Virginia Tech’s offense has been a force to be reckoned with in the 2020 season. Through three games, the Hokies are seventh in the nation with 42.7 points per game, and third in the nation with 299.3 rushing yards per game.
The team has done this without even operating at full capacity. Now, with quarterback Hendon Hooker back in the fold, Virginia Tech fields its best offensive team for a balance of rushing and passing.
“He did his part when he wasn’t starting, and he did his part when he was in the game,” tight end James Mitchell said. “That’s just the kind of person and the kind of player Hendon is.”
Hooker was out of action for two weeks after an underlying condition was discovered. After more screening and testing, Hooker was cleared and returned to the practice field, but still wasn’t ready to start against NC State and Duke. In Saturday’s contest versus North Carolina, Braxton Burmeister started the game, but it was Hooker’s spark in the third quarter that exhibited the dangerous Hokies’ attack at full strength.
“I know [Hendon] wanted to be out there really bad,” Mitchell added. “I know in the preseason he was named starter, and then he kind of had to sit out for those first two games. I know it was hard on him, but he still did a great job preparing as second team for those two weeks, and he did a great job of keeping the guys up even he wasn’t playing.
“Probably most off, we knew what we had with him coming from last season, especially. We knew he was a great leader. It’s not like somebody was just thrown in the fire not playing much. We knew Hendon had experience, and he’s been in those situations, so it was easy for the offense to just ease into that situation.”
Hooker was the consummate teammate even when he wasn’t playing. Glimpses on the sideline would show him encouraging his fellow quarterbacks and helping them with the game plan. Once he got his chance again on the field, there was no turning back.
“He’s a leader on the sideline, he’s a leader in practice,” running back Khalil Herbert said. “Guys are able to just gravitate toward him.”
It’s the new one-two punch with Herbert and Hooker that could give opposing defensive coordinators nightmares. Hooker’s steady, consistent play bodes well alongside Herbert’s explosive playmaking abilities.
“He’s like dynamite. I’m more of pop rocks,” Hooker said. “[Khalil] really gave us the spark we need. Just to see him go out to play his game and have fun is a beautiful thing to see.”
After Herbert’s 138-yard, two touchdown performance against the Tar Heels, the 5-foot-9, 212-pound tailback still leads the nation in rushing yards per game (149.7) and yards per carry (10.44). Herbert’s vision has caught the attention of opponents and is modeled off the likes LaDainian Tomlinson, Alvin Kamara, and Ezekiel Elliott, who he spends time watching, but it’s Herbert’s work off the field that has turned the most heads.
“His vision is just incredible,” Hooker said. “His work ethic. I was coming in yesterday from watching film, and he was telling me he was going back to watch film if I was coming with him. I said, ‘Yeah, I’m coming with you.’ His work ethic is just incredible, and the way he can break down defenses while watching film and implement it in the games is incredible.”
In the second half against North Carolina, Virginia Tech got big production from those on the outside. Mitchell led the team with 104 yards receiving. There was also no shortage of vertical plays through the air. The tight end caught a 57-yard reception and a 26-yard touchdown, while Tayvion Robinson grabbed a 33-yard touchdown.
Coupled with the dominant rushing attack, Virginia Tech’s passing game should see more open space in the games ahead.
“[The running game] definitely opens up all the passing lanes,” Hooker said. “I know the receivers enjoy it, just running free and getting to their routes and getting the ball to make moves. It’s also a great thing to see our o-line rolling and our running backs hitting the ground running, Khalil and Jalen Holston and [Raheem] Blackshear, they all look good running the ball. I’m excited to see what the future holds.”
Herbert and Hooker find themselves as roommates this year. It gives them even more time to bounce ideas off each other and develop a chemistry with one another.
A common sentiment shared between the duo is the appreciation of those paving the way for offensive success, Virginia Tech’s offensive line, the Vice Squad.
“They’re basically my bodyguards,” Hooker said. “They don’t put me in any danger. They protect me on and off the field.”
Boston College will be the first team to see this vaunted offense in its complete form. Herbert, Hooker and Co. are ready for the task at hand.
“They’re a very physical team up front and at linebacker,” Mitchell “They play extremely hard. We know it’s going to be a challenge. It’s something we’re looking forward to. Very excited to play, and we know what we’re going to get from them.”