Before the calendar turned from September to October, Virginia Tech was already left for dead. Coming off a bye week, the Hokies were handed a 45-10 blowout loss at home by Duke. That left Virginia Tech at 2-2, 0-2 in the ACC and their only wins coming against Old Dominion and FCS Furman. Needing seven wins to reach bowl eligibility this season due to having two FCS teams on the schedule, it was hard to look at the eight games remaining on the schedule and find where those five remaining wins could come from.
And then something happened. A Virginia Tech offense that could get nothing going against Duke the week beforehand somehow managed to put up 42 against Miami in a 42-35 upset on the road. That game proved to be a turning point for the offense and the Hokies have now won three straight including a six-overtime victory over North Carolina.
What changed? The answer is the coaching staff finally realized the missing ingredient the offense needed in order to work: a dual-threat quarterback. That realization just may have saved Virginia Tech’s season twice already.
Sophomore quarterback Hendon Hooker started the game against Miami, taking over for the incumbent Ryan Willis. Hooker added a running threat that the team did not have with Willis and, while he did not have the best performance through the air with 10 completions on 20 attempts, the threat of the run opened up the offense. Hooker threw for three touchdowns and ran for 76 yards and another touchdown.
Prior to Saturday’s win, it would have been easy to say the difference was the move to Hooker by itself. A new quarterback sparked the offense. As well as Hooker had played, however, it was the realization of the coaches that it was that running threat that made all the difference, not necessary Hooker himself. That realization proved critical against North Carolina as head coach Justin Fuente made a huge gamble and it paid off.
Just two games after the win over Miami, Virginia Tech hosted North Carolina and Hooker left the game with an injury in the second quarter. Willis came on in relief, initially, completing all three of his pass attempts for 55 yards and a touchdown.
But after a drive in which Willis was sacked twice including a 12-yard loss on an intentional grounding call that took Virginia Tech out of field goal range and forced a punt, Fuente made perhaps the most important call of his tenure in Blacksburg.
On the next drive, third-string, freshman quarterback Quincy Patterson was in at quarterback.
“Quincy hasn’t taken as many reps in the past couple of weeks as the top two guys - but we made the decision there pretty quicky to move along and bring Quincy in,” Fuente told the media after the game. “Obviously, it changed what we looked like a little bit. To me, he did a great job of running hard, taking care of the ball, and he made a few good plays in the passing game.”
Patterson had only one college completion in his career. Yet, he came into the game and was able to pass for 54 yards, rush for another 122 and score two total touchdowns. He also ran in the game-clinching two-point conversion in the sixth-overtime.
“Part of it is his threat of running the football, it can give you some advantageous looks to throw the ball,” Fuente said of the advantage Patterson brought to the offense.”
It takes guts to decide to replace your former starter, who had already thrown for a touchdown, with a freshman quarterback who has virtually no experience.
Ultimately the results speak for themselves.
With Willis as the starter, Virginia Tech went 2-2. They turned the ball over 11 times in those four games and the offense was getting progressively worse. The Hokies managed 442 total yards in the season opener against Boston College. That was down to 403 the week after, 350 in Week 3 and finally 259 against Duke.
With Hooker and Patterson as the primary starters, Virginia Tech has turned the ball over only twice. The total yards have climbed each week from 337 to 485 to 490. Perhaps most critically, a Virginia Tech team that was averaging only 148.8 rushing yards per game was has averaged 210.3 rushing yards in the past three wins. The Hokies are also average 39.7 points per game, up from 23.3.
Think those points were inflated by the overtime win? Not really. If you take away the 12 points Virginia Tech scored in those six overtimes, their scoring average would still be 35.7.
Even with three straight wins, Virginia Tech still has a tough hill to climb to get back to protect its treasured bowl streak and contend for the Coastal Division. The Hokies have five wins and must find two more in their schedule at Notre Dame, Wake Forest, at Georgia Tech, Pitt and at Virginia.
But you can’t count them out just yet. The offense has pulled the team back from the precipice after Fuente’s two gambles at quarterback paid off.
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