BLACKSBURG – If Sunday’s practice was any indication, the Virginia Tech football team should be ready for today’s 4 p.m. road showdown at Louisville.
Tech coach Justin Fuente was pleased with his team’s response at practice Sunday afternoon following a poor showing at Wake Forest on Saturday, one that ended with a 23-16 defeat. Turnovers, penalties and red-zone mistakes plagued the Hokies, who dropped out of the Associated Press national poll following the loss.
Fuente knows that great practices during the week don’t necessarily equate to victories on Saturday. But he liked how his team kicked off the week.
“I love the way our guys responded with energy and juice,” he said. “I was just as upset with the guys that didn’t play in the game as I was with the guys that made the mistakes. We’ve got to understand that, in each game, it’s our job to carry the emotion on the sidelines. I didn’t feel like we did as good a job of that as we should have as well. It’s not always a one-to-one ratio. I look for us to focus on continuing to get better. We’ll have to do that as we move through the schedule and hopefully our guys will continue to bounce back. But if yesterday was any indication, I feel pretty good about it.”
The Hokies play a Louisville team with a 2-4 record coming off an impressive home win over Florida State. The Cardinals racked up nearly 400 yards of offense and 31 points in the first half alone in a 48-16 rout of the Seminoles in easily their best performance of the season.
Virginia Tech spent much of Sunday focused on its own mistakes, which it needs to get corrected before game planning for the Cardinals. Here is more on that and other takeaways from Monday’s news conference:
- A storyline from the Wake Forest game was the Hokies’ number of penalties. Tech committed 10 penalties for 112 yards, the most penalty yardage in the Fuente era at Tech. Fuente took the blame for Dax Hollifield’s interference penalty on the onside kick, saying that the Hokies had never kicked an onside kick that particular way (with just one bounce high in the air, which allows the receiving team to make a fair catch). He also said that he addressed unsportsmanlike conduct penalties called on Jarrod Hewitt and Norell Pollard, and that there was no additional punishment for those two players.
“I have done a bunch of things before, if those things become habitual,” Fuente said. “I don’t anticipate that they will become habitual. It’s been addressed, and we’ll be ready to move forward.”
- Fuente expects a bounce-back game from quarterback Hendon Hooker, who threw three interceptions against the Demon Deacons. The Tech coach provided context for each interception for the media, saying that he liked the decision on the first interception, but the ball needed to be a little lower against tight coverage. He thought Hooker made a poor read on the third-quarter interception, and he excused Hooker’s final interception, which was made with the Hokies in desperation mode in the final seconds.
Hooker went into the game with just two career interceptions, but Fuente doesn’t expect the redshirt junior’s confidence to be shaken.
“If he thinks he’s going to go through the whole season and not turn the ball over and never making a mistake, that’s a pretty unrealistic expectation for a guy that handles the ball every single snap,” Fuente said. “He’ll bounce back fine. He had a good day yesterday. We’ve got to be able to handle those things. We’ve got to have broad shoulders. The quarterback gets way too much credit when we win and way too much blame when we lose. That just comes with the job. The quicker you realize that, the quicker you can move forward either after a good performance or a poor performance.”
- Much was made of the Hokies’ performance in the red zone – inside the Wake Forest 20 – and it certainly impacted the game. The Hokies ventured into the red zone on four occasions and came away with just two Brian Johnson field goals with a missed field goal and an interception accounting for how the other two possessions ended.
Tech entered the game having scored on 16 of 18 red-zone opportunities, including 13 touchdowns. So the poor execution in the red zone came as a bit of a surprise.
“We had two negative plays down there that really hurt us and put us in obvious passing situations down there tight when we really felt like we had been really good down there in terms of getting that ball in the end zone,” Fuente said. “I don’t know what our stats are in terms of long field goals versus short field goals, but I feel like we’ve done pretty well getting the ball in the end zone down there. We did not do a good job last week.”
- Fuente announced that defensive end TyJuan Garbutt had returned to the team and had been working out with the team over the past couple of weeks. Expected to be a starter coming into the season, Garbutt took time away from the program to deal with a personal matter. In two seasons with the Hokies, the redshirt junior has registered 62 tackles and two sacks.
“We’ll work him into practice a little bit now,” Fuente said. “I don’t know when he’ll be ready to play. Certainly I don’t believe it’ll be this week unless I’m just blown away by something or something crazy happens, but he’s been back kind of training and running and kind of getting back into the flow for the last couple of weeks. We’ll start working him into practice a little bit, while still training him in terms of lifting and conditioning and stuff off the field.”
- Tech and Louisville will be meeting for the first time since Louisville joined the ACC in 2014, a byproduct of the ACC’s scheduling model. Fuente received a question about that Monday, and he took a diplomatic approach with his answer.
“I find the ACC scheduling model perplexing,” he said. “I always challenge our staff to do this, and our players, I prefer not to be the person that complains about the problem without having a solution. I don’t know what the solution is. I do think it’s odd. I think it’s, in some ways, unfortunate. It is such a cool league with unique schools and some regional benefits that I think are really unique, maybe only to the ACC, that I don’t think we get to take advantage of because of the way it’s scheduled out. I don’t have the solution, so I’m not going to go on a rant complaining about it, but it is odd.”
- The ACC announced kickoff times for Nov. 7 games, and the Hokies will take on Liberty at noon at Lane Stadium. The game can be seen on the ACC Network.