Virginia Tech Football News and Notes: Hooker, Pitt, and More

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Hendon Hooker
Hendon Hooker and Virginia Tech have a big test on Saturday. (Ivan Morozov)

Virginia Tech’s offense has seen a night and day difference since Hendon Hooker replaced Ryan Willis as the starting quarterback. 

There are the dual-threat abilities that Hooker provides which pressures an opposing defense in a number of ways. He’s an adept decision maker and takes care of the football. However, there’s a certain intangible that might just be one of the more defining characteristics of the Hokies’ turnaround after Duke.

“The one reason why we all start clicking whenever Hendon is rolling is because Hendon has a swagger to him that not a lot of people have,” Tre Turner said after the Wake Forest game. “He’s communicating with everyone on the o-line, wideouts, running backs, tight ends. We’re all comfortable with him when he gets in a groove. When he gets in a groove, we all know we have to step our game up.”

During his weekly press conference, head coach Justin Fuente was asked about this swagger that Hooker carries on the gridiron.

“I don’t know what swagger means,” Fuente said. “I do think he has confidence in himself and kids believe in him, yes, I do. I think he’s played competitive sports for some time. I say that meaning he was a competitive basketball player. He’s been in the arena in terms of playing quarterback and playing basketball in competitive situations. He doesn’t back down from the competition part of it. He seems very comfortable in his own skin. The kids respond to that.”

The redshirt sophomore is now 5-0 as a starter. He’s thrown for 981 yards with eight touchdowns and no interceptions, while adding four rushing touchdowns. He doesn’t officially qualify because of the amount of games he’s played for the total QBR metric, but if he did, he would be No. 20 in the nation with a rating of 76.9 on a scale to 100.

“He’s handled the emotions,” Fuente said. “He’s played on the road. He’s been calm and played the next play and for the most part executed what we ask him to do.”

Hooker and Virginia Tech will face a stout Pittsburgh defense this week that allows just 20.8 points per game, which is third in the ACC. Earlier this year, the offense put up 42 points in Hooker’s first start on a Miami team that is second in the ACC, giving up 18.2 points per game.

The area where the Panthers stand out is in the pass rush. Pitt is No. 1 in the country with 45 sacks this season. Jaylen Twyman is a load up front at 6-foot-2, 290-pounds. The H.D. Woodson (Washington, D.C.) product has produced 9.5 sacks from the defensive tackle spot, good for second in the ACC.

“Well, they have a great third-down package where they mix up the looks and bring guys from everywhere and also drop out in coverage,” Fuente said. “They’re talented pass-rushers. They are not just third down scheme rushers, they are a penetrating defense, aggressive defense on early downs as well. And they are able to get pressure with only four people, so that can make a very dangerous recipe to get behind the chains.”

It could be an area of concern on Saturday, especially with Virginia Tech’s young offensive line. However, it’s an o-line that has seen rapid improvement throughout the season.

“We better be (ready) because they’ll be here Saturday,” Fuente said. “I like the way we’ve made progress. There are plenty of things we need to work on that we need to continue to improve. This is a very talented defensive front. A very aggressive scheme. We’ll need to be at our best.”

Fuente Keeping Motivation Alive

One of Justin Fuente’s responsibilities as a college football coach is to vote in the Coaches Poll. This week when the coaches poll came out on Sunday, the Hokies were the first team in the ‘other’s receiving votes’ category. Tech found itself No. 25 in the AP Top 25, and will have to wait until Tuesday to see where it stands in the College Football Rankings.

So was Fuente among those who voted the Hokies into the rankings?

“No,” Fuente said succinctly. “It’s hard when you get this late. The bottom part. The top part’s not very hard. It’s really hard. And I take it serious. I do put thought into it. But no, not yet… I’m partial to the American Conference down there.”

Jeremy Webb Finds the Field

Jeremy Webb is credited with an appearance against Duke and Rhode Island, but the cornerback officially made the stat sheet on Saturday with a tackle in the fourth quarter versus Georgia Tech. It was the first extended playing time that the redshirt junior has seen since twice tearing his Achilles tendon at Virginia Tech.

“I think it was a neat moment for everybody on the sidelines, I think you could tell,” Fuente said. “I was really proud of our guys on the sidelines, the starters. As the other guys were in the game, I thought our guys were still into the game, encouraging our young players. It was good to get Jeremy in on a play and let him get out there and have a little bit of success, because he has been through quite a bit.”

Holston Still Healing

Jalen Holston has been on the mend since he underwent surgery for a leg injury after the opener against Boston College. There’s been hope that the big back standing at 5-foot-11, 218-pounds could be back toward the end of the season, but that won’t be on Saturday against Pitt. Instead, the Hokies will lean on Deshawn McClease, Keshawn King, and the wide receiver jet sweeps in the running game.

“I would say he’s closer; certainly not this week,” Fuente said. “I don’t know if it’ll be – I mean, obviously there’s not many weeks left. He hasn’t gone out and practiced with us yet. He’s still doing some work on the side. I don’t know how far away he is, but it’s certainly not going to be this week.”

Virginia-Virginia Tech Kickoff Time Announced

The Commonwealth Clash is set for a noon kickoff on Black Friday and will be nationally televised on ABC. If Virginia Tech beats Pitt on Saturday, it will set up a winner-take-all matchup for the Coastal Division title.

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28 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Fu doesn’t know what swagger is because that is not what he is about, nor is VT. Fu is about playing the game and executing. I, personally do not like that term or want Tech to be about that. I know younger guys like it and ESPN is in love with it. Let your game show what you can do. Go Hokies!!

    1. Swagger gets a bad rap. Swagger is what Tom Brady and his HC have. swagger is also Aaron Rogers and Michael Jordan. People hear swagger and automatically think the Miami hurricanes. It’s not just that. Swagger and being a douche bag are different

      1. Yeah…if it helps keep our team sharp and hungry, I’m all in…I lean towards the old “act like you’ve been there before”, keep your head down, don’t show up anybody mentality..But, I MOSTLY like winning!! If ‘Swagger” leads to more wins, who am I to question demeanor? :>)

  2. I am feeling strangely confident about our defense’s ability to dominate a pass heavy offense that has not been very effective versus their ability to shut down a very balanced Tech offense. No doubt, they will come out and try to intimidate our young players and punch them in the mouth to see what happens. I think that ship has sailed though and the team wearing the Orange and Maroon will show maturity, smile, and proceed to kick their tails up and down the field. I may be wrong but I don’t think so. If we want to belong on the same field as Clemson, the hard, smart, tough mantra has to be a real part of this team’s makeup. It will be Pitt that loses its cool and comes unraveled under the onslaught of the Hokies on the field and those in the stands…. this Happy Valley folks and they have not seen an environment like the one waiting on them in Blacksburg……

  3. Pitt is always tough. I expect no different this year. I am sure VT will prepare well and will not be caught off guard.

  4. Someone should tell Fu that the American Conference is garbage….usually 1-2 overrated teams that get blown away when they play any sort of contender.

  5. And while he doesn’t qualify for official leader boards, HH passer rating is 173 which would put him 8th in the country.

  6. Swagger depends on the context, for the Hokies, it is a good thing. When Miami had a lot of swag, it was bad and thuggish.

  7. Not only is Pitt very good on defense but they get a lot of help from the zebras. Their DB’s hold all the time and it seldom gets called. Our WR’s are going to have to push off.

    1. And Narducci will complain. The guy is such a jerk, I love it when things don’t go his way. I really can’t think of the last time I had such disrespect for a football coach and cheered when they lost to the refs. Not a model citizen.

    1. It says something to me that we had to be told by another team member that HH has swagger. As a fan I didn’t notice it. Miami’s swagger had a bullhorn attached to it. That’s why Miami’s swagger is so hated. HH’s swagger is cool because you don’t even know he has it

    1. You need to be. They’re great on defense, and they’ll be a bit more hungry than the Jackets were last week. They’re in the same boat as the Hokies. If they win out, and the Hokies beat UVa, they’re Coastal Champs.

    2. I am always worried about Pitt; look at the last five years and you would always worry about Pitt

      It will be a tough fought game if we show up

      I expect us to show up…..Pitt always smacks us in the mouth…

  8. nice article . Congratulations to FU, all coaches and prayers for turning things around.
    now lets take control and beat PITT!

  9. Its so important for the Hokies to put together a great product on the field to represent the Coastal. As a fan, I want to get back to, “how do we catch Clemson?” or rather, be the very best the ACC has to offer.

    Huge opportunity this week against a very tough Pitt D and a sneaky competitive QB.

    1. Yep…….totally agree. If we want to be THE BEST, then you darn well better play with and against the best. Lose or not….we must get back to being the perennial Coastal Champions again.

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