Justin Fuente's Hokies Have Rebounded From Tough Losses Before. They'll Try Again vs. Louisville.

The Hokies are searching for ways to wash away the taste of a demoralizing loss to Wake Forest.

RB Raheem Blackshear is among the players hoping for an improvement against Louisville. [Virginia Tech Athletics]

The bad news for Justin Fuente's teams is they have plenty of experience losing in games where they were heavily favored. The small bit of good news is they're also adept at bouncing back.

Saturday's loss to Wake Forest was nothing terribly new for the Hokies during Fuente's tenure — since arriving in Blacksburg, he's lost five times now when Tech was ranked and its opponents weren't. And many of those losses have been painful, too, like last year's loss to UVA, or the 2016 loss to Syracuse when Jerod Evans had the Hokies riding high.

But, much like Frank Beamer's teams of old, Fuente has found a way to rally his squads in the past: he's 12-4 after a regular season loss.

Consider that he followed up that loss to the Orange with a drubbing of Miami in a big Thursday night game. And more recently, the Hokies followed up last year's crushing home loss to Duke with another win against the Canes. Similarly, the team turned a close loss to Notre Dame into a three-game winning streak.

And after a dispiriting road loss in Winston-Salem, Fuente's team is counting on finding more of that resiliency against Louisville.

"We stress going 1-0 all the time...and I always thought of it as not looking too far in the future," TE Nick Gallo told reporters Tuesday. "But it's also about not looking too far behind you."

Gallo said Fuente has been relaying that message to the team consistently lately, including in one unusual setting: an informal book club organized by the head Hokie himself. Gallo says participation is purely voluntary, where some players have been reading the self-help book "The Hardest Path" and discussing it with the coaches.

"We were all bored and had nothing to do, so why not?" Gallo said.

That might be a light-hearted distraction from quarantine's demands on the team, but Fuente is hoping it conveys a meaningful message. Even in this unusual season, the Hokies are trying not to lose focus.

"One thing this team does as a whole team, is, coming off a loss, we come in 110% to Sunday practice," said WR Tre Turner. "It's rare that we get yelled at for not going 110% after a loss."

That's not to say the coaches didn't have any suggestions for the offense, in particular, after the group managed just a single touchdown against the Demon Deacons.

"Coach (Jafar) Williams, he got on us," Turner said. "We knew what we were going to be getting on Sunday, because obviously the passing game wasn't where it was supposed to be."

While most of the criticism centered on QB Hendon Hooker and his trio of interceptions, Turner said the team's receivers accepted plenty of the blame for the poor passing performance as well. Chiefly, he said "we have to get separation on our routes" and "we have to make contested catches," a pair of principles that start at the snap.

"It's about being physical," Turner said. "Who wants to be more physical coming off the line?...You've got to know how to get open and if you can't, of course, the pass isn't going to work."

It wasn't all bad on offense, of course. Hooker managed more than 100 yards on the ground, with the team totaling 239 rushing yards in all. Both Khalil Herbert and Raheem Blackshear got involved in the passing game, with Blackshear, in particular feeling like he was become more comfortable catching jump passes over the middle of the field. Blackshear took one pass for 19 yards, and he said his dad (a former college player himself at Texas Tech) thought he had the chance to take the next catch to the house if he improves his technique.

"He just said I need to open my legs up more, in order to make that man miss, and I should be off to the races," Blackshear said.

The Hokies will have their chance to put those changes to the test against Louisville's defense, which has logged two strong performances in back-to-back weeks. The Cardinals may only rank in the middle of the pack when it comes to yards allowed, but after allowing just 12 points to Notre Dame and 16 points to Florida State, Blackshear is expecting a challenge.

"They're a very move-around type of defense, which is very confusing for a lot of people," Blackshear said. "The line is going to have to bring their A game."

By contrast, Louisville's offense has slowed down after a fast start to the season, though it did put up 48 points against FSU. And WR Tutu Atwell will provide a coverage challenge as well, with CB Brion Murray dubbing him "kind of small, but overall a great receiver."

"Our whole unit is looking forward to this," Murray said.


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