You could feel it the moment Virginia Tech walked off the field in Orlando last December. The Hokies had just come within 20 yards of tying, or maybe even beating, the eventual national champions. Despite losing the ACC Championship Game to Clemson 42-35, you could feel it.
You could feel the Fuente Revolution.
(Side note: the “Beamer&Fuente&Foster&Buzz” shirts were a huge hit this weekend. If you haven’t seen them yet, check them out. E-mail me by 12pm Tuesday to CFBCountry@gmail.com with the subject “LUNCHPAIL” for a 20% off discount voucher).
2016 was supposed to be a rebuilding year in Blacksburg. New coach, new quarterback, low expectations. Despite being picked fourth in the ACC Coastal, Fuente went out and won the damn thing. With just the right mix of old tradition and new blood, Virginia Tech football had come alive again.
2017 could have been special. Had Jerod Evans returned, and either Bucky Hodges and/or Isaiah Ford stayed with him, Virginia Tech opens the season in the Top 10. Instead, Fuente was dealt a new deck of cards and asked “hey, do what you did last year, only with a bunch of freshmen.”
This could have been a really challenging year for Fuente. Hokie fans are loyal, they are passionate…but they are impatient. Nobody likes to see their program take a step backwards, but it would have been understandable, if not predictable, for the Hokies to dip to an eight-win team or so this season. In my mind, the bar was a little lower for the Hokies this season.
In prime time, against a top-25 team, with a redshirt freshman under center, Virginia Tech outlasted West Virginia in wildly entertaining fashion.
I didn’t think Tech would win Sunday night. I trusted Will Grier more than Josh Jackson, and I trusted the Mountaineers’ offensive weapons more than Virginia Tech’s. I knew I’d be pulling my hair out in the final minutes either way. The game more than lived up to the hype.
The Fuente Revolution is here. Here’s why Hokie fans should be excited:
- We’re now 15 games into the Justin Fuente era, and the Hokies are 4-1 in games decided by 7 points or less. Not to mention the miraculous comeback wins against Notre Dame and Arkansas. That’s coaching.
- Josh Jackson is so far ahead of the curve mentally right now it’s not even funny. He was erratic at times, especially early, but that’s expected. The more encouraging sign from JJ? The throwaways under pressure instead of taking a sack. Sliding down in-bounds to chew clock in the final minutes. Those were Coach’s Son Plays. There wasn’t a single moment Sunday night where the stage looked too big for Jackson. He played with poise, he was methodical at the line – even making some of his own checks at times. With most freshmen, you see the physical skills and you have to wait for the mental skills to catch up. It’s the exact opposite for Jackson. His grasp of the game is so apparent, just wait until his body adjusts to the speed at this level. He’s not Deshaun Watson, but it’s hard to be any more excited for what Jackson can accomplish in four years in Blacksburg.
- The Hokies scored 31 points last night without really involving anyone in the passing game beyond Cam Phillips. Sean Savoy emerged later in the game with four catches and 42 yards, but it is so obvious that Phillips is the focal point of the offense. West Virginia’s defense was able to take him away for a large part of the game, and Fuente adjusted. The play-calling was frustrating at times, but it was frustrating for a reason. Since he came to Blacksburg, Fuente has preached eliminating mistakes – particularly ball security. Don’t forget, last year he benched Jerod Evans against Liberty for a fumble. He did not want Jackson in too many vulnerable spots last night if he could help it. The defense did enough to keep West Virginia from extending its lead all night, which was critical in keeping Jackson in favorable spots as the game went on. This staff just gets it.
The program is far from the mountaintop. The gap between Virginia Tech and Clemson, or Alabama, or any other perennial national title contender is quite honestly huge. The Hokies don’t have nearly the same level of athletes as those teams, and certainly not the depth. It’s going to take 2 or 3 more years MINIMUM before we’re even thinking about national championship contention for the Hokies, and even that might be pushing it. But make no mistake, an ACC crown is not out of reach for this program in the next couple seasons. If a few things break the right way here and there, it could be as early as this year.
No matter how this season ends, last night was an important stepping stone for Justin Fuente. The Hokies aren’t back. But they’re coming.