PITTSBURGH — Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente rarely snaps in his post-game press conference.
He made an exception on Saturday when asked if he would consider taking over the play-calling duties from offensive coordinator Brad Cornelsen after a 47-14 loss to Pittsburgh. Fuente handed Cornelsen play-calling duties prior to the 2015 season when the two worked together at Memphis.
“No, that’s the most ludicrous crap I’ve ever heard,” Fuente said, after his team’s third straight loss. “Next question.”
Pitt’s defense tied a season-high giving up 434 yards — it was only the second time the Panthers allowed more than 400 yards this season — and Tech averaged 6.9 yards per play, but didn’t score in the second half.
Tech also suffered numerous failures in critical short-yardage and red-zone situations . The Hokies were missing starting left tackle Christian Darrisaw, and wide receiver Tre Turner suffered an injury late in the first half that prevented him from playing the rest of the game.
The last time Fuente was asked about taking over the team’s play-calling responsibilities was in 2018 after a 31-21 loss to Boston College. The offense came up empty-handed on nine straight drives in the loss that included two turnovers and one stretch of three straight three-and-outs.
“Play-calling has nothing to do with it,” Fuente said, at the time. “Play execution has 100% to do with it and that’s not taking it from the coaches to the players. It’s the [coaches’ jobs] to get the players and teach the players to execute. The guys calling the plays are the same guys that his very first year here set 10 school records. He still knows what he’s doing.”
Tech’s offense came into Saturday’s game averaging 35.6 points per game and 452.1 yards. The numbers put the Hokies offense among the top 30 FBS teams in the country in both categories.
Fuente was upset about Tech going 3 of 11 on third downs Saturday and 0 for 3 on fourth-down attempts, but didn’t think play-calling was a factor in those struggles.
“I know we’re down a lot of guys and all that kind of stuff, but that doesn’t mean [we] can’t get first downs on fourth-and-1 or score on fourth-and-goal from the 1 or just play better,” Fuente said.
The Hokies were in third-and-short situations (needing 3 yards or less for the first down) four times and only converted one of those attempts. They failed both of their fourth-down attempts in short-yardage situations as well.
They ran the ball four times and attempted two passes in those situations. Fuente was asked specifically about Hendon Hooker running the ball on fourth-and-1 at the goal line in the third quarter.
“That’s a play we’ve been running for four years, and it’s been pretty good for us,” Fuente said. “I mean, it worked pretty good every time we’ve run it through the history of time for us. And then tonight, we got stuffed.”
Tech converted 58% of their third-and-short attempts through eight games (18 of 31) — the offense ran the ball 22 times for 12 first downs and threw the ball nine times for six first downs — and that percentage was similar to what the offense has done in recent years.
The Hokies converted 62.2% of their third-and-short situations last year and have completed 59.6% of those attempts going back to 2017.
“I mean I guess it would be easy to sit here and say you should have called something else,” Fuente said, of rushing the ball on third-and-short. “You’ve got a whole category or whole log of that play in crucial situations being successful. It’s pretty hard to go away from it.”
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