Justin Fuente and the Hokies Ready to Turn the Page to Duke
After an emphatic 45-24 season-opening victory against the NC State Wolfpack on Saturday in Blacksburg, the Virginia Tech Hokies are back to work in preparation of their first road game of the year this weekend against the Duke Blue Devils.
It's been a horrendous start to the season for the Blue Devils, who enter Saturday's match-up with the Hokies win-less at 0-3, while looking largely non-competitive in the process.
Despite the struggles for Duke early on this season, Hokies head coach Justin Fuente refuses to take the Blue Devils lightly. Ordinarily, a game against an 0-3 team prior to a ranked match-up against a conference opponent (UNC on October 10th) would be seen as a trap game. However, given what happened last year in one of Tech's worst home losses in the last two decades, the Blue Devils have the Tech coaching staff's full attention.
"After the loss last year, we were a better team after that. We certainly know what happened then....and we have an opportunity now to see if we have improved," Fuente told the media on Monday.
"I know they've had their struggles, but David Cutcliffe is one heck of an offensive coach," Fuente continued.
While on the topic of the offense, Fuente had high praise for Duke quarterback Chase Brice, who transferred into the program from Clemson in the offseason. It's been an up-and-down start to the year for Brice, who has completed a mere 51.3% of his passes with two touchdowns to six interceptions through three games. As a team, the Blue Devils rank dead-last nationally in turnover margin among the teams that have played this season.
"I know there have been some turnovers, but I don't think I've seen a throw that he can't make. He's got lots of talent and it's only a matter of time before he finds his stride," Fuente added.
Duke's offense has been an enigma in the early going, and the defense hasn't been much better. Despite the early returns that have been less-than-ideal for the Blue Devils, Fuente refused to write the unit off.
"This defense...I'm telling you, they're really good. You can talk about their record, but I'm telling you, they've played at a really high level in all three games on defense," Fuente said.
Through three games, the Blue Devils have been outscored 91-39 and rank 40th out of 72 teams that have played this season in scoring defense. While the numbers aren't great, the turnovers committed by Duke's offense have put the Blue Devils in precarious situations defensively -- an element that Fuente was quick to point out.
"They've been put in some tough situations defensively....but it's not going to look how it looked last week where we have guys running off the edge untouched. This is a group that is disciplined, gap sound, and physical," Fuente continued.
After a team meeting and walkthrough on Sunday, the players had Monday off. The team will be back on the field on Tuesday morning to begin game preparation, as they quickly turn their attention to a revenge game against the Blue Devils.
Other Press Conference Notes
-Justin Fuente expects to have starting quarterback Hendon Hooker back for Saturday's match-up against Duke. Fuente mentioned that Hooker has not practiced for a while due to undisclosed medical testing, but would not elaborate on how much time he had missed.
-It is unknown whether or not defensive coordinator Justin Hamilton will be available on Saturday after missing the first game against Duke due to COVID-19 protocols. When asked, Justin Fuente said, "We'll see. I have no say in return dates with this situation."
-Justin Fuente hopes to have starting defensive back Jermaine Waller back in the lineup soon. Waller likely missed the opener against NC State due to the ankle injury he suffered in the offseason.
-When asked about the decision to go for two late in the game against NC State on Saturday with the contest well in hand, Fuente said that "the chart" said to go for two so that Tech could try to extend the lead to 28 points. He also added that there was no intention to run the score up.