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With Virginia Tech's defense struggling, Justin Fuente gets more involved

With Virginia Tech's defense struggling, Justin Fuente gets more involved

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Following another woefully deficient performance by Virginia Tech’s defense, coach Justin Fuente took the unusual step of rolling up his sleeves and personally overseeing the scout team during practice this week.

The move served two purposes: to ensure the Hokies’ scout team offense ran a sharp approximation of No. 9 Miami’s plays and to guarantee the starting defensive players gave their full attention to this week’s preparation.

“You know if the head man is over there running the scout team, you know you’re going to have to be giving your all, giving your best,” senior defensive tackle Jarrod Hewitt said. “To be honest, that’s kind of where we lax a little bit. We needed a better look on scout team throughout the week and we’re definitely going to get that now with Coach Fuente running the thing.”

It’s not something Fuente has done during his previous four years at Tech, but, of course, those seasons all saw Bud Foster running the defense. This is the first season for Foster’s replacement, Justin Hamilton, and, to date, the unit has struggled.

“We not playing. We serious,” junior cornerback Jermaine Waller said. “We ain’t out there just to be out there. Everybody going to play their role and do their part and be full speed. We not just doing it to clock in. He really trying to put us on work and make the change.”

The Hokies (4–3, 4–2 ACC) gave up 466 yards and five touchdowns in Saturday’s 38–35 home loss to Liberty. They’ve allowed over 400 total yards in five of their last six games, and currently rank 10th in the 15-team ACC in scoring defense, allowing 31.6 points per game, and 11th in total defense, giving up 460.7 yards per outing.

Tech has been particularly bad against the run, allowing the second-most yards per carry in the conference at 5.2, and the second-most rushing yards per game at 202.9.

Opponents convert on third down against the Hokies 41.2 percent of the time, the fifth-highest success rate on the league.

Tuesday, players said it’s been harder than expected adjusting to the new scheme of Hamilton, a 38-year-old first time Division I coordinator. The unit didn’t have the benefit of spring practice together and has dealt with injuries and lineup uncertainty due to COVID-19.

Though the expectation was that Hamilton, who played for and coached under Foster, would not change much, the reality, those players said, is that the scheme this year is more complicated and adjustment has taken longer than anticipated.

“It’s a more complex defense than Bud’s,” junior linebacker Dax Hollifield said. “… Coach Foster’s defense basically read the run the same way every time, which works, but it’s something that they could scheme it up a little bit to where they put us in a bad position.

“But now, we have an answer for every play they give us, but we have to read it the right way to get to that. And if you’re not focused or you’re being lackadaisical, you’re not on your assignment every play, they’ll gash you.”

The Hokies have given up 17 plays of 30 yards or more this season. Led by versatile quarterback D’Eriq King, Miami has produced 22 plays of 30 yards or more. The Hurricanes (6–1, 5–1) average 34.4 points per game.

It’s why Fuente, an offensive coach by background, has stepped in to work with the defense.

“This is the first time he’s done that,” Hewitt said. “Now we know we’re going to get a good look. It’s going to be crisp, it’s going to be clean, so as a defense, we’re excited for him to come over and kind of give what the guys need.”

Twitter: @RTD_MikeBarber

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