Virginia Tech took care of business this weekend with a 34-17 victory over Rhode Island highlighted by a strong offensive performance especially from Offensive Hokie of the Game Hendon Hooker. Overall, it was a day full of positives for the Hokies on the offensive side of the ball.
With that said, here's our three offensive takeaways from the Hokies' victory over Rhode Island.
1. Hendon Hooker Protecting The Football Well
There has been a lot to be pleased about with Hendon Hooker from him giving the Hokies a legit dual-threat QB to some impressive down-field passes to the Hokies' two highest-scoring outputs of the season coming in his two starts.
However, the best thing about Hooker's first two starts that is the best sign going forward; Hooker is protecting the football as well as anyone.
Over the past two games, Virginia Tech hasn't had a single turnover, an amazing turnaround after the Hokies had a -8 turnover margin in their first four games. The more impressive thing is the fact that Hooker hasn't had a pass that even seemed to having a chance at being an interception. The only close call VT has had with a turnover under Hooker's watch was the late bad snap in the fourth quarter of Saturday's game.
Not only is it great to see Hooker do that once but even more to see it a second time against a team who could prepare for Hooker as a passer. Of course, next week will provide a better test against a much more talented team with a well-respected defensive coordinator in Jay Bateman, but Hooker looked the part of a ball-protecting QB for the second-straight week.
That hasn't gone overlooked by Justin Fuente either with that being the first thing he mentioned in his postgame remarks on Hooker's performance.
"I thought the biggest thing is that he’s taking care of the football in both starts. He’s done a
great job of that," Fuente said.
For a head coach who values protecting the football, Hooker is a quarterback who does exactly that.
2. The Tight End Emergence Continues
After putting up massive numbers last week, the Hokies' tight end unit; or the "T-Unit" as Hendon Hooker called them, were a major factor again this week.
Dalton Keene had 4 catches for 53 yards and a touchdown continuing to play a large role offensively while James Mitchell had a 27-yard reception.
Keene and Mitchell may both bring different skill sets to the table, but there's no doubt that the Hokies have a significant advantage with a tight end group that may be the most talented in the ACC.
Part of the reason for the increased tight end success is likely due to what Justin Fuente mentioned after the game about the Hokies having an improved rushing attack, or at least a greater running threat that teams have to deal with. However, the Hokies are actually using plays that involve their tight ends whether they are the primary target or a secondary option where they can take advantage of favorable matchups.
We've seen both of those things manifest themselves with the increased used of play action including delayed routes into the flat by Keene. Keene once again was able to have a long reception off a simple play action pass that got him into space underneath a passing play that stretched the defense with Keene being great at forcing bad tackling angles when in space.
Additionally, the Hokies used Keene, and Mitchell, in their regular passing game and not just as play action threats. Part of Tech's reasoning for that may have been due to Tech apparently having a limited receiving corps due to injuries. If that was the case, the Hokies should look at the tape and see how their big tight ends can give the Hokies unique matchups in the slot that compliment speedy slot receivers like Tayvion Robinson and Hezekiah Grimsley well.
Going forward, the Hokies must continue to use Dalton Keene and James Mitchell as a prominent part of their passing attack to maximize their offensive potential.
3. Tahj Gary Looks Promising But Must Be Redshirted
Tahj Gary made his debut for Virginia Tech late in the fourth quarter and looked good with 4 carries for 24 yards including a 16-yard run that was originally a 17-yard touchdown run before being overturned upon review.
First, the fact that Gary was playing less than a year after suffering the major knee injury that he did is simply incredible. Add in the fact that he didn't look athletically limited and it's clear that Gary put in the work required to make sure he is in the best shape possible.
Secondly, Virginia Tech used the new redshirt rule wisely by giving Gary a few carries late in this game. The Hokies could have easily gone with someone like Caleb Steward or Terius Wheatley, both of whom seem to have futures limited to special teams in Blacksburg, but gave Gary the opportunity to gain some valuable experience.
In his carries, Gary showed that he might be the third best running back in a RB room that is starting to show signs of actually being rebuilt with Keshawn King and Gary.
However, while it may be tempting to use Gary more, the Hokies must redshirt Gary.
At this point, Gary's role would be no better than being the third back. If anything, the Hokies would likely use that third back as an interior runner. If the Hokies are to simply do that, there's no reason why they can't use the aforementioned Stewart to do just that. Additionally, size doesn't seem to be a limitation for that as VT's use of Deshawn McClease has shown.
Virginia Tech has the foundation to build a quality running back room with King and Gary and while King already has a large role as a true freshman, the Hokies would be wise to redshirt Gary rather than use him as a third back.