Virginia Tech HC Justin Fuente Press Conference Notebook 9/9/19
After the Virginia Tech Hokies picked up their first victory of the season on Saturday against Old Dominion to the score of 31-17, Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente headed to the podium on Monday to answer questions about last week’s result and a look ahead to this week’s matchup versus Furman. Here are some of the highlights of his remarks.
Update on Damon Hazelton’s Injury
One player that has been absent for the Hokies so far this season is WR Damon Hazelton, who has been dealing with a hamstring injury.
At first, Hazelton seemed ready to go in what would have been his season opener on Saturday after displaying a strong Sunday practice last week, but Fuente stated during his presser that he was not 100 percent after that leading into the Old Dominion contest.
When it comes to the timetable for Hazelton’s return, Fuente stated, “He’s still trying to get over the same thing, I don’t know how long it’s going to be.”
Hazelton led Virginia Tech in receptions (51) and receiving yards (802) in the 2018 season, making the strong start of the Hokies' receivers even more impressive.
Later on in the press conference, Justin Fuente was asked about his thoughts on Phil Patterson stepping into Hazelton's role at times. Fuente seemed pleased with the work ethic that Patterson showed in fall camp and his ability to bring his best to practice. However, Fuente also had this to say about how Patterson can continue to maintain his large role in Hazelton's absence.
“It’s just continuing to be disciplined in his technique on a consistent basis, taking care of the ball when it’s in his hands, and just executing his technique," Fuente said.
Patterson has five catches for 63 yards and a touchdown through the first two games of the season for the Hokies as he and Kaleb Smith continue to see an increased amount of playing time as Hazelton deals with his hamstring injury.
Reaction to the Young Offensive Linemen
Virginia Tech came into this season with some youth on the offensive side of the ball. But, the offensive line has started this season as one of the most youthful parts of the Hokies roster.
With the NCAA not allowing Brock Hoffman an immediate waiver to play in the 2019 season, Fuente and his offense have had to turn to less experienced players to protect QB Ryan Willis.
Although the youth has shown some bright spots throughout the first two games of the season, Fuente has noted that the coaching staff still has a ways to go to get the young offensive line to their true potential.
“We got young pretty quickly, so we’ve got to do a good job of putting them in good situations, not asking them to do too much and then letting them cut it loose and go play," Fuente said.
The Hokies young core of linemen have stayed strong through the first two matchups of the season only allowing three sacks to their opponents and are looking to physically keep pushing forward into the season.
“There’s quite a bit that goes into playing on the offensive line in terms of understanding and technique and there’s obviously a physical part of it in terms of maturity, growth and strength,” Fuente said when responding to a question about what goes into evaluating young offensive linemen.
If the Hokies are going to have success in their offense this season, their offensive line are going to need to continue providing time in the pocket for Ryan Willis and allowing a run game to develop in order to win tight football games down the stretch.
Addressing the Turnover Issues
The key standout in Virginia Tech’s loss to Boston College on August 31st was the turnover margin as the Hokies had five turnovers, costing them dearly on their season opener.
After last Saturday, the Hokies have committed seven turnovers in the first two games of the new season, and QB Ryan Willis has accounted for five of them.
Fuente after the game stated that one reason why Willis was taken out of the game on Saturday was his decision making when turning the ball over in the fourth quarter. Fuente has stated that the turnovers must be limited throughout the season, starting this week against Furman. Fuente stated that this is not just a players’ issue, but a coaches’ problem as well.
“We have to do a better job as coaches and as players. You can’t go out there and take a knee every time obviously, but we have to find a way to be aggressive and take care of the ball," Fuente said.
In both of Furman’s games this season, the Paladins have neither committed a turnover nor have been able to turn the ball over against their opponents. The Hokies will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of Furman's first two opponents and avoid having any turnovers for the first time this season.