Hokies look to keep resurgence going against Rhode Island
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By HANK KURZ Jr.
The last time Virginia Tech played at home, the Hokies absorbed their worst home loss in 45 years: a 45-10 drubbing against Duke.
Three weeks later, things are looking better for the Hokies with Rhode Island of the Football Championship Subdivision coming to town.
Virginia Tech (3-2) is coming off a 42-35 victory at Miami in which Hendon Hooker replaced Ryan Willis as the starting quarterback. The Hokies bolted to a 28-0 lead against the Hurricanes, saw them storm back to tie the game 35-35 with just over 3 minutes to play before Hooker drove them to the winning touchdown with 63 seconds left.
Offensive coordinator Brad Cornelsen said the change at quarterback, and the victory, allows the Hokies to look forward.
"We challenged the whole team and the offense to get tougher," he said, praising the first-time starter. "What we displayed out there the week before was not us and who we want to be. So, that was the number one challenge for our team, and I felt like he tried to embody that, too."
The Rams (1-4) are coming off a come-from-behind 31-28 victory at Brown, and the change to the more dual-threat Hooker presents a challenge.
"The run-ability of the new guy is legitimate and concerning," said Rhode Island coach Jim Fleming said. "The whole squad is concerning for us."
Rhode Island's Vito Priore threw for 389 yards and three touchdowns against Brown and is averaging more than 343 passing yards per game with 12 touchdowns.
"We're going to have to play great football on the back end," Hokies defensive coordinator Bud Foster said.
Some other things to watch when Rhode Island visits Virginia Tech:
KEENE ON SCORING
Hokies tight end Dalton Keene caught five passes for 73 yards and three touchdowns against Miami. The touchdowns were his first of the season. Tight ends accounted for eight of the 10 completions the Hokies had on the day with James Mitchell catching three passes for 75 yards, the long a 67-yarder.
LOOK AT HOOKER
Hooker completed just 10 of 20 passes for 184 yards with no interceptions against the Hurricanes, but coach Justin Fuente dismissed a number of the incompletions as drops or wise decisions to throw the ball away. Hooker also led Virginia Tech in rushing with 76 yards on 16 carries.
Priore has two big and talented targets in WRs Aaron Parker and Isaiah Coutler. The 6-foot-3 Parker has caught 27 touchdown passes in 37 career games, including six in five games this year, and has 2,918 receiving yards in his career. Coutler, also 6-3, had 12 receptions for 171 yards again Brown and has caught four TD passes.
The Rams pass for an average of more than 343 yards but have averaged just 75.6 yards in the running game this season.
The game with Rhode Island was added to Virginia Tech's schedule when they needed to replace one with East Carolina, who they excised from future schedules when the Pirates pulled out of a game last season over hurricane concerns. The Hokies will gain little from a victory as they have already beaten FCS-level Furman this season. FBS-level teams can only use one victory against lower tier competition toward their six win requirement for bowl eligibility, and the Hokies' pursuit of an NCAA-leading 27th consecutive year of bowl eligibility will not benefit from a victory against the Rams.
ODDS `N ENDS
The Rams are 1-17 against FBS competition and lost 41-20 to Ohio of that level earlier this season. ... Fleming brings a 14-47 career record into Saturday's game. ... The Hokies won the only previous meeting, 34-7, in 1980. ... The Hokies were plus five in turnovers last week at Miami after being minus eight in previous games.
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Updated October 11, 2019