Tech had 10 scholarship defensive backs (out of 15) available to play on Saturday — up from the seven they had in uniform against Duke — but starting safeties Divine Deablo and Keonta Jenkins were among the 15 players that didn’t travel to Chapel Hill.
The Hokies started walk-on Tyler Matheny and J.R. Walker at safety and the only other scholarship safeties dressed out were redshirt freshman Ny’Quee Hawkins and true freshman Lakeem Rudolph.
Things got worse for the secondary when nickel Chamarri Conner was ejected for targeting in the first quarter.
Fuente wanted to cross-train players to avoid the exact scenario they faced on Saturday, but the coaching staff didn’t have enough defensive backs at practice to be able to do it coming out of fall camp thanks to a combination of injuries and COVID-19 related absences.
“It came down to, we were drawing stuff up in order to get people in the game,” Fuente said. “I’ve never been a part of anything like in terms of having no safeties. … It’s just almost not even like football, but it is what it is.”
Waller, who was playing in his first game this season, knew a little bit about each position in the back end, but hadn’t ever repped at the position.
“The conversation — it was just basically, like, step up in nickel,” Waller said. “That’s all. Talked through a few plays and what to look for. I haven’t really practiced it, but it worked out.”