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Virginia Tech football: 5 takeaways from Hokies’ win over UNC

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And Quincy Patterson made his debut.

Virginia Tech v North Carolina
Virginia Tech TE Dalton Keene after his game-winning score at North Carolina.
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

It wasn’t pretty, but the Virginia Tech Hokies improved to 4-2 on the season after Saturday night’s thrilling 22-19 win over North Carolina in Chapel Hill. More importantly, the win moved the Hokies to 3-0 in ACC play. Virginia’s win over No. 16 Miami dropped the Hurricanes to 2-1 in league play, while the win moved the ‘Hoos to 2-1 in the ACC.

Here are five takeaways from Tech’s third straight win over North Carolina.

Ryan Willis was terrific when it counted

Willis had his moments on Saturday night. He missed some throws and seemed to force things more often than not. He did pick a great time to have his best day on the ground, though, rushing for a career-high 88 yards on 15 attempts and one touchdown. His touchdown run was an excellent play-call by Brad Cornelson. It took UNC by such a surprise there was no one with 15-20 yards of him at one point.

On his last drive of the night, the Hokies started at their own two-yard line with just over six minutes remaining trailing 19-14. Willis was outstanding, making some big-time throws to Damon Hazelton and using his legs to pick up key first downs.

It was the kind of growth head coach Justin Fuente needed to see from his junior quarterback, starting his third game for the Hokies.

Inconsistent running game

Yet again, the Hokies struggled to run the ball outside of Willis. Willis isn’t Jerod Evans or Logan Thomas, where the running game can go through him. His lack of running ability was his biggest strength on Saturday because the Tar Heels weren’t ready for it.

Outside of Willis, Tech had 26 attempts for 66 yards. This was against a North Carolina defense that struggled to stop the run entering Saturday’s game. This is a concern because the passing game isn’t yet good enough to carry this team without a running game. Part of the problem is the Hokies don’t have a true No. 1 back. Also, the run blocking is still not up to par.

For the Hokies to win the Coastal and get to Charlotte, the running game has to get better.

The debut of Quincy Patterson

After five games, Fuente had yet to play true freshman quarterback Quincy Patterson. That changed on Saturday night as Patterson came in for a couple of plays and ran the ball twice for 11 yards, picking up a first down. The sideline went nuts for Patterson.

This begs the question: Has Patterson passed Hendon Hooker on the depth chart? When Josh Jackson went down to injury, we were sure Hooker would see some time. More of a change-of-pace option to Willis. However, that hasn’t been the case.

Patterson coming into the game on Saturday night could’ve been just to surprise the Tar Heels. It worked. Remember, the new redshirt rules mean Patterson can play up to four games without losing his redshirt. That’s smart by Fuente.

It doesn’t mean by Hooker has been passed by Patterson, but it’s not an encouraging sign for the redshirt freshman either. I do think the coaching staff would be wise to get Hooker some action. While his passing mechanics are still a work in progress, his speed and athleticism can make a difference for this offense when it needs a boost. For what it’s worth, Fuente did say on Monday that Hooker is still Tech’s No. 2 QB.

UNC outplayed the Hokies

For most of the game, the Tar Heels outplayed the Hokies. Yes, you read that right. Freshman Cade Fortin was pretty good before exiting the game with an injury. Nathan Elliott came in and missed some easy throws, including a walk-in touchdown in the fourth quarter where the Heels had to settle for three points.

Fortunately for Tech, timely turnovers flipped this game. Willis’ first touchdown was set up by forced fumble. Emmanuel Belmar forced it in UNC territory and Khalil Ladler was there to pick it up. And the most critical turnover of VT’s season thus far, came late in the fourth quarterback when Tyree Rodgers put his hat on the ball as Carolina was about to score and the ball popped free and Jovonn Quillen picked it up.

That was all Tech needed.

For the game, North Carolina outgained the Hokies 522 to 375. The Hokies had no answer for shifty running back Michael Carter, who rushed for 165 yards and averaged over nine yards per attempt.

Also, we should give kudos to Rodgers, who struggled some against Notre Dame last week, but made the play of the game on Saturday. That’s the progress coaches love to see.

Still unbeaten in ACC play

For as tough as this season has been at times, the Hokies have played three conference games—all on the road—and won all three. That’s pretty impressive. That means Tech has five ACC games left, four of which are in Blacksburg. Now it’s up to the Hokies to make Lane Stadium a true home-field advantage again.

Tech’s lone remaining road game is at Pitt. We all know how Heinz Field has been a house of horrors for the Hokies over the years. Tech did win the last one there two years ago.

So, while everyone can be upset over the ODU loss and at having two losses at the moment, everything is still in front of the Hokies. And that should have everyone pumped up for the remainder of the season.