After a week full of fan dismay and criticism of the coaching staff and the players, Virginia Tech emerged from a rough week with a 42-35 upset victory against the Miami Hurricanes on Saturday afternoon in Miami Gardens.
Following a 45-10 drubbing at the hands of the Duke Blue Devils at Lane Stadium last Friday night, the Hokies had questions abound on both sides of the football heading into its third ACC game of the campaign. With fans and media alike sending harsh criticism in the direction of the football program, the team responded with its most inspiring effort of the season.
It was a fast start for Virginia Tech in this one, as Caleb Farley intercepted his first of two first half passes on Miami's first drive of the game, setting up Virginia Tech for an eventual 12-yard touchdown run for first-time starting quarterback Hendon Hooker. Farley's interception of Miami quarterback Jarren Williams was one of five first half turnovers for the Hurricanes, which led to 28 first-half points for the Hokies. Hooker found tight end Dalton Keene on two scores in the first half, to go along with a one-yard James Mitchell touchdown run to help lead the Hokies to four unanswered scores in the first half.
Carrying a shocking 28-0 road lead into the waning moments of the first half, Miami backup quarterback N'kosi Perry found WR Mark Pope on a Hail Mary as time expired to cut the first half deficit to 28-7.
After Virginia Tech's offense stalled on the first drive of the second half, Miami responded with an 8-play, 88-yard scoring drive that was capped off by a six-yard touchdown pass from N'kosi Perry to tight end Brevin Jordan to cut the Virginia Tech lead to 28-14. After a Dalton Keene touchdown reception, his third of the game, extended Virginia Tech's lead to 35-14 in the beginning of the fourth quarter, Miami got the football back with hopes of chipping away once again at the three-touchdown deficit that it found itself in with less than a quarter to play.
The Hokies defense appeared to have forced its sixth turnover of the game with a 35-14 lead in the fourth quarter, but an interception returned inside the Miami 10-yard line was called back for a roughing the passer penalty on defensive end Jarrod Hewitt, a play which certainly would have put the game away.
Instead, the Hurricanes proceeded to score on three straight possessions offensively, including one that concluded in a two-point conversion to cut the Hokies lead to 35-29, and another that ended in a missed extra point with 3:16 to play, that tied the game at 35 a piece, rather than giving Miami a 36-35 lead.
With a tied game with a little over three minutes to play, Virginia Tech quarterback Hendon Hooker connected with Damon Hazelton on a 29-yard pass, and eventually with tight end Dalton Keene on a 26-yard pass, setting up the Hokies for a 3-yard touchdown run by Deshawn McClease that turned out to be the decisive score in a 42-35 victory.
Virginia Tech's defense, despite yielding 563 yards of total offense, got the stops it needed with the five turnovers forced and a late knockdown by linebacker Alan Tisdale as time expired to seal the win for Virginia Tech.
While the defense's bend-but-don't-break mentality is a huge story in this game, the fight of the offense might be an even bigger story on the afternoon. While Hendon Hooker certainly had his trials and tribulations throwing the football, he came through when it counted and gave the Virginia Tech offense the spark that it needed.
Hooker finished 10-20 for 184 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions, and added 16 carries for 76 yards and a touchdown on the ground in an overall impressive debut as the starting quarterback. Tight ends Dalton Keene and James Mitchell combined for eight catches for 148 yards and three touchdowns to torch the Hurricanes secondary.
While there is plenty for the Hokies to improve upon before next week's non-conference home game against Rhode Island, including finding ways not to blow four touchdown leads, it's hard not to come away impressed by the way the coaching staff and the team responded following a home rout at the hands of Duke.
The Hokies (3-2, 1-2 ACC) will take the momentum gained from an unexpected road win as a two-touchdown underdog back to Lane Stadium next Saturday. Kickoff against the Rhode Island Rams is slated for 4 PM ET on the ACC Network.