All Systems "No"
An Op-Ed by Grant Mitchell
Justin Fuente had never been more confident in a passing game in his Virginia Tech tenure than he was during the offseason leading into the 2021 campaign. The fleeting glory of Hokies past was promised to be restored, and the tumultuous year prior was labeled an aberration.
Saturday’s 28-7 loss to the Pittsburgh Panthers damningly showed that Fuente either lied to his fanbase, or he and the coaching staff have no idea what it takes to cultivate a successful passing attack anymore.
Quarterback Braxton Burmeister put forth a pathetic effort against Pitt, finishing 11/32 with 134 yards, a touchdown, and a pick; to be fair, he was set up for failure by his coaches, who had him launch the most pass attempts in a single game of his entire collegiate career exactly one week after he took a knock to his throwing shoulder, and on a day with very strong winds. So, although the Oregon transfer laid an egg, his shortcomings were not the most egregious, nor were they unexpected.
Quick sidebar: the guy who could not throw and was forced out the back door? He is completing 69.6% of his passes, has accumulated 1,345 yards and 16 touchdowns, and only turned the ball over one time, despite starting the year on the bench.
Amidst Saturday's unexpected air-raid attack, the Hokies took nearly 25 minutes to get the ball into the hands of Tre Turner, who announced his arrival on a 14-yard catch with 5:36 in the second quarter. This play took Turner over 2,000 career yards and accounted for 18.9% of VT’s first-half offense as they only mustered a pitiful 74 yards and were shut out by a defense that had allowed 403 yards per game against Power Five opponents.
The Hokies’ Head Coach was serenaded with passionate chants of “Fire Fuente” that broke out during the final two minutes of the half and rang out rather victoriously until the teams left for the intermission.
I've seen some bad halves of offensive football in my 10 years covering the #Hokies. This one is up there.— Andy Bitter (@AndyBitterVT) October 16, 2021
Burmeister sacked on third down. VT will punt, trailing 21-0. Just 76 yards of offense so far.
Another unit that completely dropped the ball was the offensive line, which generated little-to-no push throughout the entire game and was sat right on its butt on a QB sneak on fourth-and-one. The Panthers ran two successful QB sneaks on the day, while VT’s inability to convert key situations continued to plague them.
If it were not for a tantalizing one-handed catch in the end zone by Tayvion Robinson, the Hokies could have been shut out; although, that is assuming the coaching staff would have had the chutzpah to take a risk on fourth-down while trailing by 28 points, which is not as much of a guarantee as it may seem.
If anyone deserved credit for their part in the overall disaster, it was, once again, Justin Hamilton. VT’s young defensive architect lessened the impact of Pitt’s nationally-elite passing game despite having his defense on the field for 38:31 and receiving next to no assistance from the offense, which kept the pressure on the D all game— not to mention that he had to operate without Dax Hollifield in the first half, serving a suspension for targeting, and Jermaine Waller in the second, who sustained a foot injury mid-game.
In the same vein, there was no greater reflection of the game’s catastrophic failure than how weary the defense looked during “garbage time” as they refused to tackle the Pitt ball-carriers, who tacked on an extra 68 yards on the ground over the final four minutes.
So, at this point, the question is this: what is acceptable and what is not for a former perennial top-10 program that has the most devoted fan base in America?
Clearly, sustained mediocrity and the propensity for national embarrassment is no longer too great of a concern for the coaching staff or the athletic department as a whole. The Hokies are practically a mockery compared to what they once were, having lost the coveted Bowl Game streak, rivalry dominance over West Virginia and the University of Virginia, and shock outcomes to Old Dominion, Syracuse and Duke. Even in wins over Middle Tennessee State University and Richmond, VT’s skill players were frequently unable to demonstrate superiority against inferior opposition, showing that there has been a problem endemic to the team for longer than most would care to admit.
In a year where Miami, North Carolina, and Clemson are somewhere between average and terrible, the Hokies cannot mount a real charge for the conference crown, much less the Coastal title.
The Justin Fuente regime has burned its bridges for years, and there are practically no planks left to stand on. The team has talented players that not only deserve better but are having their futures impacted by a regime that has been unreceptive to criticism nor shown a desire to remedy its situation. The prospect of progress seems to be a foreign concept at this point, and VT will not be back amongst the elite until sweeping changes are made.