The Virginia Tech Hokies defeated the Louisville Cardinals 42-35 on Saturday to move to 4-2 on the season.
As the final score indicates, this game came down to the wire for the Hokies.
Virginia Tech jumped out to a 21-0 lead on Louisville behind a strong start by the defense and the legs of quarterback Hendon Hooker. However, Louisville slowly got back into the game and things got really worrisome for the Hokies just before halftime when running back Javian Hawkins had a 90-yard touchdown to cut Tech’s lead to 21-14 at halftime.
Fortunately for the Hokies, the offense stayed one step ahead of the Cardinals and that big lead early in the game gave them just enough of a cushion to withstand a late Louisville rally and come out with an important victory.
Here are our five takeaways from Virginia Tech’s win.
Hendon Hooker bounces back
In the loss to Wake Forest, Hooker struggled with turnovers. In that game alone, he had three interceptions while he only had two all of last season. While Hooker still had a strong game running the football, he had his worst game as a passer.
In the win over Louisville, Hooker did what great players do; had a strong bounce-back performance.
Hooker completed all 10 of his passing attempts for 183 passing yards, while also rushing for 68 yards and three touchdowns.
Third rushing TD of the game already for Hendon Hooker— NCAAF Nation (@NCAAFNation247) October 31, 2020
VT leads Louisville 21-0 pic.twitter.com/ppZQEatSgZ
Every time it seemed Tech’s offense was in trouble, Hooker came up with a big play. The Hokies had a holding penalty on first down, Hooker picked up 18 yards on the very next play. Also in the second half, Hooker threw a beautiful 42-yard pass to Tayvion Robinson on a post route to get the Hokies deep into Louisville territory.
Hooker had a big day and showed everyone what happened in Winston-Salem was more of an outlier and not a concern.
Khalil Herbert with another big game
Khalil Herbert carried the ball 21 times for 147 yards and a touchdown in the win. That means he has now gone over 100 yards in five of Virginia Tech’s six games.
On the season, Herbert has now rushed for 803 yards and six touchdowns through six games. The Hokies have five regular-season games remaining.
.@HokiesFB dominated the ground game on their way to a W! #Hokies pic.twitter.com/OoompAzSER— ACC Digital Network (@theACCDN) November 1, 2020
In the loss at Wake Forest, Herbert had 64 yards rushing. It wasn’t his fault. Anytime Herbert would have a solid run, it felt like offensive coordinator Brad Cornelsen either went away from him or rotated him.
In the win over Louisville, Herbert’s 21 carries was the most he has received in a game with the Hokies. For this offense to continue to excel the rest of the season, Herbert should get at least 20 attempts per game.
Big lead saves Hokies
It’s a fair question to ask would the Hokies have won this game had they not built a big lead early?
That 21-0 cushion was massive for the Hokies as Louisville built momentum. The lead forced the Cardinals to attempt to play perfect at times, which did not happen. Quarterback Malik Cunningham was picked off three times.
Despite those three turnovers, Cunningham played pretty well. He didn’t start well, but caught fire in the second half and finished with 350 yards and three touchdowns. He kept attacking Virginia Tech’s secondary with success. Cunningham found holes in the intermediate game and even hit some deep shots.
Virginia Tech’s defense got off to a fast start and that was enough to save the Hokies on Saturday.
Defensive issues not going away
Saturday started out quite well for the Hokies. Louisville’s first two drives stalled, thanks in part to two Justus Reed sacks. Virginia Tech held Louisville scoreless in the first quarter and it wasn’t until midway through the second quarter that the Cardinals scored.
With just 15 seconds remaining in the half, it looked like Louisville was content to sit on the ball and go into the half down 21-7. Cunningham handed to Hawkins, who proceeded to take the ball 90 yards to the house to make it 21-14 at the half.
.@UofLFootball's Javian Hawkins is a pic.twitter.com/O2T7VT18PO— ACC Network (@accnetwork) October 31, 2020
That entire run was full of mistakes by Virginia Tech’s defense. The linebackers were blitzing and Hawkins ran right by them. Virginia Tech’s secondary could not catch Hawkins on his way to a momentum-changing score.
Throughout the second half, Cunningham torched Tech’s secondary. If he wanted something deep, his receivers got behind the Hokies. If he needed something intermediate, no Tech defender was around. Sloppy tackling also still plagues this team.
The Hokies deserve credit for three interceptions. That’s impressive. However, you can’t rely on turnovers to bail you out. It has in two of the last three weeks in wins over Boston College and Louisville. In losses to North Carolina and Wake Forest, the defense wasn’t forcing turnovers and were allowing big plays.
The Hokies have a lack of speed in the secondary. Divine Deablo is a really good player, but he gets in trouble when he’s forced into deep coverage. The corners struggle to stay with quicker receivers. Offenses are going to continue to attack this secondary and the Hokies must find answers.
The Hokies do deserve credit for containing Hawkins outside of that one run. He finished with 129 yards, 90 of which came on one play.
And I am not sure those answers exist this season.
Alan Tisdale was outstanding
The 6-foot-3 redshirt sophomore linebacker had the best game of his career on Saturday. Tisdale finished with 9 tackles, including 2.5 for loss, one pass deflection and one quarterback pressure.
On one sequence in the first half, Tisdale stuffed Hawkins to force a fourth down. The Cardinals went for it and Tisdale stuffed them in the backfield again. It was an incredible series and displayed how much Tisdale has grown from a year ago.
Tisdale is super-athletic, but lean. As he continues to add muscle, he has a chance to play on Sundays. He possesses terrific instincts and I would like to see him more on blitzes. Tisdale is the right choice at backer over Dax Hollifield because of his athleticism. Hollifield is a more natural mike ‘backer.
On another tough day for Virginia Tech’s defense, Alan Tisdale had his breakout performance.