Photo Credit: Harley Taylor
After a big victory at Miami last weekend, Virginia Tech is looking to build on that momentum as they return home to face Rhode Island this weekend. Here's a look at five things to keep an eye on when the Hokies battle the Rams on Saturday.
Hendon Hooker Getting Comfortable
Hendon Hooker’s first career start last week has been well documented. His four total touchdowns and his leadership during a game-winning drive has many Hokies’ fans rightfully excited.
However, it is important to note that Hooker is still relatively inexperienced. Before last week, he had thrown just two passes in his college career.
For the most part, Hooker looked relatively comfortable at the helm. His ability to run the ball opened up the RPO offense in a way we had not seen yet this season.
At times, though, he showed his inexperience. A couple of his passes in the first quarter sailed well over the heads of his intended targets, and he was quick to mention in the postgame that he was far from perfect.
There is no doubt that Hooker has an incredibly vast skill set. His perfect touch pass to Damon Hazelton and his 76 rushing yards are evidence of that. Yet he still needs time to get fully comfortable, and this game is a great opportunity to do that.
Rhode Island Receivers
Rhode Island has struggled so far this season, going 1-4 in five games against mostly FCS opponents. The Rams have had one big bright spot through it all, and that is their two star receivers.
“Rhode Island comes to town with two wide receivers that could play for about anybody in America,” Virginihead coach Justin Fuente said.
The two receivers Fuente is referring to are Aaron Parker and Isaiah Coulter. Through 5 games, Parker has racked up 42 catches for 682 yards and six touchdowns, while Coulter has 34 catches for 505 yards and four touchdowns.
For Virginia Tech, the challenge will be containing those two players in the passing game. The Rams are an extremely pass heavy offense, so the Hokies should know what they need to defend.
Virginia Tech cornerbacks Caleb Farley and Jermaine Waller had each had impressive games against Miami with two interceptions a piece. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster still said he would like to see more consistency from his corners.
“At that position, you've got to be exact every time,” Foster said. “And you have to have thick skin.”
Virginia Tech’s cornerbacks will have a good chance to prove themselves again this week against some very talented receivers.
Virginia Tech Receivers
The wideouts in maroon and orange will be players to watch for an opposite reason to the Rhode Island receivers. Virginia Tech’s wide receiving corps has left a lot to be desired this season.
Coming into 2019, the Hokies were confident that their receivers would be one of the strongest positions groups on the team. While they still have a lot of talent, Virginia Tech is going to need those receivers to start being more productive.
Against Miami, the Hokies got just two catches from wide receivers. Of course, it did not help that Tre Turner was out and the two tight ends took most of the targets.
There’s nothing wrong with using your tight ends as weapons in the passing game. The fact that both Dalton Keene and James Mitchell both exceeded 70 receiving yards is a promising sign.
Nevertheless, there comes a point where the receivers need to make plays as well. In order to have a balanced offense, Virginia Tech should hope that Damon Hazelton, Hezekiah Grimsley, Tayvion Robinson, and others can make some noise on Saturday.
Keshawn King and Deshawn McClease
Establishing the run game has been a point of emphasis for Virginia Tech all season. With a dual-threat quarterback now in the backfield, that goal may now be more attainable.
When Hendon Hooker is in the game, opposing defenses are forced to respect him as a runner. That opens up more lanes for guys like McClease and King, especially in the read option.
With all due respect to Ryan Willis, opponents simply did not worry about him as a running threat. They typically collapsed on the running back every time, and on the rare occasions that Willis did choose to keep it, they were content to surrender those eight or ten yards to him.
McClease was able to take advantage of his opportunity against Miami, carrying the ball 14 times for 57 yards and the game winning touchdown. That 4.1 yards per carry average was his second best mark of the season in that category.
King, on the other hand, was not a huge factor against the Hurricanes. He gained just 19 yards on 12 carries. He will look to have a better outing on Saturday, while McClease will try to continue building momentum.
Virginia Tech Offensive Line
The Hokies' offensive line had a relatively good day against Miami, allowing just two sacks and three QB hurries. For the most part, Hooker had the time he needed to make smart decisions.
One player in particular who stood out last Saturday was freshman Bryan Hudson. Hudson has been forced to slide from tackle to center due to injuries and ineligibilities at the position, and he has done a valiant job there thus far.
“I’m proud of the progress Bryan (Hudson) has made, and he continues to get better,” Fuente said. “He’s highly intelligent, you know, kind of a savvy player. I’m anxious to see him continue to improve.”
Rhode Island has a number of seniors on defense, but creating pressure is not their strong suit. The Rams have just five sacks on the season thus far.
After a tumultuous start to the season where the Hokies saw many different players rotating in and out of the offensive line, they seem to finally be meshing a bit better. They will look to confirm that against the Rams this weekend.