It's harder to get a more precise insight into a program than through a seasoned beat reporter.
One of the beauties of visiting websites in the Scout network is you get reporters who are on the front line of all the action and news.
To get an in-depth look at the Battle at Bristol from the Blacksburg side of things, InsideTennessee reached out to Jason Stamm of The VT Zone. Here's a look at some of Stamm's answers to questions posed by IT:
InsideTennessee: What's the greatest difference in Justin Fuente's offense and what Virginia Tech ran when Frank Beamer lead the program?
Jason Stamm: It's a pretty big change and there's definitely not just one thing. Beamer always ran a pro-style look, while Fuente's offense is multiple, but is based in the spread. Whatever set the Hokies are in, though, they'll mix up the tempo. It's not Oregon's breakneck speed all the time, but they might run five plays quickly, slow it down, then run three quickly. There's a lot of variation, but speed is the key. Whereas Beamer's pro-style utilized a fullback, Fuente has no need for one. He has a guy who has been primarily a fullback in Sam Rogers, but Rogers will play in a running back role and even H-back. That's another difference, the H-back position, which was thrown in by Beamer, but used on just about every play by Fuente. With that, there's not a true tight end, so those guys will either play as an H-back, like freshman Chris Cunningham, or spread out as a wide receiver, like junior Bucky Hodges. Virginia Tech didn't show too much last week against Liberty, but did show they'll get the ball into multiple playmakers' hands using a variety of methods, like end-arounds, jet sweeps and even the option every now and then.
IT: The Hokies were the clear favorite against Liberty and now they're an 11 1/2-point underdog. How much confidence do the Hokies and the coaches seem to have gotten with how badly Tennessee struggled against Appalachian State in Week 1?
Stamm: No Hokies players or coaches have talked up the Tennessee/App State game, but you know they were all watching. Publicly, they've said they know the Vols are much better than how they looked Thursday and I agree. But Fuente and his staff have to hope they don't think Tennessee is too beatable now, because that's how you get blown out by three or four touchdowns. Virginia Tech is confident in this game and it should be. This isn't exactly the same, but it has some similarities to when the Hokies played at Ohio State two years ago. They were big underdogs, unranked against a ranked team and in front of a huge crowd (although nothing like Bristol Motor Speedway). Virginia Tech came out of Ohio Stadium with a 35-21 upset. So a lot of these players for the Hokies have already been in a somewhat similar situation not that long ago that adds to their confidence.
IT: How is the relationship between Fuente and defensive coordinator Bud Foster? Is it wrong to assume that Foster wanted to replace Beamer as the head coach?
Stamm: It's not wrong at all to think that Foster wanted to replace Beamer because he did. Foster has been one of the best defensive coordinators in the country for 20 years now. He's had plenty of opportunities to leave and go elsewhere, but always stayed loyal to Beamer. They really seemed to have a very special bond. Foster also nearly left for Texas A&M before last season and I'm told was one of the top candidates at Illinois before Lovie Smith got that job. So far, Foster and Fuente have meshed quite well. It's strange, though, how Fuente has referred to himself as the spokesperson for the offense and Foster the defense. Even though Fuente is the head coach, he doesn't want to answer many questions about the defense, nor has he been asked much. He wants Foster to answer anything on the defensive side. But Fuente has said that he's always had a great respect for Foster as a coach and a person. Apparently, they had a couple of beers the first time they met last fall and just talked football and went from there to where we are now. So far so good, but if there are any struggles, it might be good to revisit your question and see how that relationship is going.
IT: Tennessee may be one of only 2-3 ranked teams that Virginia Tech plays this year, but it isn't an ACC game. Are fans excited about this one with their team facing an SEC school being part of the reason why? Or, do fans plan on making the drive down to Bristol mostly because of the environment and the novelty of playing at a race track?
Stamm: I’m not originally from Virginia, but I'm told there's a history between Hokies fans and Vols fans. This is my fifth season covering Virginia Tech sports. I'm not sure which side is to blame, but I've been told that there are reasons the two schools don't play each other more often. Most on the Hokies side will tell you that Tennessee administrators don't want to play them. And with the schools so close, it is a shame they don't play each other more than they do. But there's a TON to be excited about with this game. I mean, it's in Bristol Motor Speedway, will blow away the previous attendance record for a football game, against a ranked SEC team, proximity, College GameDay in the house and in front of a national TV audience in prime time. This is THE game this week. This is a game that has been circled by Virginia Tech and its fans since it was announced. There have been signs in the team's hallways promoting the game, promoting to recruits, lots of buildup. So any college football fan should be up for this one.
IT: Isaiah Ford has put up gaudy numbers (142 receptions, 1,990 yards, 18 touchdowns in 27 games) since coming to Blacksburg from Jacksonville, Florida. Numerous NFL scouts will put a lot of weight into the Ford-Cameron Sutton matchup when they do square off. Where does Ford rank among the all-time best at Virginia Tech? Who does his game resemble?
Stamm: There have been a lot of good receivers that have come through Virginia Tech over the years, like Antonio Freeman, Eddie Royal, Andre Davis, Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale. But I think Ford has to rank up there. Ford is the first receiver in program history to go over 1,000 yards in a season as he did in 2015, but those other receivers also played in run-heavy offenses. They weren't needed to get 1,000 yards receiving.
Ford is so athletic, has good speed and great hands. There aren't too many jump balls that he doesn't adjust to and haul in. He's become astute at putting himself in the best position to make the catch and shield his defender. This is definitely the type of matchup, with Sutton, that could improve Ford's NFL stock. I think he's definitely a second-round pick right now, but could get into the first round with a strong season. As far as who he resembles, I know Beamer compared him before to Freeman. I don't wanna go overboard with my comparisons, so I'll go with a guy like Kansas City's Jeremy Maclin, as they're similarly sized, very athletic, can cut on a dime and find ways to get open.