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ACC Teleconference: Virginia Tech football coach Justin Fuente

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fuenteVirginia Tech football coach Justin Fuente talks with reporters at the weekly ACC Teleconference.

JUSTIN FUENTE: Happy to be back on a regular schedule now. We’re done with the Thursday games. Kids have approached this week with Duke with a very good mindset. I know they’ll be excited to play. We’ve got a tremendous challenge in front of us.

Q. When did you guys realize that playing Bucky Hodges more outside would be an effective role for him?
JUSTIN FUENTE: Well, we’ve moved him around quite a bit in the spring, just trying to figure out exactly what fit his skill set, what room he needed to meet in, quite honestly, whether he needed to be in the tight end room or the receiver room. We started him — he’s been in both, but after the spring, we kind of thought about — maybe it was about halfway through the spring. We kind of had a good evaluation on how to use him and what we thought we should do with him and kind of moved on from there.

Q. Is he still in both rooms?
JUSTIN FUENTE: No, he’s been mostly in the wideout room, but our wide receiver coach has been with us for a long time, and we have a little bit of that crossover teaching with our tailbacks and our kind of H-back tight/end spot, and with Bucky in the wide receiver/tight end H spot, so Coach Wiggins, our wide receiver coach, has been with us so long, he knows what we’re teaching at those other spots so he can kind of fill Bucky in on the things he needs to know when he’s playing kind of closer to the line of scrimmage or closer to the ball.

And if we need to, our tight ends coach can grab him for a little bit, but primarily he’s been in the receiver room.

Q. I just wanted to ask you about Duke. When you watch them on film, again, what I see is a team that plays well a lot of times but has been very susceptible to giving up the big play, the bust. Is that a fair evaluation, or do you see something else?
JUSTIN FUENTE: Oh, my evaluation of Duke — are you talking about defensively?

Q. Right, defensively they seem to play pretty well most of the time, but they’ve given up a lot of explosive plays.
JUSTIN FUENTE: Well, I mean, my evaluation of them is that they’re incredibly well-coached and play really hard and with great technique. I guess you could probably say they’ve had a couple kind of big plays they’ve given up. I don’t know that they’re more susceptible to that than anybody else. I just think they’ve done a really good job over there putting their kids in positions to have success.

Q. And this series the last three years have all been decided in the final seconds. Does that have any kind of carryover, the fact that your players know how tough it’s been, how close it’s been in this series?
JUSTIN FUENTE: Well, I think they certainly have a tremendous amount of respect for Duke and the job Coach Cutcliffe has done there. They know that it’s going to be a close ballgame. We’re going to play a group of people that are very well-coached, that are going to fight tooth and nail. So I mean, I think it’s a benefit from the fact that our guys know what we’re getting into in terms of the quality of play that Duke puts on the field.

Q. You actually matched up against Coach Cut when you were in Memphis. It was really before you got your program going full speed, but does that give you any kind of insight or edge going into this one?
JUSTIN FUENTE: No, I don’t think so. They’ve changed quite a bit. So have we. We were a popular scheduling choice when we started at Memphis (laughing), so no, I don’t think there’s much carryover there.

Q. As you guys kind of finished out that road stretch that you had, that month-long road stretch, did you learn anything about the guys in terms of how they recover, what they need to do, how you can schedule them on a short week, or how their personalities handle a challenge like that?
JUSTIN FUENTE: Well, I think the first thing is, I think a credit to our kids; they believed in our process for handling the short week. We had a pretty clear definition of how we wanted to handle it. The biggest challenge I thought wouldn’t necessarily be the short week but would be the week after because you’re usually — you usually get a little bit of relaxation time there because your next game is not until a week from Saturday, which for us it wasn’t, there was two straight Thursday games. I thought the kids did a good job handling all of those things.

The emotional maturity that I’ve kind of alluded to earlier in the year, I was really pleased with. I thought we put that on display last week through the ups and downs of that game. Pitt is a very good football team and made plays on us, but our guys just kind of kept plugging away at that, and I think that was probably the biggest leap that we’ve made is just being able to handle the good and the bad that comes through a ballgame.

Q. Kind of in that same vein, I know Isaiah sat out during spring practice and got to hang out on the sidelines with you a little bit. Has he matured as a leader, and what type of guy is he now on the sidelines during practice or coaching the other wide receivers that you’re looking for a little more depth from that group?
JUSTIN FUENTE: Yeah, I don’t know how much he’s matured. My impress of him has been the same since I’ve been here, that he’s a very mature person to begin with. He’s highly intelligent, and he’s one of the types of players that can tell you what actually happened in the game in real time. Some guys have a hard time with identifying how the leverage was or what actually happened on the play, and Isaiah is not — one of those people you can trust. Whatever he says is actually what happened during that play. He’s done a great job with the younger guys. He continues to help those guys get better and bring them along. It’s good to have him out there practicing as opposed to the spring when he wasn’t out there. It’s just better for those young guys to see him out there every day.

Q. While I’m sure you would prefer maybe to finish a few more drives and turn them into touchdowns, the fact that you’ve got a kicker like Joey Slye, how does that impact the way you see things when you get on the opponent’s side of the 50-yard line?
JUSTIN FUENTE: Sure. Well, awfully proud of the way Joey played last week. He’s got another challenge ahead of him this week. I tell Joey the same thing: If we decide to go for it, it doesn’t have anything to do with my opinion of you, it just means that’s what we feel like is best for the team. But it’s nice to have him there to cover up mistakes in terms of — the offense’s job is to put the ball in the end zone, and if they get it down there close and don’t get it punched in, then it’s Joey’s job to kind of cover up for that mistake, and he certainly did a great job of that last week.

That’s not the last tight ballgame we’re going to play in, and we’re going to need every point and every opportunity in our trips down to the red zone, and Joey is going to play a big role in that.

Q. He leads the ACC in field goals made and of course tied the record with six in one game last week. How would you describe him as a kicker? Some guys have what they call the big leg, but what kind of — what’s his range potentially? Where would you feel comfortable using him?
JUSTIN FUENTE: Well, he has a big leg. I mean, he’s done a — I don’t look at the statistics, but I don’t know what he is percentage-wise touchbacks on kickoff, but it’s pretty high. He does have a good leg. I feel comfortable — depending on the situation, there’s always overriding factors, but from 50 yards, maybe a little bit longer than 50, he’s got plenty of leg to get it there, it just becomes a question of how accurate is he going to be from that far away.

Joey is a — he loves the weight room. He loves working out. He’s a football player. He played linebacker in high school. We’ve had to rein him in a little bit on getting down there and covering kicks, like he doesn’t need to be all the way down there. He’s a competitive kid that I’m glad we’ve got on this team.

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