Virginia Tech bounced back from their worst home loss since the 1970s with a dramatic 42-35 road victory over Miami. The Hokies were able to take advantage of great field position early in the game while Hendon Hooker stepped up and led a game-winning touchdown drive after VT blew a 35-14 fourth quarter lead.
With that said, here are three offensive takeaways from yesterday's win at Miami.
1. Offense is Better With Hendon Hooker
After many were calling for a QB change, Virginia Tech did exactly that going with Hendon Hooker over Ryan Willis. While the offense was far from perfect, it didn't take long for it to become clear that Hooker was the better QB for the Hokies at this point.
Unlike Willis, Hooker is obviously a threat to make plays with his legs breaking more than one tackle on multiple runs against the Hurricanes. His mobility forced Miami's defense to respect his running ability while he also did a better job operating the option plays that the Hokies run fairly common.
At times, Virginia Tech seemed to run a playbook similar to what they did the last time they had a legitimate mobile threat with Jerod Evans. Though Hooker isn't the same power running threat, he is definitely faster and more elusive. That showed as Hooker was able to find space and make guys miss in the open field turning solid gains into big plays.
Additionally, Hooker did a great job of protecting the football. On a day where the Hokies forced 4 interceptions and 5 total turnovers in the first half, Virginia Tech didn't have a single turnover. More importantly, there wasn't a single pass or moment where it seemed like the Hokies were close to turning the ball over.
Hooker did have some inaccuracy, but his passing errors never put the Hokies in danger of giving the ball to Miami which proved quite valuable in a game where the +5 turnover margin was the main reason for the Hokies' victory.
Virginia Tech's offense has some life again and the #1 reason for that is the QB change to a true dual-threat in Hendon Hooker, who also protected the football as well as we've seen this season.
2. Keep Using The Tight Ends a Lot
The Hokies may have the best tandem of tight ends in the ACC in Dalton Keene and James Mitchell yet hadn't really used that to their advantage. Against Miami, they used them as they ought to making them important parts of the passing and putting them in great positions to make plays.
James Mitchell has shown that he can be used effectively as a receiver, and the Hokies did that with his long reception coming when Mitchell was lined up in the slot. The sophomore ran a great route and was able to get the DB to stumble to get all the space he needed for Hooker to throw an easy completion with lots of yards after the catch. There's no reason why Mitchell shouldn't be used in the slot more often as a change of pace with his size being a challenge and route-running making him more than qualified.
Meanwhile, Dalton Keene was effective in a multitude of ways that we've seen him be effective at in the past. First, Keene has proven to be a great checkdown receiver who has a knack for finding space in the flat, something he did again and again in this game with Miami.
Secondly, Keene's knack for space works well in play action with Keene lined up as a traditional TE with his touchdown off a Hooker rollout being a perfect fit. Specifically, that play not only got Keene in space but allowed him to manipulate the field effectively. Though Keene isn't that elusive, he is a smart open-field runner who gave Miami's defense difficult angles in pursuit of him, leading to some of his longer touchdowns.
What showed overall is that it has been inexplicable for the Hokies not to have used the tight ends more in the passing game previously. Keene and Mitchell both showed that they are valuable pieces to rounding out the passing game and that you don't have to be a wide receiver to be a playmaker in the passing game in any game situation unlike what others have oddly suggested previously.
3. Playcalling Improved But Still Lackluster
Offensive playcalling was under a microscope this week and while there was some improvement, this wasn't a masterpiece of a game by Brad Cornelsen. However, this was a step in the right direction with the biggest offensive improvement being more due to starting a true dual-threat QB.
The biggest issue was how the Hokies became extremely predictable and inept during most of the second half. Again and again, Virginia Tech seemed to even go away from option plays with simple interior runs on first and second down. Unsurprisingly, that set up multiple third and longs that led to three 3 and outs to start the second half, encompassing the entirety of the third quarter.
The fact that the Hokies seemed to take their foot off the gas when Miami had momentum was quite unwise and set the stage for the Hurricanes' comeback. Additionally, the rushing offense became so predictable against a struggling Miami defense in a way that was a larger version of Virginia's late 3 and out against the Hokies last season that set the stage for VT's comeback.
Of course, there were some good things from greater offensive variety to well-designed rollouts and QB draws that created the space Hendon Hooker needed to make plays with his legs.
Overall, it was an improvement from last week's playcalling but that was a very low bar to clear and Virginia Tech's offense still was held back at times by way too conservative and predictable playcalling.
If the Hokies want to continue to improve on offense, the playcalling is going to have to show greater trust and allow for some more risks, more variety, and more stretching the field that creates space for Hooker to make plays with his legs.