop. Few are instantly great.
Fact 2: Look at Notre Dame.
Most freshmen don’t come in the second half of the national championship and rally the team like Tua Tagovailoa or almost run for 2,000 yards like Jonathan Taylor. Players take time to not only become more talented players but also develop into consistant, reliable players. Whether your an offensive lineman, wide receiver, or cornerback; it takes time to develop as a player whether that’s a year or multiple years as is the case for most college football players.
The best example of this right now in college football was Virginia Tech’s opponent Saturday night, Notre Dame.
For those who don’t remember, Virginia Tech went to South Bend with a veteran team and beat a soon-to-finish 4-8 Notre Dame in a dramatic 34-31 comeback win. After that season, question flew around whether Brian Kelly was still the right man for the job.
Two years later, it’s clear Kelly was the right man still for that job and that he simply had what Virginia Tech has right now, an extremely young football team.
Back in 2016, Julian Love and Troy Pride Jr, the Irish’s starting CB duo against Virginia Tech, started 11 games between the two of them (Love-8, Pride-3). Meanwhile, star DT Jerry Tillery started 11 games as a true sophomore while starting LB Drue Tranquill (playing in a whip LB type role) started every game as a redshirt sophomore.
During that season, Notre Dame had their most tackles by true freshmen in the secondary with over 130 tackles which included now starting safety Jalen Elliott in addition to Love and Pride. Overall, the Fighting Irish had eight true freshmen on defense who played at least eight games.
Offensively, Dexter Williams was third among RBs on the Fighting Irish in carries and rushing yards as a true sophomore. Now starting receivers Miles Boykin and Chris Finke received some reps with both finishing the season with at least six receptions. The Fighting Irish’s leading WR was a sophomore in Eqanimeous St. Brown who is now a rookie with the Green Bay Packers. In addition, a sophomore RB led the Fighting Irish in now Philadelphia Eagles RB Josh Adams.
Notre Dame struggled in 2016, but they did so with a team full of potential (as they showed against VT), but full of the type of inconsistency that causes you to lose to better teams. However, like most top level programs with very good coaches, those players developed and now, with most of those players being upperclassmen, that 4-8 2016 team has supplied the Fighting Irish with possibly their best team of the 21st Century.
Now some may question whether Justin Fuente has developed anyone, but look at Virginia Tech’s wide receiver corps which is clearly as deep as it may have been ever been. Steven Peoples has gone from a guy who would get you 3 whether you needed 1 or 5 to a guy who has been able to make some big runs in important situations (41-yard carry vs. ND, 87-yard TD vs. ODU). Virginia Tech’s offensive line has not been perfect, but this offensive line also looks like one of VT’s better offensive lines of the past decade.
Meanwhile, the fact that the Hokies have an even competent defense right now with the young guys that they have is a testament to some of the basic development of young guys like Rayshard Ashby, Divine Deablo, Khalil Ladler, and Jarrod Hewitt. Imagine how good they can be as a unit if they develop like so many young players who gain experience early in their careers have under Bud Foster (see Stroman, Greg).
Of course, this is where Justin Fuente and his staff will now make their money. If they don’t develop these guys, then we can have a different conversation in a couple years but based on what we’ve seen in general from Fuente and Bud Foster, there’s no reason for the ridiculous instant reaction about Fuente’s ability that he has already proven wrong by getting talented athletes and developing them into really good football players.
There are some rightful critiques including the terrible playcalling when you have three downs to go one yard for a touchdown (just run a QB sneak with Ryan Willis or even Hendon Hooker, you’ll probably get it), the offensive line penalties that created some missed opportunities, or the lack of discipline and miscommunications that saw players overrun the ball creating a hole or two players bite on a QB scramble leaving a wide open receiver for an easy touchdown.
However, to say it’s time to burn it down when Virginia Tech lost to a team that will likely go undefeated and reach the playoff when you have arguably the youngest team in America and have to turn to a QB who had over double-digit starts at his previous power 5 stop yet didn’t have a single win simply doesn’t match up with the factual reality of Virginia Tech football.
If you have the facts though to back up your opinion, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to see the case you have that states otherwise.