One week ago at this time it appeared the Virginia Tech Hokies were on their way to the worst season since 1992. After a historically embarrassing loss to Duke on the previous Friday night, questions persisted about this coaching staff’s ability to coach, recruit and develop players. And, whether this team had enough talent to even compete for a bowl this season.
Well, in the most difficult of circumstances, the Hokies went down to Coral Gables and jumped out to a 28-0 nothing lead on Miami. After blowing a 28-point lead which allowed the Hurricanes to tie the game at 35 in the fourth quarter, the Hokies scored late to preserve a massive victory for the coaches and players.
Now, before we delve too deeply into Saturday’s win, let me say the questions I posed in the first paragraph, well, many still exist. It was one win against a program which could be in worse shape than Virginia Tech right now. The ‘Canes are overhyped every year and with a coaching change to Manny Diaz, that trend continues in 2019.
But, for a young team with an embattled coaching staff searching for answers, this win meant everything. There were many fans and media members, who thought the Hokies may win only one more game this season. So, the fast start caught the attention of everyone. It also happened to be the first career start for sophomore quarterback Hendon Hooker.
In just a raw glance at Hooker’s numbers, he was solid, but not spectacular. And that’s fine. He completed 10 of 20 passes for 184 yards, but did have three touchdowns and no interceptions. He also led the Hokies in rushing with 76 yards on 16 attempts and another score. He made big plays when he needed to, especially on the game-winning drive. Hooker’s completion to Damon Hazelton for 29 yards was a thing of beauty.
Let’s talk about this Hendon Hooker throw.— Matej Sis (@MatejS247) October 7, 2019
Late in the fourth quarter, on the road, against a surging Miami team. Hooker hits Hazelton on the money with a perfectly placed pass.
Extremely difficult throw and he makes it look easy. In his first start during clutch time, no less. pic.twitter.com/PHqWPoVIIV
For a first start, it was excellent for Hooker. Moving forward, the coaches must allow Hooker to throw the football more. There are going to be games you have to throw the football to win. And especially since the strength of this team is its receivers and tight ends. Speaking of tight ends, it sure was nice to see Dalton Keene and James Mitchell featured. The pair combined for eight catches for 148 scores and three touchdowns—all by Keene. Mitchell also chipped in with his second rushing touchdown of the season.
Watching the offense on Saturday, it was the first time this staff has actually catered the offense more to the strength of the quarterback. Now, it’s time to turn him loose. He is going to make mistakes, but that’s how we will learn from them, too. Teams are going to stack the box and dare Hooker to throw down the field in the future. He can do it, but the coaches must allow him to do so.
Oh, speaking of Keene, how glorious was that block on former Hokie, Trevon Hill?
Look, there is so much that went wrong with that game, like the defense blowing a monstrous lead, the offense stalling because the coaches played too conservatively, etc. But the grit and toughness this team showed once Miami tied the game was impressive. It showed this team still believes in one another and the coaching staff. And, through it all, that’s positive sign.
Things are going to get any easier after the Hokies host Rhode Island this weekend. An improved North Carolina team that was almost upset Clemson comes to Blacksburg the following week. This isn’t your typical Tar Heels. UNC will likely be favored in Blacksburg.
What happened in South Florida should make Virginia Tech fans proud. For one day, and even one week, we can all take a deep breath and enjoy a win. And it’s not just the win, but how hard this team fought to get that win. When things went against them, they didn’t roll over, instead, they fought back. That’s a credit to head coach Justin Fuente, his staff and the entire team.
This team has plenty of flaws and will lose more games this season. That isn’t going to go away due to one win. But, for one week, we can be proud of these kids for their effort and the result last weekend.