Virginia Tech’s game vs Virginia last Friday night came down to the wire as the Hokies kicked a field goal and forced a fumble in overtime to keep the Commonwealth Cup for the fifteenth straight season.
Coach Justin Fuente took the podium on Monday to speak about preparation Marshall (8-3) this upcoming weekend. Tech (5-6) hosts the Thundering Herd at noon in Lane Stadium. The current line is VT -4.5, while ESPN gives Tech a 69.8% chance to win.
Here are the notes from the press conference.
Fuente started off the presser by thanking everyone for coming out to the game on Friday night and spoke about the preparation and team meetings this past weekend.
“We spent a portion of the day yesterday and today looking at them (Marshall). They’ve always been a very well-coached team.”
“This is a unique game; we are excited to get to play in it,” said Justin Fuente. “Whit (Babcock) and his staff deserve a tremendous amount of appreciation and respect for getting this thing done. He was in a tough situation between the way East Carolina handled this whole deal and between our record. For him to get this done and for us to have this opportunity, we’re excited about it and I think our student body is excited as well.
Fuente went on to add that at noon, the time this press conference took place, 7,500 student tickets had already been purchased for the game this Saturday – tickets were available starting at 10am.
“It should be a unique atmosphere and our kids are excited to play in it. Obviously we know we are in playoff mode here – if we win, we get to keep playing and stay together; if we don’t, then we’re done. It’s going to be a tremendous challenge to get this thing pulled off.”
Scouting report on Marshall
While games are usually on the schedule for at least a year or more in advance, Tech’s game against Marshall was announced just last week, a few days before Tech was slated to play Virginia.
Fuente stated it isn’t too difficult to put together a scouting report on Marshall with this little amount of time.
“Teams change so much in the offseason that we usually prepare for the first four opponents or wherever the natural break in the schedule occurs, unless there is a special reason, like the triple option. When you get towards the end of the schedule, you have done very little work on those guys during the offseason anyway.”
“It’s really not particularly unique; obviously the situation is unique and the makeup game and knowing for sure we are playing a week before the game is unique but in terms of preparation, it’s the same as before.”
Under the radar plays
“We all watch special teams – all of the special teams teaching clips are as a team. Offensively and defensively, we watch those as a position group or by side of the ball. In our team meeting, I’ll put out some clips I think are worth teaching off of,” said Fuente. “Ryan (Willis) chasing down the corner on the interception right before the half, Dalton’s (Keene) block was one of those plays. There’s also a play that Ricky (Walker) makes in the possession that we hold them to a field goal at the end of the game.”
At the end of the first half, Willis threw an out-route to wide receiver Hezekiah Grimsley with 6 seconds to go that was intercepted by Virginia cornerback Tim Harris. Willis turned and sprinted after Harris, chasing him down and tackling him inside the ten yard line, saving Virginia Tech six points. It’s a play like Willis’ that Fuente was talking about.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Willis handed the ball off to running back DeShawn McClease who ran around the left end of the line of scrimmage and into the end zone for a touchdown to put the Hokies up 23-14. It was on this play that Keene blocked both the outside linebacker and the safety for the Cavaliers, giving McClease an easier route into the end zone.
“Having the ability and confidence level to continue to get through adversity is something we are trying to get done and there were some good examples of that throughout the game.”
“I believe that all of those fourth down decisions are different year by year. We have all of the statistical data going into the game,” Fuente stated. When you go for it on fourth and two and run the quarterback up the middle and barely get the first down, that sticks in your mind on the next fourth and short. When you throw an interception right before half and it almost gets run back for a touchdown, that sticks with you later in the game. Trying to continue to put your team in a position to have a chance to win is what you’re trying to do. In some games and situations, you are more aggressive. Do we go back and evaluate all of those? You bet. If I had known the field goal wasn’t going to go in, we would’ve gone for it. We punted the ball on the 36-yard line and we’ve had a good red zone put team since we’ve been here. If you had asked me, I would’ve said they get the ball inside the ten-yard line. Instead, we punted it out of the end zone. We second guess every play call in very honest ways. Sometimes you kick yourself for the decisions you made and sometimes you feel good about them.”
Gut check for young defense
“I think it was a gut check for our defense when they had the ball on the 11 yard line and we have to hold them to a field goal or the ball game is essentially over,” said Justin Fuente. “Statistically, if we didn’t hold them to a field goal, it was going to be almost impossible. To answer the challenge like that, I think it’s pretty remarkable of what we’ve seen from our guys in terms of willingness to go try and lay it all on the line.”
The Hokies threw an interception inside their own 20-yard line but the defense was able to hold the Cavaliers to just a field goal, down 28-24. A touchdown would have extended the UVA lead to 35-24, almost putting the game out of reach for the Hokies. Instead, Tech’s defense held Virginia to a field goal and stayed in the game, even retaining some momentum.
The unguided missile that is Dax Hollifield
“You all are tired of me saying this but the thing he does do is pour his heart and soul into whatever he takes on. He’s a very good student and he is working to become a very good football player and he pours his heart and soul into both of those,” Coach Fuente said.
Fuente agreed with the comment that it is tough to get defensive players to play with speed and that Dax understood it right away. Fuente called Hollifield an “unguided missile sometimes, always playing with his hair on fire.”
“His hobby is welding and he isn’t an average welder. He’s really, really good. It’s one of the things about him that makes him unique is whatever he does take on, he has the ability to pour everything he has into that activity. We’re seeing him gradually reap the benefits of the hard work he is putting in,” Fuente said.
Going into detail on Hollifield’s hobby of welding, Fuente said, “When I went to go see him at school, it was one of the neatest things I have ever done. The pride in his face when he took me into his shop class and introduced me to his teacher… that’s just how he is. Not everyone can be like that. Very few people are in my opinion, that can really just devote time and energy into whatever they choose.”
Bud in the booth
“No, it doesn’t feel weird, and no, I’ve never had a defensive coordinator in the booth before,” Fuente stated.
“It’s not that big of a deal. If that’s what he feels best about, I’m all for it. It hasn’t caused a glitch anywhere; most of those guys are usually on the field. Having been a guy that has called plays on the field and in the box, I personally like to be upstairs than on the field. I don’t know if he is going to do it again this week – it’s pretty simple,” Fuente said.
Bud Foster has been up in the coaches’ booth for the past two football games due to illness and the doctors recommending that it is best he stays out of the cold and in the booth for those two games. Foster could potentially be back on the field for Marshall this Saturday.
DeShawn McClease and run game
“Yes, it’s been a health deal with DeShawn,” Fuente said. He agreed with the statement that McClease has been held back this season due to injury. McClease has been dinged up for a few games this season and been unavailable.
“I was pleased we were able to make a little hay in the run game,” Fuente said. “Tre (Turner and Hezy (Grimsley) both had nice runs on the perimeter which I think helps us run the ball inside. We felt like that was our best matchup and it was good to see it come through.”
The Hokies finished with 254 yards on the ground on Friday evening, the most since rushing for 318 against Old Dominon in the third game of the season.
Controlling the emotion
“That is an element of what we have to deal with,” said Justin Fuente, on controlling emotion from Friday night’s game and making sure the players’ tanks aren’t empty going into Marshall on Saturday. There were many celebrations in Blacksburg after the Hokies extended the Commonwealth Cup streak to 15 years after defeating Virginia.
“In our meeting yesterday, I said, ‘guys, I gave you Saturday off to enjoy this and pat yourself on the back. It’s going to take the same type of effort, intensity, emotion and discipline to try and extend this other streak this weekend. Every moment you spend from here on out in this meeting you spend thinking about what happened last Friday is wasted time. We have to be able to turn the page to the next game and understand for us to mature as a football team, part of maturing is handling your business. We certainly handled plenty of disappointment, now let’s handle some celebration and turn the page and get ready for the next one,” Fuente said.
Big plays from Tre Turner
Freshman wide receiver Tre Turner has come up with some huge plays for the Hokies this season, giving teammates a reason to hand him the name, “Big play Tre.”
Turner has four rushes for 68 yards and one touchdown on the season while recording 22 catches for 396 yards and three touchdowns on the season, including his one-handed catch against Virginia that was number one on Sportscenter’s top 10 plays.
“The two things that stood out for me, outside of his athletic ability, was that he was a highly intelligent, really sharp kid and his high school coach said wonderful things about him, from a competitive standpoint. His coach said he was really a true leader and competitor for his high school,” Fuente said. “To see how he has embraced the competitiveness of this and will eventually be a good leader for us has been really nice.”