Hendon Hooker Puts Up Dominant Numbers Again In Loss To Liberty

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Hendon Hooker
Hendon Hooker had another huge game for Virginia Tech. (Virginia Tech sports photography)

Lost in the hectic final moments of Saturday’s loss to Liberty and the ensuing opinions that were swirling around on social media was another fine performance from quarterback Hendon Hooker. Simply put, the redshirt junior took another step forward.

Following a 23-16 loss to Wake Forest on October 24, there were some questioning if Hooker was the right man for the job. Since then, he’s done nothing but squash those qualms. In the two games since that three-interception performance against the Demon Deacons, Hooker has gone 30-of-37 passing (81 percent) for 400 yards and three touchdowns. On the ground, the 6-foot-4, 220-pounder has carried the ball 39 times for 224 yards and four touchdowns.

The biggest part of Hooker’s progression on Saturday was his effectiveness in the two-minute drill. Down a touchdown with 1:41 to play, Hooker started the drive with a dropped pass by Tre Turner, but from there it was peak efficiency. 

  • Back shoulder strike to Kaleb Smith for 17 yards.
  • 11-yard throw to Turner in tight coverage, exhibiting the arm strength from right hash to left sideline.
  • 15-yard completion right on the money to Turner on the slant to move the chains.
  • 8-yard run by Raheem Blackshear and 15-yard facemask penalty.
  • Finally, a fake handoff to Blackshear and beautifully thrown fade to Turner for the 12-yard touchdown, capping off the drive that went 75 yards in just 49 seconds.

“Hendon did a good job taking what they gave us,” said head coach Justin Fuente of the sequence during Monday’s press conference. “We were able to hold up in pass protection and move the ball down the field. Certainly, I was pleased with that. That was the one thing we had to have in order to give ourselves a chance after making the decision to let them score. Our guys went out there and executed at a high level.”

It was the part of the offense that worried Hokie fans the most: what would happen when Hooker and the offense were put in drop back and pass situations? What was a letdown in that area against Wake Forest became a smooth operation versus Liberty.

“You want the ball in your hands at those times,” Hooker said post-game. “Those times are just part of the games, as well as building a legacy with the offense. We drove down and scored and executed the way we’ve been practicing.”

The biggest issue going forward now may just be how often Fuente and his staff continue to use Hooker in the running game and expose him to hits. Without Khalil Herbert on Saturday, Hooker led the team with 20 carries. Meanwhile, the rest of the team garnered just 11 attempts.

“We never hit the quarterback in practice,” Fuente said. “Occasionally, we may make the quarterback live in the spring, but we would never make a guy who has played as much as Hendon live, ever. I worry about all of those things. He’s going to go out and practice and be tough for his football team. You’d like for your starting quarterback to go out there in a glass case and never get touched the whole game, but it just doesn’t work that way.”

Looking ahead, Virginia Tech is unsure whether Herbert will be available, and the usually tight-lipped Fuente didn’t reveal too much about his status and the extent of his injury even in the lead up to the Liberty game.

“I don’t know the answer to that,” Fuente said. “I didn’t know if he was going to be available last week. We’ll see how it goes this week. If he can go, he’ll go, but if he can’t, he won’t. We’ll rep those guys that I talked about that are in that top group, and we’ll try to get another guy or two ready in case we need them.”

If Herbert is unable to go, the load will fall on Hooker’s legs a lot more, as was the case on Saturday, but the Hokies will need to get more production out of the other running backs. Raheem Blackshear headlines that list, but he still hasn’t been able to showcase his explosive abilities so far this year, averaging 4.16 yards per carry. Jalen Holston will also be tasked with a greater role, collecting 66 yards on seven carries this season.

“We do need to continue to bring along those other guys,” Fuente said. “Jalen needs to play a role for us. Raheem needs to continue to improve. It was kind of a weird situation this week because it wasn’t that we knew we wouldn’t have Khalil, but we weren’t sure. You have Raheem working at both slot and running back, but when you lose Khalil on the first play of the game, he’s got to play just running back. There’s a lot of shuffling and a lot of discussion that has to happen when you lose a guy like that.”

If available, Keshawn King could have a role, but other running backs like Marco Lee and Tahj Gary would have to see rapid progression to see their playing time bumped in the absence of Herbert.

“They’re not ready right now,” Fuente said. “That doesn’t mean they couldn’t play, but the other two guys are pretty far ahead of them. Keshawn is another one that has been a little bit up and down, but I’ve been encouraged by some of the things I’ve seen from him. He obviously wasn’t available, so it was hard to play him, but he’s another one that if he’s fully available, would certainly be in that top group.”

With Miami waiting in the wings, it’ll likely be another high-scoring affair and another chance for Hooker and the offense to keep the momentum rolling. 

“[Miami’s] defensive line certainly stands out,” Fuente said. “Both of those defensive ends are very talented, NFL players. This should be a huge challenge for us, and we’re looking forward to a great week of prep.”

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9 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Just my opinion, but to judge a coaching job at VT on anything that happens this year is being unrealistic.
    The offense this year is better than has been in decades, and that is a result of the coaching and ability to bring in players that can help the program.
    If I try to remove the emotion of wanting to win from the equation, let’s face the fact that our defense is not very good this year. You can blame anyone you choose, but lets see……New DC, a host of new coaches. They get ZERO opportunity to meet face to face with the players during spring practice, then at least 2 starters you are counting on take themselves off the team, then no real fall practice to speak of, and all the covid related BS that has hung like a black cloud over the Defense this season. Is that the coaches fault, not in any realistic universe I can think of. I am not sure that the fan base can really appreciate how difficult trying to play football this year must be for the staff and the players. You can say that other teams are doing why can’t we? Fair question, but take a look at what happened to this team after the end of the season last year and ask how many successful programs have overcome similar issues. Any good that comes out of this season is a bonus as far as I am concerned, while losing to Liberty in our house really sucks, I am trying not to lose my mind. This whole season is a treat to me, just getting to play it.

    1. 10 **********

      Thanks for eloquently stating what I would be more bluntly nasty about in making my point!

  2. Reading Fuente’s quotes saddens me to be honest. I don’t know if he is the coach we need to get Tech back to where I want it, but I do feel he got us where we are now with some real issues that don’t appear to have any solutions coming soon or even next year. I feel bad for him, I suppose he has done his best. It just isn’t good enough looking at this team and its future prospects

    1. … you shouldn’t be saddened by quotes you reference that don’t specify WHAT you’re talking about. Was it the accuracy of dramatically improving gaps with Herbert & Blackshear, or something else, that saddens the average Hokie FB fan the most?

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