“We’ve got to find a way to get our guys playing with some confidence, the way we played early in the year, which wasn’t prolific, but it was certainly confident,” Fuente said. “Slowly watched over the last several weeks almost a shift there in the confidence level. Our defense is increasing, and offensively it’s decreased, so we’ve got to find a way to kind of get that back the way it was.”
The most recent loss — a 28-7 setback to Pittsburgh at home — included just 224 yards of total offense, the fewest for Virginia Tech (3-3, 1-1 ACC) since Fuente took over before the 2016 season. It also marked the fewest points during Fuente’s tenure.
Quarterback Braxton Burmeister threw for 134 yards, completing 11 of 32 attempts with one touchdown and one interception. The Hokies averaged 3.2 yards per carry, with their longest run of the game coming via Burmeister’s 17-yard scamper.
Those dreary numbers are a far cry from the production that earned Fuente a reputation as an offensive wizard, especially when it came to quarterback development. As the coach at Memphis, his previous stop before Blacksburg, Va., Fuente shaped Paxton Lynch into a first-round draft pick.
As offensive coordinator at Texas Christian, Fuente oversaw Andy Dalton’s two most productive seasons in college, the last of which featured career highs of 2,857 passing yards, 27 touchdowns and a completion percentage of 66.1 as a senior. Dalton went in the second round of the NFL draft in 2011.
Burmeister entered this season in peak physical condition, according to Fuente, and primed to lead Virginia Tech back into contention for the ACC Coastal Division title after it went 5-6 during a coronavirus-plagued 2020 and withdrew from bowl consideration to end its streak of appearances at 27 in a row.
The results, however, are far from what the Hokies envisioned. Burmeister has thrown for 1,064 yards and six touchdowns with three interceptions on 88-for-163 passing. The transfer from Oregon is near the bottom of the ACC in passing efficiency (117.3) and completion percentage (54.0).
Burmeister also has been nursing a sore right shoulder from a hard fall and a defender subsequently landing on him during the second half of a 32-29 loss to Notre Dame on Oct. 9. It has limited the redshirt junior’s inclination to run when protection breaks down in the pocket.
“I mean I feel like my feet are a big weapon, and being banged up, it’s always tough,” Burmeister said. “It’s always like a coach’s call type of thing. You don’t want to take a big hit and worry about that. I like to run, and it helps my game, but got to be smart about it.”
Burmeister attempted a quarterback sneak early against Pittsburgh, but the Panthers stuffed him for no gain on fourth and one and reclaimed possession at their 35-yard line. The Hokies ran just four plays in Pittsburgh territory during the first half, all the more disheartening given that two possessions began at midfield.
Virginia Tech had five three-and-outs in the first half and punted a season-high eight times overall.
Even the Hokies’ lone touchdown came largely as the result of Pittsburgh miscues rather than crisp offense. Burmeister did complete a 47-yard pass to Tre Turner and a two-yard scoring throw to sophomore wide receiver Tayvion Robinson, whose one-handed catch in the end zone made the score 28-7 with 6:33 to play in the third quarter.
But to reach that point, Virginia Tech benefited from two pass interference calls against the Panthers.
With an opportunity to get within 14 points, Burmeister’s pass on fourth and five from the Pittsburgh 37 fell incomplete with 3:53 remaining in the third quarter.
This weekend Virginia Tech faces an opponent ranked second in the ACC in total defense (308.9). The Orange (3-4, 0-3) is coming off a 17-14 loss to Clemson in which it permitted 314 yards of total offense and limited the Tigers to 3.1 yards per carry.
“We’re halfway through the year. We’ve got a lot of football left in front of us,” said Virginia Tech left tackle Luke Tenuta, a redshirt sophomore. “We’ve just got to focus on our jobs and go 1-0 each week, and obviously the Pitt loss hurt, but we’re on to Syracuse though.”