It almost seems surreal, but this isn’t a dream. Anything can happen and there’s no guarantee the magical run will continue, but the 2019 Virginia Tech Hokies have turned the corner in a major way.
Like some kind of magical vacation that never ends, it’s hard to slow down and fully process everything we are witnessing. Sure, it’s rivalry week and Friday will be the biggest Commonwealth Cup in recent history with the ACC Coastal Crown up for grabs. It’s still only Monday though and after rewatching Virginia Tech’s complete domination over a talented Pitt squad, it felt like a decent time to take a breath and reflect on a few sure conclusions about the 2019 Hokies.
Here are the four biggest things we learned after the Hokies buried the Panthers in an epic fashion:
1. Fuente, Bud Foster and the Hokies’ staff has patiently assembled a roster laden with talent at nearly every position, though it was hard to see for a long time
It’s tough for fans to be patient and it’s understandable in the win-now College Football Playoff era. Everyone with an investment in Hokies’ football saw the signs and drew their own conclusions. The chatters began last season — as the Hokies struggled mightily at times — nearly shattering their impressive Bowl streak. Big-name players were tossing their names in the transfer portal like it was a hip new trend. The team lacked the chemistry necessary to accomplish something special. Last year’s adversity reared its ugly head again early this season and optimism morphed into anger. Some called for Fuente’s job while others defended the fourth-year Hokies’ coach.
It’s astounding how quickly the narrative can be re-written.
The struggling Hokies’ feel like a distant memory and everyone has moved on, sharing high-fives and tailgates in frigid temperatures and pouring rain. Fans and alumni are passionate as they should be, but there’s no arguing now. Athletic Director Whit Babcock proved once again that he’s one of the best in the business. As panic ensued, he remained calm.
Now? Find a position group that hasn’t trended upward since the Duke loss. The product isn’t perfect and there is plenty of room for growth, but this team is a thrill to watch. They are young, ultra-talented and confident. They are humble and continuously focus on the bigger picture. That’s a direct credit to Fuente and his staff. It’s realistic to now say the best is yet to come, and that should be a terrifying thought for any time with the Hokies’ in their path.
2. Even with just six starts, Hendon Hooker is considered a clear leader on this squad
It feels a bit odd to label a redshirt-freshmen as a leader after just six starts, but Fuente didn’t hold back when I asked about his young quarterback’s impact on the team as a whole.
“He’s had leadership skills since he’s been here,” Fuente said. “One of the first things I took notice to was I thought he had that. I didn’t give it to him, it was obvious he had natural leadership. Obviously when you play and play well, you can carry more clout.”
It’s almost hard to put into words, but it’s just that “it” factor you know when you watch him play. He elevates everyone around him and continues to progress.
Hooker is still new to Hokies fans, media and everyone following the program. He’s quiet, humble and doesn’t appear to ever get too high or too low. It’s still early, but after 6-straight victories, while overcoming various adverse situations along the way, Hooker has proven himself as the long-term answer. He relishes the big moment and thrives in the face of pressure. The new Virginia Tech dual-threat weapon likely won’t remain undefeated forever, and while Hooker’s stats don’t fall off the charts, he’s proven to be the star signal caller Blacksburg has been missing for a while. There have been good ones since Mike Vick , Logan Thomas And Tyrod Taylor. Jerod Evans had a short stint, but looked to have similar skills as the Hokies’ greats. It’s early, but it feels like the time to acknowledge Hooker could be the next one to join those names.
3. Bud Foster’s ability — in his final few games before retirement — to turn a young struggling defense into one of the top units in the ACC will be remembered at the top of his impressive list of accomplishments
It’s hard to process all of the storylines synonymous with this unexpected, exhilarating run by Virginia Tech football. The biggest, even more important than the emergence of Hooker, is Foster’s masterful coaching performance in his final few games on the sidelines. The legendary Hokies’ leader is once again showing why he’s one of the top defensive coordinators in the history of the sport. Just take a moment and think about the product we witnessed at several points early in 2019.
Then try to immediately focus on the group you saw rattle the Pitt offense to its core a week after shutting out Georgia Tech.
Never forget where they were, but take time to truly appreciate where they are right now. If you really want to go bold, just take a few minutes off work and daydream... where they could be.
This is the same group of players that gave up almost 400 yards and five touchdowns (three rushing, two passing) in the 35-28 loss to Boston College to kick off the season.
It’s the same unit that completely outmatched Old Dominion and Furman in terms of talent, but let both programs post 17 in home games that should haven’t been remotely close.
Foster’s defense — the dominant, physical, ball-hawking, quarterback menacing defense — is the same group that was torched by a sub-par Duke squad. The Blue Devils have lost their last five but on that day, made the Hokies look lost and confused. .
It’s almost unfathomable to think Duke actually posted 422 total yards of offense and scored 6 touchdowns (three rushing, three passing) against Foster’s boys.
It was impossible to predict the future then, but that was the wake-up call for everyone associated with Virginia Tech football. Now coined “AD” by the coaching staff, the Duke disaster became turning point of the year.
It would take far too long to list the contributions of nearly every Hokies’ defender. Theres the improved defensive line, the elite linebacker corps and the resurgence of the real “DBU” with a secondary that looks like a shell of itself,
Limiting a top-tier Notre Dame offense on the road, stifling an explosive Wake Forest offense that entered the game ranked in the Top-10 in nearly every major category, literally shutting down Georgia Tech for a shout and then following up with yet another shutout against a talented, surging Pitt team? It isn’t over yet, but nobody could have written a better ending for Foster.
4. This Virginia Tech wide receivers group is special
There was quiet optimism surrounding the Hokies’ wide receiving corps ahead of the 2019 campaign. After 11 games in 2019, it’s safe to say Virginia Tech has one of the elite pass-catching units in the ACC. There isn’t a single dominant threat, either. Much like Clemson’s bevy of playmaking pass-catchers, the Hokies have weapons across the board. Some we knew about ahead of the year. Others came seemingly out of nowhere and are blossoming before our eyes.
The duo of Tre Turner and Damon Hazelton always flashed promise, but with health, live game reps and experience it’s all jelling.. Add creative play-calling and chemistry with Hooker, and we are watching an entire unit of receiving threats play near the top of their game. Turner brings an extra spark to the offense outside of his role as a reliable target downfield. HES been weaved into the running game and has found success. Still, it often feels like there is nothing the former transfer can’t do with the pigskin coming his way. Hazelton and Turner are listed as 6-foot-2, but Hazelton is more of the traditional, big-bodied target that can outmatch defensive backs and use his physical stature to dominate. He still has solid speed and his hands are near-perfect. When it comes to finding the end zone, Hazelton leads the Hokies with seven scores, many of which he uses his uncanny athleticism to haul in grabs over defenders. There are others where he tip-toe’s along the sideline to complete a key touchdown grab in a small window. Both Turner and Hazelton are vital pieces to the Hokies’ offensive success and each brings a unique skill set to the table.
How about these 2019 stat lines?
Turner: GP (9), YDS (408), AVG (15.69), TD (3) LONG (55 yards), AVG/G (45.33)
Hazelton: GP (9) YDS (388) AVG (16.87) TD (7) LONG (72) AVG/G (43.11)
That is wild. Can you imagine being an opposing defensive coordinator trying to game plan for just those two guys?
Oh, but there’s so much more.
True freshman Trayvion Robinson — who literally came on to the scene out of nowhere — is the most exciting player to watch on this year’s squad and it isn’t even close. The dynamic speedster is absolutely electric. It feels like we get to witness some sort of SportsCenter highlight every time the young buck touches the rock. He caught notice touchdown grab in his Hokies’ debut against Boston College and then began making noise on special teams as a returner who can instantly change the field. Like so many of these young, ultra-talented Hokies gaining confidence as each week passes, there’s a feeling we are just starting to see how special Robinson can be.
It was only two days ago, but we will never forget Robinson’s ridiculous 72-yard snag against Pitt where he smokes a corner in coverage, completely embarrasses the safety coming up to help and then sheds a few more tackles before finally getting wrestled down.
Finally, while they are both technically listed as tight-ends, the combo of Dalton Keene and James Mitchell rounds out an insanely talented group of weapons for Hooker to utilize .
Keene’s gritty style of play, sure hands and ability to line up almost anywhere on the field made him a fan-favorite last season. He’s continued to make huge plays in 2019 and is averaging an impressive 20 yards per reception with 220 receiving yards and four touchdowns so far.
Mitchell may not be the hard-nosed blocker who is going to bulldoze anyone and everyone to gain a few extra yards like Keene, but he’s the perfect compliment. The 6-foot-3 freakishly athletic weapon is the tight end of the new age. His route running ability is as good as a true No. 1 wideout and his physical stature creates nightmares for the poor linebackers/DBs tasked with containing him. In 11 games, the true Sophomore is averaging 18.06 yards per reception game with two touchdowns.
What about this speed, though? From a tight end, this isn’t even fair.