Who would have thought that changing quarterbacks would evolve Virginia Tech’s offense into one of the best in the ACC?
That’s exactly what has happened this season. After the offense reached a new low of 10 points vs. Duke in the now infamous blowout on Sep. 27, Virginia Tech finally pulled the ripcord. Hendon Hooker was inserted into the starting lineup and since he became the starter, Tech is 4-0 in games he has started.
Hooker isn’t the sole reason Virginia Tech’s offense has gotten on track, but it’s a greater emphasis on the running game and the impact of having a quarterback capable of making plays with their legs.
Ryan Willis could start at many Power 5 programs in the country. He’s got better than average arm talent and at this point, he’s a battled-tested veteran. However, Willis’ inability to impact the game with his legs hindered an otherwise poor running game. Virginia Tech’s first four games of the season looked like this…
- at Boston College: 93 rushing yards, 2.3 yards per attempt
- Old Dominion: 131 rushing yards, 3.4 yards per attempt
- Furman: 227 rushing yards, 5.3 yards per attempt
- Duke: 139 rushing yards, 3.2 yards per attempt
Virginia Tech’s rushing attack was dismal, going all the way back to 2018. But since Hooker and Quincy Patterson have taken over as the starter and the backup, the Hokies are making a living running the football.
- at Miami: 153 rushing yards, 3.6 yards per attempt
- Rhode Island: 224 rushing yards, 5.6 yards per attempt
- North Carolina: 254 rushing yards, 4.2 yards per attempt
- at Notre Dame: 96 rushing yards, 2.7 yards per attempt
- Wake Forest: 228 rushing yards, 4.8 yards per attempt
Outside of the Notre Dame game, when the Hokies played with a backup quarterback against the toughest team on their schedule, Virginia Tech’s rushing attack has become quite good.
Running the football is mostly a numbers game. When you can get enough blockers to match the number of defenders in any given area, you’ve got a good chance to run for a decent gain. It’s easier to win the numbers game when your quarterback is running the football.
This play right here is one of many examples over the last few weeks. This is a designed quarterback run, with Hooker running an outside zone to the right. Dalton Keene, not a running back but a tight end who has received carries, lines up in the backfield. Before the snap, Keene motions up to the line of scrimmage on the wing, basically telegraphing the play.
Once the play starts, North Carolina can’t stop it because Virginia Tech has already won the numbers game. The Hokies have a hat on a hat and freshman tackle Luke Tenuta gets to the second level. He runs the free hitter out of the play, allowing Hooker to shimmy through the hole and get into the secondary. This play simply isn’t possible unless your quarterback is a stellar athlete capable of handling the football.
The same concept works with Patterson in the game. He’s just as athletic as Hooker with a bit more size, making him a lethal option on the ground.
This play shows the same sort of formation and motion. Keene, again in the backfield, motions up to the line of scrimmage. Patterson takes the snap and runs right, hitting the hole and finishing a 53-yard run with a touchdown. Both plays were created because Tech is able to match each defender with a blocker. Even if they are limited passers, Hooker and Patterson’s athleticism create many possibilities on the ground.
Just one play earlier, we saw what kind of opportunities this kind of ground game can produce . With Patterson in the game and Keene in the backfield, Patterson runs right before dropping back to pass. The threat to run has sucked in multiple defenders, putting them out of position against Virginia Tech’s receivers. Tayvion Robinson, who is lined up in the slot, runs a deep crossing route that gets behind the linebackers for 22 yards. The threat of a running quarterback benefits both aspects of the offense.
Virginia Tech clearly could benefit from a quarterback who can slice and dice from the pocket, but straining defenses with quarterback runs and then hitting open holes through the air works too. While the offensive line is improving week in and week out, Virginia Tech is boosting their chances by evening the equation in the run game. It’s what has elevated this offense into one of the best in the conference and paired with an improving defense, vaulted the Hokies back into relevancy.