Virginia Tech Embraces After Duke Mentality To Turn Season Around

By: Andy Loce | @Andy_Loce15 | Nov 15, 2019

On a late September night on national television, the Virginia Tech Hokies were preparing to take on an ACC opponent for the first time at home this season in the Duke Blue Devils. There were lots of questions on how good the Hokies could be, especially coming off a bye after a sluggish start.

What became of that night was something that Tech fans would want to forget as VT suffered their worst home loss since the 1970s, falling to Duke 45-10.

The loss raised lots of questions about the current state of Virginia Tech football, the quarterback situation, and even whether Justin Fuente was the right man for the job.

Just under 2 months later, the answers have not been what anyone expected as the Hokies made a QB situation and have gone 4-1 since, putting themselves in control of their own destiny with that night being a turning point.

Justin Fuente explained to the media that he took responsibility for the Hokies' nightmarish start that raised questions about whether he was the right man for the job, questions that he has clearly answered recently.

“I just put it up there and told them it was my fault,” Fuente said. “We are not a tough football team right now, we’re not mentally tough, we’re not emotionally tough, and we didn’t play physically tough.”

Fuente has praised his players in response to the attitude after the Duke loss stating they have responded well to the adversity. “The guys have done a great job with it. I don’t know how they feel individually. That was my responsibility and I just told them like it was and told them, “We’re never going back to that.”

The level of frustration was felt all over at that time when it came to Virginia Tech as the team started to feel loads of criticism with its poor start in the ACC; dropping to 0-2 with losses to Boston College and Duke. Of course, the Hokies have turned it around dramatically since then with arguably their best 5 performances of the season coming in their past 5 games.

There were some changes since then that helped launch the turnaround, most notably the change in quarterback from senior Ryan Willis to redshirt sophomore Hendon Hooker.

Hooker has been looked upon as a key figure in the turnaround this season for the Hokies; and he’s said playing with a positive attitude ever since filling the role as the starting quarterback.

“We take it on as a grand assault, positive or negative, just keep it moving stay positive. Just gotta play ball at the end of the day," Hooker said.

One of the other major storylines surrounded the pending retirement of Bud Foster after the 2019 season with his defense not getting off to the fastest start. Since the Duke game, the defense, like the team as a whole, has embraced an "After Duke" mentality that has included using criticism as motivation.

“We take (the criticism) as motivation to get better, it was a mindset change our team needed," DaShawn Crawford said after VT improved to 4-1 since the loss to Duke.

Most notably, VT started to build some confidence when they forced five turnovers against Miami in a dramatic road victory the week after the Duke loss. The Hokies have started to create more turnovers especially with 10 total interceptions on the season, most of which have been over the past few weeks.

“At the beginning of the season, I thought we were very hesitant and we were not playing to our full capabilities,'' said DB Divine Debalo, “We came in and basically told each other, practice every day like its your last, play for each other and have fun at the end of the day.”

The turnaround for the Hokies this season from September to November has been truly remarkable and it shows what happens when young, promising talent buys into the system and doesn't quit when things seem on the verge of falling apart.

After struggling to beat Furman and losing at home by 35 to Duke, the Hokies have transformed into a team that nearly upset Notre Dame on the road with a redshirt freshman QB, and dominated a previously ranked Wake Forest team.

That is just the latest reminder in why you play the games instead of having wins and losses decided by Twitter.