Virginia Tech football coach Justin Fuente talks UNC: ACC Teleconference

Justin FuenteJUSTIN FUENTE: Kids had a really good workout yesterday. We get back on the field a little bit later on today to prepare for North Carolina, who is coming off a little bit of extra rest. I know we’ll certainly be ready to play.

Q. I wanted to ask in general, short yardage, goal-line type situations, what do you like about being in the shotgun in those situations, and how much is it a product of that’s what the offense is comfortable lining up in?
JUSTIN FUENTE: Well, first of all, the tailback gets the ball in the exact same spot as he would from under center. When you snap the ball from under center, you take the ball back to the tailback, so that’s the same. The quarterback has a chance to read a player to thin the box when you’re down there in those short yardage situations, there are more people than you can block down there. And when you’re in the gun, you at least have a chance to not block one of them and read one of them, so it gives you a little bit of a fighting chance to thin the box. You know, it takes a little bit of work to get quarterbacks these days comfortable under the center. Many of them haven’t done it very much. Some of them are more comfortable with that than others.

Q. In terms of your offensive line, how do you feel about that group in short yardage, goal line, 3rd and 1 type situations, and is that an area that needs to be improved? Do you have good personnel for those situations?
JUSTIN FUENTE: Yeah, I like them on 3rd and 1, I like them on 3rd and 8 and 1st and 10. They’ve worked incredibly hard. I think they continue to get better. As a team do we need to perform better in those situations? Certainly. I think that falls on everybody to continue to work and try and be more efficient in those situations.

Q. I know you and Holmon Wiggins had sort of challenged Sean Savoy in the off-season to become more of an all-around player in this offense. I think you praised him after Duke when he didn’t have any catches in that game and then he comes back and had a better game against Notre Dame. How do you feel like his progress is coming along in terms of just doing the all-around stuff that you would hope?
JUSTIN FUENTE: Sure, been really pleased with Sean’s development. Kind of like we talked about a couple weeks ago, continues to play — to learn how to play the game as opposed to just being a guy that catches the ball occasionally. He’s learned how to play every play. He’s practicing much better than he did as a true freshman. I’ve just been pleased — he’s playing a role for us on special teams now and our punt return unit. Really taken some ownership in that, and becoming a very good teammate and a really good contributor to our team.

Q. I guess it was about a year ago, the tragedy with his brother, and I know there’s a good support system with the coaches and teammates that he has. Do you have to do anything extra with him to kind of hold him up or pull him aside and talk to him about that?
JUSTIN FUENTE: Well, I think the biggest thing, and I don’t want to put words in Sean’s mouth. I’m always a little hesitant to speak for him. But I do believe that he trusts us, and if anything was learned through that experience, I do believe he believes that we have his best interest at heart and want to be there to support him, but also be there to push him, to be at his best in everything that he does.

I really appreciate the fact that he does trust us and has bought into the things that we’re asking him to do on a daily basis. Not that he didn’t do them before, but there’s just a little bit different urgency about him now. I haven’t pulled him to the side other than to encourage him to continue to do what he’s doing, because he has, in my estimation, handled that situation, a very difficult situation, very well.

Q. Especially given the popularity of RPOs in college football, I was curious about your thoughts on the ineligible receiver downfield rule. I know there’s been talk about changing it to match what the NFL does. What are your thoughts?
JUSTIN FUENTE: Well, I think the first problem with the rule is it’s very difficult to officiate. There’s been talk of going from three yards to one yard, and I guess my only point would be I don’t know that one yard is going to be easier to officiate than three yards. I mean, the things that they’re asking those officials to do and when they’re supposed to watch and the keys they’re supposed to look at, in my estimation it’s very difficult to enforce that rule on a consistent basis, regardless of whether the rule is at three yards or one yard.

I do think there has been a positive movement towards trying to do a better job with that rule. I think there was a point in time when it had almost gotten out of hand. Linemen were blocking second-level players and quarterbacks still throwing balls down the field, which made it a little much, whether you’re a defensive guy or an offensive guy. You had to at least admit that it had gotten a little out of control, and I think they’ve done a pretty decent job of reigning it in. In regards to whether or not to switch it from three yards to one yard, I would say continuing to do a good job enforcing the current rule would be what I would lean towards, I guess.

Q. You’ve also had situations with Caleb and Houshun. Was there anyone in your past as you came up through the ranks and coaching who kind of set an example for you as a coach, how to deal with a young man when he endures personal hardships such as that?
JUSTIN FUENTE: Well, I think I’ve been fortunate to observe several good coaches through my time. I don’t know if there was one particular one. I try and just call back on my own experience, thankfully rather limited experience, but in dealing with those things. I think the biggest thing people want is just to know that somebody sympathizes with them and understands.

I remember — I’ve never really cared much for birthday cards, or a card has never really meant that much to me except for when my grandmother passed away, I remember opening cards, sympathy cards and thinking — feeling good that somebody kind of felt my pain, and that’s kind of what we try and do here. Obviously there’s things bigger than football out there, many things bigger than football, but those kids, the kids that we’re charged with coaching, are some family’s most prized possession, and we try whenever we can when they’re going through difficult times to make sure they understand we’re here for them, and we’re going to do everything we can to work with them through those difficult times that many times are thrust upon them through no fault of their own. It’s just the facts of life and things that everybody has to deal with.

Q. You made a point after the game the other night to praise Tyree and to say, coverage issues notwithstanding, you were really proud of the way he played. Had you guys noticed in practice what a good — he appears to be an excellent open-field tackler. Has he thrived in that role in practice?
JUSTIN FUENTE: Well, he has done a pretty good job of that throughout our time in scrimmage work. He certainly has some closing speed to kind of reduce space and get in there and get a guy on the ground, and it was good to see that happen in the game.

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