Photo Credit: ACC Media
The Justin Fuente era has had some high and low moments, but now has maybe it's most defining moment as Virginia Tech, a timeout right before a 59-yard field goal in a tied game against Liberty that was blocked and returned for a TD but called back for a touchdown. What followed was Liberty gaining 8 yards, making a 51-yarder, and handing Tech it's most embarrassing loss of the Fuente era that raises loads of questions about the viability of the Fuente era.
#25 Liberty upset Virginia Tech in what may the lowest moment of the Justin Fuente era losing at home in year 5 to an in-state, non-Power 5 team that was 17-point underdogs. With the result, Liberty improves to 7-0 while the Hokies are now 4-3 with Clemson and Miami remaining on the schedule.
Virginia Tech's defense had a painful day to say the least as the Flames methodically tore the Hokies apart all day with a pair of turnovers being the few highlights for that unit. Tech did average 7.21 yards per play compared to 5.83 for Liberty, but the Hokies were outgained 466-418 as they lacked plenty of answers.
Hendon Hooker did have a big game for the Hokies as he was 20-27 for 217 yards and 3 touchdowns including an impressive fourth quarter drive that tied the game at 35 inside a minute to go. Hooker also rushed for 156 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries as he had a big day.
Hooker did this without Khalil Herbert who returned a kick and was then sidelined with a hamstring injury, and James Mitchell who missed the game for unknown reasons. Additionally, Rayshard Ashby suffered an injury early in the game and played sparingly after.
Tre Turner had his best game of the season with 6 catches for 92 yards and a touchdown while Raheem Blackshear had a solid day with 9 carries for 33 yards plus 4 catches for 30 yards. Tayvion Robinson had 4 catches for 46 yards but a muffed punt that Liberty quickly turned into a touchdown was obviously costly. Kaleb Smith had 2 catches for 26 yards and a TD with Nick Gallo having 3 catches for 15 yards and Evan Fairs had his first career VT reception for 10 yards.
Amare Barno was arguably the top defensive standout with 8 tackles including 2 for loss, 1 of which was a sack plus a pass breakup as he now has 10.5 total tackles for loss this season despite moving to defensive end this past August. Divine Deablo and Chamarri Conner shared the tackle lead as each had 10 while Norell Pollard and Jaylen Griffin both forced a fumble with Pollard having 5 tackles including 1 for loss, and Griffin having 2 with both being for loss including his strip sack.
Liberty's Malik Willis, a former VT commit who decommitted during the first half of the 2016 Belk Bowl, also had a big day going 20-30 for 217 yards and 3 touchdowns plus 108 net rushing yards and 1 touchdown on 19 carries with 2 lost fumbles being his biggest blips.
There is no doubt that this is a defining black eye for a Justin Fuente era that seems spiraling in a very bad direction in year 5 with a roster that is as old as it was during the first 2 seasons where Fuente won 19 games during that span. His endgame decision was absolutely horrendous but once again, the Hokies weren't mentally ready and disciplined and because of it, have suffered the type of embarrassing, in-state loss that is somehow a second time in three years.
Even in a year where athletic departments are cashed strapped beyond imagination, Justin Fuente has found a way to put himself on a hot seat with the potential to not even survive 2020.
We will have more as this story develops.