Tech readying for final home game of 2017 season

By Jimmy Robertson

BLACKSBURG – The Virginia Tech football program started a new week, as it prepares for Saturday’s game against Pittsburgh following the tough loss at Georgia Tech. And head coach Justin Fuente’s Monday news conference featured an array of questions about both of those teams.

Fuente was pointed in his remarks about several of his decisions during the Hokies’ 28-22 loss to the Yellow Jackets on Saturday. Many Virginia Tech fans were especially curious about the two pass plays on third- and fourth-and-1 at the Georgia Tech 32 with a little more than a minute left in the game. The Hokies failed to connect on both, and the Yellow Jackets took over on downs, running out the clock to register the win.

Fuente said that he spends time in self-reflection on every call that he and his staff make over the course of the game, and that he often second-guesses himself.

“Every day. In all honesty, for good or for bad,” he said. “There’s a myriad of decisions that get made. The thing I would tell people is that I understand all of that. I get it. That’s part of it. It’s a short trip in this business. It’s a short trip from the penthouse to the outhouse, and I get that.

“The thing I would tell you is that we have thoughts and reasons for those things, and when they don’t work, then they were wrong. When they don’t work, we can own that. I can handle that. I understand that. If they all come out working well, then we move on down the road. But what you can’t do is allow yourself to do anything other than try your best to make the decisions that are best at the time.

“Do we look back and talk and ponder and reflect and second-guess ourselves? Absolutely. Every single game. Every single call. We talk about all those things. There are plenty of people who do that for us, too, but that’s all right. That comes with the job. I get it. But you bet, all the time.”

Of course, the time for second guessing is over, as Tech gets set to take on a Pittsburgh squad that needs to win its final two regular-season games to become bowl eligible. That fact alone makes the Panthers especially dangerous.

Plus, the Hokies still have a lot to play for, especially on Saturday. For the Hokies, the game carries with it a special meaning since it marks the final home game of the 2017 season. Athletics department officials will recognize the Hokies’ seniors during a pregame ceremony.

Fuente got emotional last year during Senior Day festivities, just simply saying good-bye to guys like Sam Rogers, Jonathan McLaughlin, Augie Conte and Chuck Clark. He expects Saturday’s pregame to be the same way.

“I remember saying to the staff, ‘I don’t know if we can play or not. Everybody’s an emotional wreck out there,’” Fuente recalled. “You still have to go out and play a football game.

“But there’s a lot of emotions and appreciation. These kids work hard and go through a lot, and they really, really want to do well. When you’re playing a sport for some of these guys that you love and you’ve invested a lot of work in, and you know that this is your last time or next-to-last time or whatever it is … there’s just a lot of appreciation.

“I can just tell you that the underlying word, or the thing that comes to my mind when you think about Senior Day is appreciation – just a great appreciation for these guys and how they’ve worked and what they meant to this program.”

Here are a few more nuggets from Monday’s news conference:

• A key for Tech’s success against Pittsburgh will be the Hokies’ receivers against the Panthers’ defensive backs. In last year’s 39-36 win, Tech saw three of its receivers amass more than 100 yards receiving – Bucky Hodges (145), Isaiah Ford (143) and Cam Phillips (109) – against Pittsburgh’s press man-to-man coverage. But the Hokies have been inconsistent at times against that type of coverage this season, and Fuente fully expects to see that from the Panthers.

“I would imagine,” he said. “Their MO with Coach [Pat] Narduzzi is to stop the run, pressure the quarterback and play tight coverage. They have tweaked a few things, as everybody does, but I would certainly anticipate that.”

• Fuente said that the flow of the game dictated why tailback Deshawn McClease did not get more action in the loss at Georgia Tech. McClease finished with just one carry, while Travon McMillian and freshman Jalen Holston each had 10.

“The first thing I would say is that I am not unhappy with Deshawn,” he said. “There were a couple times we were going to get him in there, but things just didn’t work out for whatever reason. I grabbed him some time in the middle of the game just to tell him to stay warm, loose and be ready because I knew he hadn’t played a lot of snaps. So I think it was just the flow of the game and how it went with Travon [McMillian] and Jalen [Holston] playing well.”

• Freshman receiver Kalil Pimpleton notified Fuente on Sunday that he plans on transferring from Tech. The 5-foot-8, 170-pound receiver enrolled in January and participated in spring practice, but he had played in just four games this season and wanted more playing time.

“He has just worked his tail off,” Fuente said. “He’s a fine young man with a bright future. I don’t want to speculate too much for all his reasons. I think those are his reasons. I do think this is a guy that really, really wants to play. I think that was a pretty big thing. This is a young man that’s extremely competitive and really, really wants to get on the field. I’m sure there are some other things there for him to address if he needs to, but I do know one of those things was [playing time]. I respect that. The guy wants to get on the field.”

• Finally, the ACC announced the kickoff time for the Hokies’ game at UVA on Nov. 24, and that time is at 8 p.m. The game can be seen on ESPN.

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