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.