Justin Fuente rose quickly through the coaching ranks to become the head coach of the Memphis Tigers by age 36, and of the Virginia Tech Hokies by age 40. Fuente, a former Oklahoma Sooners and Murray State quarterback, cut his teeth as the QB coach at Illinois State. It took Fuente only three seasons to be promoted to offensive coordinator at ISU. In 2007, Fuente moved up to the Power 5 as the running backs coach at TCU, and was promoted to co-OC in 2009.
Fuente became the head coach at Memphis in 2012. The Tigers stared off slowly under Fuente, finishing 4-8 and 3-9 before a 10-win season in 2014 and a nine-win season in 2015. A 26-23 record at a once dormant Memphis program parlayed Coach Fuente to the Virginia Tech job, replacing legendary Hokies coach Frank Beamer.
Through four seasons in Blacksburg, Fuente has compiled a 33-20 record with the Hokies including a Coastal title in 2016. Fuente has guided the Hokies to four straight bowl games but his record in bowls is 1-3. Beamer, who Fuente replaced, guided the Hokies from the basement to national prominence after taking over in 1987. Beamer drove VT from independent status into the Big East, and then through the transition to the ACC.
Beamer won the Big East title three times, the ACC title four times, and the ACC Costal title five times over his career. Fuente has yet to win a conference title in Blacksburg. Virginia Tech started playing college football in 1892, took a two year hiatus for World War II, and has peaked at 2nd overall in the nation back in the 1999 season. The Hokies produced legendary quarterback Michael Vick, as well as a slew of hard nosed defensive players and running backs along the way.
Fuente’s hot seat might be the hottest in the ACC Coastal. There have been a few controversies in Blacksburg under Fuente, as well as high profile transfers and a lack of progress since year one. Per Bill Connelly’s SP+ analytics, VT is expected to finish 32nd overall per the SP+, including 46th on offense and 29th on defense. Miami is expected to finish 23rd overall, with the 63rd best offense and 9th best defense.
The Hokies are the second most represented program on the Athlon preseason all-ACC roster. VT has 13 players to Clemson’s 14, so the expectations for Coach Fuente are high. On the first team offense the Hokies have offensive lineman Christian Darrisaw. The first team defense features linebacker Rayshard Ashby and cornerback Caleb Farley (chose to sit out the 2020 season).
Ashby logged 119 tackles with 17 tackles for loss and five sacks. Farley logged 12 pass break ups in 2019, and four interceptions, as well and will be missed in the backfield.
True to fashion, Va Tech has two specialists on the first team, too. Punter Oscar Bradburn and punt returner Tayvion Robinson keep Beamer Ball alive. Bradburn averaged 46.5 yards per punt last season, while Robinson averaged 21.3 yards per kick return and 14.2 yards per punt return.
Offensive lineman Lecitus Smith is on the 2nd team offense, and CB Jermaine Waller is on the 2nd team defense. Waller recorded 10 PBU’s and three interceptions in 2019.
WR Tre Turner made the 3rd team offense. Turner caught 34 balls for 553 yards and four TD’s in 2019.
The fourth team has a few Hokies, too. TE James Mitchell made the offense, while defensive lineman DaShawn Crawford, LB Dax Hollifield, and and CB Chamarri Conner round out the 4th team defense. Placekicker Brian Johnson is a 4th team specialist.
Scheme on O
QB Hendon Hooker could save Fuente’s run in Blacksburg, VA. After splitting time with Ryan Willis in 2019, Hooker is the man in 2020. He threw 13 touchdowns with only two interceptions while averaging 9.6 yards per pass attempt last season.
Under Fuente, the Hokies have tried to run an NCAA Offense. They’re predominantly in 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end) groups and rotate between 10, 11, and 20 personnel pictures (that means the TE floats around to a slot, fullback, and TE type role).
The QB will be a big part of the Hokies run game with Hooker behind center. Below is just a simple QB Draw. But if you’re an OC and know you’re facing a team that pressures outside hard, and has slow linebackers, QB draw is fantastic.
In 2019, VT killed Miami on crossing routes. I feel like that was the case in 2016, too. Maybe Fuente knows something about Manny Diaz’s defense and its inability to cover TE’s and crossers.
Want to beat Manny’s defense? Besides the crossing routes (hey, those beat Randy Shannon too, just ask Louisville) force the linebackers to cover tight ends and backs.
Here is an Air Raid concept called “6” or four verts. Against UVA in 2018, I lost my mind about Mark Richt running set verticals with no choice route into quarters coverage. UVA dared Miami to put together a drive, and subsequently the ‘Canes scored 13 points.
Above- VT runs a choice concept. The WR pushes vertical or breaks off a hitch (this is a big part of Longo’s offense at UNC, too) based on coverage, alignment and personnel. There’s no reason to keep running vertical here into 7-10 yard cushions. But there is a reason to break off the route and catch an easy hitch, right?
Scheme on D
Long time defensive coordinator Bud Foster has rode off into retirement (and right on time with COVID and all). He’s replaced by Justin Hamilton, a former Hokie defender and a coach that’s been well traveled around the VA area at all levels of college football. Hamilton is an up-and-comer that understands the 4-2-5 defense.
Virginia Tech runs pretty standard fare in their scheme. They’ve notoriously always had an elite cornerback, but Caleb Farley chose to sit out the 2020 season and VT will have to have another man ready to step up.
How do you beat the Hokies? It’s definitely not taking slow, obviously deep shots at a team with historically great defensive back play.
You can see the spacing of the flood concept versus the concept Miami runs against this clogged up middle zone. At least force DB’s to switch responsibilities by running a rub/pick concept or a flood or slant-wheel.
Canyonero keys to victory
The first key is to learn how to defend crossing routes from tight ends and fullbacks. Obviously Fuente is going to continue going to that well until the Diaz-Baker duo proves they can stop it.
The second key is to learn how to find space against a 4-2-5 that will be mostly 2-high pre-snap. VT will roll into a 1-high cover 3 type look, too, but figure out where space is. Is it on the sideline? Is it in the middle of the field? Short? Deep? Figure it out. I trust Rhett Lashlee will.
The final key is to stop Hooker from running against you. Whether that requires the defensive ends to play more contain and less pressure oriented, or the linebackers to be more agile and less blocky that’s something that the DC has to figure out. But you can’t let Hooker gash you for big gains, especially on 3rd down.