BLACKSBURG — Virginia Tech waited until less than 30 minutes before kicking off its football game with Miami to announce Hendon Hooker as the team’s starting quarterback, but it wasn’t a last-minute decision.
The Hokies made the switch at the start of the week, with the coaching staff informing Hooker and former starter Ryan Willis of the decision on Monday.
It might have stayed a secret all the way until kickoff if it wasn’t for a social media post by Tre Turner.
“As far as the decision, those things are never easy,” coach Justin Fuente said after the game.
Fuente praised both quarterbacks for how they handled the news, but said little else about what went into the decision. Offensive coordinator Brad Cornelsen was a little more forthcoming on Tuesday.
“There had been too many mistakes and too many turnovers,” Cornelsen said. “Ryan has certainly still made plays and is capable of playing good games and taking care of the ball and doing those things, we just felt like Hendon deserved a shot. We just felt we needed a change.”
Willis threw for 851 yards (60.5%) in four starts with eight touchdowns and five interceptions (he lost a fumble). He was 7 of 18 for 112 yards with a touchdown and interception in a 45-10 loss to Duke. Much of Willis’ production against the Blue Devils came on a 72-yard touchdown throw to Damon Hazelton, which came when Tech trailed 31-3.
The ineffective performance left the Hokies reeling, but Cornelsen stressed the coaching staff didn't make the decision based off the loss to Duke.
“It’s not one particular game or one particular drive or this or that,” Cornelsen said.
Virginia Tech went into the Miami game with the No. 86 ranked passing offense in the country (214.8 yards per game) and the No. 99 scoring offense (23.3 points).
The Hokies put up 42 points against Miami on some modest offensive numbers — 337 total yards of offense (184 yards passing) — but they also eliminated some of the negative plays that held them back in earlier games. Willis had four games with multiple-interceptions in 15 career starts at Tech.
“It’s just consistency,” Cornelsen said. ”I think our team found that out, a good example of how close you can be one way or the other, and what consistency can do, not just at that position.”
The demotion doesn’t mean Willis won’t be an important part of the offense going forward, the coaches say. Hooker plans to lean on Willis’ extensive experience — he has 25 career starts — when the two are together on the sidelines between drives.
“We’re both very supportive of each other,” Hooker said. “When he was playing, I would tell him, ‘They’re doing this on defense.’ We’d go back and forth and talk about it. He’s doing the same. He’s been really supportive, helps me watch film. We take notes together, so he’s been really helpful.”
Hooker also wants Willis to keep bringing his A-game to practice.
“We both push ourselves to be the best quarterbacks we can be, so just that friendly competitive nature, it boosts the whole room,” Hooker said.