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Virginia Tech football: Justin Fuente is out of excuses

The Hokies are 4-3 and more losses could be on the way

Virginia Tech v Virginia Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

In this space each week, I usually go over my five takeaways from Virginia Tech’s game — win or lose. On Saturday, the Hokies lost a 38-35 heartbreaker to the Liberty Flames.

Therefore, there will be no five takeaways this week. Instead, I could only come up with one takeaway after this embarrassing performance.

The Hokies are in major trouble.

No, I don’t mean in trouble in the hunt for the College Football Playoff or an ACC title. I wish, but no, not even close.

This Virginia Tech team can’t even beat Liberty — at home. Two weeks after losing to Wake Forest.

Look, I mean no disrespect to Wake Forest or Liberty. Wake Forest is well-coached and is the ideal program for identifying and developing players. Look no further than defensive end Carlos Basham Jr.

As for Liberty, the Flames are good. They have talented players, including at quarterback and a big-time coach in Hugh Freeze. Freeze is only at Liberty for his behavior, not for his recruiting and coaching acumen. And he won’t be in Lynchburg much longer.

The issue with the Hokies is they lose games like this every year now. In year five of head coach Justin Fuente, this is what’s expected now. The Hokies looked different on Sept. 26 when they beat up a solid N.C. State squad.

That was the outlier.

And don’t blame COVID-19.

This team lacks talent on defense, especially in the trenches and in the secondary. The Hokies cannot recruit cornerbacks consistently anymore. Don’t mention the name of Caleb Farley. He was recruited to Virginia Tech to play wide receiver and made the switch. His talent, along with Bud Foster and Brian Mitchell’s coaching, developed him into a future first-round pick.

Again, Farley is more of an outlier.

Jermaine Waller is good. He can’t stay on the field. So, the Hokies get in trouble anytime he is not on the field. And when he is on the field, the secondary is still a liability. There is no speed on the back end. For as many players that Virginia Tech has sent to the NFL over the years, it is inexcusable that this coaching staff can’t find more talent — especially at cornerback.

The entire defense struggles to tackle. At all three levels. Coaching?

The defensive line is an issue because the years of bad recruiting is catching up. You can blame whoever. Blame lack of money. Blame Clemson. Blame kids for thinking they are bigger.

Guess what? They are all excuses. This staff is out of excuses.

I am a big fan of Justin Hamilton. I do believe he is a bright guy with a big future in coaching. But the Hokies promoted Hamilton with two years of experience at the FCS level and only one as a position coach.

In Hamilton’s defense, he does not have a lot to work with. There are some good pieces on defense, but not enough to stop good teams. However, this team can’t stop anyone. The offense needs to score 45 points or more to win games.

Remember how this was supposed to be a good year? We were told how young this team was the last two seasons and this year they wanted to play because this was going to be a special season.

The Hokies are now 4-3 with games looming against Miami, Pittsburgh, Clemson and Virginia. I am not a pessimist, but the Hokies could lose all four of these games. They likely won’t, but how can anyone — with confidence — say the Hokies are going to win multiple games the rest of this season?

That’s a sad predicament.

Fuente’s coaching gaffe at the end of the game on Saturday was comical. It was embarrassing. Sure, it can happen to any coach, however, he doesn’t have any goodwill left with this fan base.

Since Fuente took over in 2016, he has done nothing to ingratiate himself with fans, alumni, the community and former players. And you wonder why the athletic department has issues raising money?

No, that isn’t entirely a Fuente issue. Far from it. He just doesn’t help things. I spoke to one former player last week who started parts of four seasons for the Hokies and asked him about Fuente. He has never spoken with the head coach. He was at a game once, standing right beside of Fuente and the coach did not even acknowledge this player.

That is pathetic.

These are things Fuente can do to help himself and the university. I am not going to even get into athletic director Whit Babcock and his superiors. Babcock has done a quality job, but no one has their hands tied more than him. He is trying.

Let’s circle back to Carlos Basham Jr. He played at Northside High in Roanoke. The Hokies did not even offer him a scholarship. Now, he is an All-American. That is right in your backyard. You can blame Fuente, Bud Foster, Charley Wiles or whoever you want. That is a failure. And there are many examples.

This offseason, the Hokies knew they needed help at cornerback. Kei’Trel Clark, who was terrific as a freshman last season for Liberty, entered the transfer portal this summer. Clark, who is from Richmond, ended up with the Louisville Cardinals. Clark is now a key player for Louisville’s defense and is just a sophomore.

The Hokies said no thanks. Twice.

We could go on and on about Fuente and this version of the Hokies. At some point, we will.

However, quarterback Hendon Hooker deserves mention for how he played Saturday. The junior from Greensboro was outstanding. He put the Hokies on his back and almost willed them to victory. We are fortunate to have Hooker on our side.

The Hokies are back in action on Saturday as they host No. 9 Miami in Blacksburg.