The Justin Fuente-led Virginia Tech Hokies listlessly lost to the mediocre Pittsburgh Panthers 47-14 on Saturday at Heinz Field.
The issues from Saturday's game were similar to those that we've seen plague Virginia Tech for most of the year. The offense looked lost without the output of an all-world running game, the defense couldn't tackle, and the play callers on both sides of the football made decisions that lacked any sort of real trust in the personnel present on the football field.
Pittsburgh's offense entered play ranked 108th nationally in offensive yards per play, and proceeded to rack up 556 yards and 47 points. On the surface, this seems like a head-scratching effort, but if you've watched Virginia Tech throughout some of the low points in the Justin Fuente era, this has become the norm.
Saturday's blowout defeat at the hands of the Panthers was simply a microcosm of the season. This team is inconsistent, maddening at times, and honestly just not very good.
Saturday was also more than a microcosm, it was an epilogue. A stunning conclusion to the Justin Fuente era at Virginia Tech.
Is Fuente getting fired today? No.
Is he getting let go at the end of the season? Maybe, but the $12.5 million buyout still presents plenty of challenges to an athletic department in Blacksburg that will be around $50 million in the hole this year due to COVID.
Regardless of whether or not Justin Fuente is the coach of the Hokies past December is moot.
The writing is on the wall. This is a bad marriage between Justin Fuente and Virginia Tech, and the only thing keeping the family together is the money.
The coaching staff can't recruit - in-state or otherwise. They can't relate to elite high school players on the recruiting trail, they've burned bridges with several high school coaches in-state whose kids wanted to come to Blacksburg under Frank Beamer, and they've failed to establish a prominent secondary pipeline outside of Virginia to supplement the in-state losses.
Tech had the worst recruiting class in the Power Five in 2020, and is destined to finish with a class towards the bottom of the ACC in 2021.
On the field, Fuente authored the program's worst season since 1992 in 2018 (6-7), lost a large portion of the fan base with a poor start in 2019 and a loss to in-state foe Virginia (8-5), and hit rock bottom on Saturday with the 47-14 loss to Pittsburgh (4-5, with at least one more loss to come).
However, the biggest charge against Fuente isn't the issues on the recruiting trail, or even what has taken place on the field. Instead, it's what underlies it - an unwillingness to adapt.
When Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly endured one of his worst seasons in school history in 2016, a year that saw the Fighting Irish plummet to 4-8, he cleaned house.
This meant changes to both coordinators, various assistants, and support staff. If Notre Dame was going to change for the better under his watch, it meant changing his identity as a head coach and parting ways with those around him, even if they were close friends and colleagues. On a larger scale, this also meant changing the identity of the football program, from laughing stock of college football to perennial 10-win program.
Since the debacle in 2016, Notre Dame is 41-6 as a program, which includes a College Football Playoff appearance and an 8-0 start this season that has earned the Irish a #2 ranking nationally two-thirds of the way through the campaign.
Kelly's willingness to change turned the Notre Dame program around, reversed the narrative of the Irish across college football, and has pushed his name high on the list among the best coaches in college football.
These types of wholesale changes are the ones that Justin Fuente has been unwilling to make. Bud Foster retired at the end of last season, forcing Fuente's hand in finding a new defensive coordinator. After a failed pursuit of former Missouri defensive coordinator Barry Odom, the Hokies settled on former Beamer player Justin Hamilton - a career assistant who through nine games seems in way over his head. This swing-and-a-miss, at least on the early returns, is a big reason why Virginia Tech finds itself in this predicament in 2020.
Offensively, Fuente has never failed to stick by embattled offensive coordinator Brad Cornelsen, whose flawed offense has drawn ire from fans and assistants in the past. Look no further than offensive analyst Jerry Kill, who joined the coaching staff last year following Tech's 2-2 start. Kill pointed out issues that entangled Virginia Tech's offense with Cornelsen at the helm, leading to animosity between Kill and Cornelsen. Instead of paying Kill to stick around after a 2020 season that showed offensive promise under his influence, Tech stood idly by, watching him skip town for more money, to join his friend Gary Patterson at TCU in a similar role.
Instead of giving Kill more influence, Fuente and company elected to stick with Cornelsen and allow Kill to leave, which is one of the most underrated mistakes of Fuente's tenure in Blacksburg.
While Virginia Tech's offense has ranked in the top 20 nationally in most statistical categories, it doesn't take a blind squirrel to see how much the unit has regressed over the course of the season. After a strong start to the year for the offense, the book is out on how to stop Virginia Tech.
Sell out on the run to stop Khalil Herbert and force Tech's simplistic passing game to beat you through the air.
Over the last month, it's worked. Tech has lost four out of five, and the offense has been as unpredictable week-to-week as the defense, which would have been an unfathomable thought throughout the first third of the season.
When asked during post game media availability on Saturday night if he would consider making a change and becoming the team's play caller in the bye week leading up to Clemson, Fuente responded bitterly.
"No. That's the most ludicrous crap I've ever heard. Next question."
Whether Fuente likes it or not, change is needed. However, his unwillingness to change is what will ultimately lead to his downfall, whether it's in a week, a month, or a year from now.
Some of the fan base was done with the Fuente regime after 2018. Others were out after the Duke loss in 2019.
The rest of the fan base?
Done after Saturday's epilogue against Pittsburgh.
It's over - now we wait.