The search continues within the Virginia Tech football offices.
Tech head coach Justin Fuente said at his Monday press conference after the game against Old Dominion that two games into the season his team has plenty to work on in a search for consistency. The Hokies play well at times, the coach said, but he wants them to play consistently at that level.
Tech registered a workmanlike 31-17 victory over Old Dominion this past Saturday, but the Hokies missed opportunities, particularly in the second half. Tech opened a 24-3 lead in the third quarter, but ODU scored on back-to-back possessions to make the game close. The Hokies pushed the lead to 31-17, thanks primarily to a 71-yard kickoff return by Terius Wheatley, but two Tech fourth-quarter turnovers prevented the blowout that many expected.
“The disappointing thing for us as a team is how we played situational football last week on both sides of the ball,” Fuente said. “In our Four-minute offense, we fumbled twice. Defensively, we were trying to essentially just keep them in front of us and were not being particularly aggressive. We gave up some big plays in the run game, and that was disappointing.
“It’s obvious we’re not a finished product,” Fuente said. In meetings and at practice, Fuente said, the emphasis has been on embracing the challenge of trying to improve as coaches and as players. “We’ll continue to try and get better in all three phases,” the head Hokie said.
Tech takes on an interesting opponent Saturday in Furman, which has scored at least 46 points in its first two games. The Paladins rolled past Charleston Southern in the opener and then fell 48-42 to Georgia State, which shocked Tennessee in its opener.
The Paladins will throw the triple option at the Hokie defense. Tech’s struggles against Georgia Tech in the past serve as a reminder for the importance of focus and discipline when facing such a scheme.
“I watched the film last night and their quarterback is playing at an incredible level,” Fuente said. “He runs it, throws it, and then the triple option spreads you out. They do a little bit of everything.
“I was surprised to learn he’s a redshirt freshman,” the head coach said. “Furman is a really talented team that went toe-to-toe with Georgia State, who beat Tennessee at Tennessee. They’ve got skilled players and a great team. Defensively, they mix up their fronts, so that’s going to be a challenge for us. We’ve got to have a great week of preparation [and] continue to build.”
Here are some more nuggets from Fuente’s Monday news conference:
Tech played much of the second half of the Old Dominion game with relatively young linemen, including true freshmen Doug Nester and Bryan Hudson and redshirt freshman Luke Tenuta. In fact, Nester made his first collegiate start.
“At times, they played well, and at times, they showed some inexperience,” Fuente said. “We’ve got to do a good job as coaches. 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.”
For the second straight game, though, the Hokies struggled to run the football. Tech finished with 131 yards rushing and averaged 3.4 yards per carry.
“Everywhere,” Fuente said when asked what where the Hokies needed to improve within the running game. “We need to a better job coaching, a better job blocking, a better job running. Everywhere.”
Talented wide receiver Damon Hazelton essentially missed his second straight game with a hamstring injury (he played a few snaps against BC). Phil Patterson, Tayvion Robinson and Kaleb Smith have picked up some of the lost production and may have to continue doing that, as Fuente did not have a timetable for Hazelton’s return.
“On Sunday’s practice of last week, he looked like a million bucks,” Fuente said. “He really did. When he came out Tuesday, he just wasn’t himself. So, when I had this meeting last week, I really fully intended on him playing, and I expected him to have a great Tuesday, and he just hasn’t. He’s still trying to get over the same thing. I don’t know how long it’s going to be.”
Patterson caught three passes for 44 yards Saturday, including a 13-yarder for a touchdown. The 44 yards of receptions are more than he caught in any game last season, as he continues to work himself into a more prominent role.
“I’ve been pleased with Phil [Patterson],” Fuente said. “He’s had a great summer. He continues to work hard and practice hard, [and] he’s contributing on special teams, as well as making a couple of nice plays at receiver. For Phil, it’s just continuing to be disciplined in his technique on a consistent basis and taking care of the ball when it’s in his hands. He does have some natural ability.”
Other than a fumbled punt against BC in the season opener, Tech’s special teams have played reasonably well thus far. In fact, on Saturday, Wheatley made the biggest play of the game when he returned a kickoff 71 yards in the fourth quarter. That led to a touchdown pass from Ryan Willis to Patterson that basically sealed the game.
Fuente likes the direction those units are headed in following two games.
“Thus far, I’m very pleased with our speed down the field — we look more like we did a couple of years ago covering punts,” Fuente said. “I’m not saying all our problems are solved, but in two games, it looked closer to that. We still have missed a couple of tackles, particularly in the first game, so we’re improving there. We have some guys who are getting down the field quicker.
“It was nice to get a big play in the kicking game,” Fuente told reporters. “I feel like our punt return unit has a chance to be good. We just need to be a little more consistent. We’ve got guys who have some experience who are blocking for Hezekiah [Grimsley] or pressuring punts. We just didn’t have very many opportunities to field punts last week. Anyway, I like where we’re going and the pride our guys are taking in it.”
–Jimmy Robertson, VT Athletics