Sophomore Hendon Hooker got his first start and he played as well as any fan could hope. Hooker had only attempted two passes in his career before Saturday afternoon’s game, but he shined in South Florida. Hooker went 10 for 20 through the air with three touchdowns and no interceptions. He also led all rushers, finishing with 76 yards and a touchdown. The concern all season had been Ryan Willis’ turnover problems; Hooker finished with no turnovers, reassuring many Tech fans that he is the starter the rest of the way. Overall, Hooker shined in his first ever start, and fans saw that he is ideal for the run-pass-option scheme that the Hokies have installed.
Running Backs: C+
Outside of Hooker’s performance, Tech struggled to run the ball effectively against the Canes. After some successful scheming and running early, the Hokies seemed to abandon the running game after they built the four-touchdown advantage. The Tech offense went stale in the third quarter; this has been a troubling trend for some time in Blacksburg. Offensive coordinator Brad Cornelsen’s head-scratching play calling was likely the biggest reason why the Hokies could not run effectively and score points in the third quarter. Deshawn McClease led all backs with 57 yards and the go-ahead touchdown with 1:03 to go. The primary concern all season has been the lack of diversity in the run game.
Offensive Line: C-
The O-line did an admirable job protecting Hooker for his first start. Hooker was sacked twice, but overall he had time in the pocket. His mobility certainly helped in situations where protection broke down. On the ground, the offensive line struggled once again. Run blocking has been an issue in every game in 2019, and the youth certainly plays a role. Two freshmen and two sophomores form the big guys up front. Having two true freshman has hurt the Hokies in running the football, and that showed as Miami did a decent job stopping the big yardage plays on the ground. Overall, the offensive line youth and inexperience has held the offense back from its full potential. If the offensive line can improve, then the Hokies could reach new heights in the remainder of the 2019 season.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: B+
Junior tight end Dalton Keene is back! Tech’s offense had seemed to shy away from including Keene throughout the early part of the season, but that changed in Miami Gardens. Keene had five catches for 73 yards and three touchdowns. He was a one-man wrecking crew and the Hurricanes could not cover him. James Mitchell led the Hokies with three catches for 75 yards. Damon Hazelton had a great over-the-shoulder grab near the sideline for 29 yards, and it was great to see that in just his second start this year. The group overall did not produce huge numbers, but they did very well for their young quarterback and were great after the catch. If Hooker can continue to gel with this group, big numbers could be put up in 2019.
Defensive Line: A-
The defensive line played well throughout most of the game. They put pressure on Miami’s quarterbacks all game. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster called a great game dialing up the blitz. Mario Kendricks and Norell Pollard had a sack each. The pressure caused Miami to throw four interceptions. The line also allowed only 94 rushing yards for the game. The pressure supplied by the line decreased a little in the fourth quarter, which allowed Miami to have more time passing the ball. Overall it was a solid performance for the defensive line.
The linebackers played a strong game for head coach Justin Fuente. Junior Rayshard Ashby led the team with 11 tackles. As a unit they did well limiting big runs by Miami. Last week Duke was able to run all over the field, which led to the 35-point blow out; the linebackers were much improved stopping the run this week. The best part of the linebackers’ performance was their pressure on Miami’s quarterback. They had three sacks as a unit and caused many hurried pass attempts. The only thing that needs work is tackling in space. In the second half, Miami was able to run explosive screen plays that lead to the game being close at the end.
Defensive Backs: B
It was a tale of two halves for the Tech secondary. In the first half they had four interceptions: two by Caleb Farley and two by Jermaine Waller. Cornerbacks were all over receivers in coverage, batting balls away and not allowing any yards after the catch. The one mistake of the first half was not defending Miami’s Hail Mary well. It changed the momentum of the game and gave the Hurricanes life heading to the locker room. In the second half, defensive backs gave up over 250 receiving yards. Miami quarterback N’Kosi Perry had three touchdown passes in the second half. The secondary needs to keep working, but they showed that they can come up with big plays when they are needed for the Hokies.