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Virginia Tech football: 5 takeaways from the Hokies win at Duke

Plenty of things went right for the Hokies last week.

Virginia Tech v Duke
Virginia Tech QB Ryan Willis
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

The Virginia Tech Hokies defeated the Duke Blue Devils 31-14 on Saturday night in Durham in a game that was really never close. Despite the hype surrounding a previously unbeaten and newly-ranked Duke team, the Hokies bounced back from an embarrassing performance in their upset loss at Old Dominion to dominate the Blue Devils.

The story of the game, of course, was the performance of new quarterback Ryan Willis. The former walk-on and Kansas transfer was outstanding in his first start at Virginia Tech and earned ACC quarterback of the week honors.

With the win, Virginia Tech moved to 3-1, (2-0) on the season. Here are five takeaways from an impressive VT win.

Willis was terrific

No matter which way you look at it, Willis was terrific in his first start for the Hokies. His overall numbers were good, as he completed 17 of 27 passes for 332 yards and three scores. He also didn’t turn the ball over, which was impressive going against a tough Duke defense on the road.

Willis also completed seven of eight passes on third down for over 100 yards. His pushed the ball downfield and trusted his receivers to make plays. Phil Patterson, Damon Hazelton and Eric Kumah all rewarded Willis with big plays downfield.

Josh Jackson is likely out for the season. However, if he could return I am not sure he would return to the starting position. That doesn’t mean Willis has arrived. He will have struggles. But he gives the offense a higher ceiling than Jackson. Head coach Justin Fuente demands his quarterbacks take care of the football and last week, Willis did so. Moving forward, this will be something to watch, especially against a good Notre Dame defense this weekend.

Hazelton with another TD

In four games this season, the transfer from Ball State has four touchdowns. He makes big plays every week by using his impressive combination of size and speed. He has also proven to be a reliable red-zone target, too.

Last week was a tough week for Hazelton. Sure, he scored another touchdown and had 154 yards receiving, but he will be best remembered for a crucial drop late in the game. Hazelton had four catches for 65 yards in the win at Duke and now for the season he has caught 15 passes for 348 yards and four scores. He gives the Hokies a legitimate No. 1 receiver and he is still getting better.

This team was ready

Losing a game to Old Dominion in the manner in which the Hokies did could create a snowball effect. Especially for a young team. With all due respect to ODU, the Hokies never should have lost that game. But for multiple reasons they were bad.

For one, they didn’t look prepared.

In the win at Duke, this team looked as focused as it did in Week 1. The defense was flying all over the field, holding Duke to just 71 yards on the ground. Entering the game, the Blue Devils were a good rushing team. The Hokies struggled mightily against the pass in last week’s loss to ODU, mainly because of the amount of big plays allowed. They did a much better job against the pass, too, as many of Duke’s yards came late when the outcome was already decided.

The young cornerbacks were much better. Just one week ago, several members of the secondary looked like they didn’t belong. Against Duke, Caleb Farley, Jovonn Quillen and Bryce Watts were all better.

Houshun Gaines had his best career game

Just one week ago, much was being made about the dismissal of junior defensive end Trevon Hill. Hill was Tech’s top pass rusher and off to a great start this season. However, for various reason the Hokies felt it was best to move on from Hill. That meant it was time for several of the various young defensive ends in the the program to step up.

Instead, it was Hill’s former running mate, Houshun Gaines, who answered the bell. Gaines finished with a career high 2.5 sacks in the win over Duke. He was unblockable at times and came close to big plays on multiple occasions. With those sacks, the junior now has 3.5 on the season, surpassing his previous high of three sacks set last season.

The Hokies need this version of Gaines each week. He’s improved in each of his three seasons on campus and defensive coordinator Bud Foster has been consistent in his praise of Gaines.

Tight end sighting

How long have we all clamored for tight ends to be more involved in the Virginia Tech offense? On Saturday, Willis found Dalton Keene for a 67-yard touchdown. The entire play displayed Keene’s potential and why he should be more involved in the offense. For the game, Keene finished with 82 yards on two receptions.

The Hokies have talent at tight end. In addition to Keene, there is Chris Cunningham and a pair of freshmen in Drake Deiuliis and James Mitchell. Keene, Deiuliis and Mitchell all have big-time potential. Mitchell could be an even-better version of Bucky Hodges once he gets on the field.

We often wondered why tight ends weren’t more involved under Fuente. Was it because of his style of offense or did Jackson not look their way enough? Well, one thing is certain, the Hokies could be even more dangerous on offense if a talented group of tight ends are more involved going forward.