BLACKSBURG — Virginia Tech quarterback Ryan Willis’ latest interception couldn’t have come at a worse time on Saturday.
After Furman jumped out to a 7-3 lead, Willis had Hezekiah Grimsley wide-open at midfield. It should have been a big gain, but Willis sailed the ball right into the arms of a defender for his sixth turnover of the season (four interceptions).
The Paladins made quick work of the short field and jumped out to a 14-3 lead with 5:35 to go in the first half.
Last week, Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente pulled Willis from the team's win over Old Dominion after the quarterback fumbled, but the Hokies were up two touchdowns at the time.
Willis’ interception on Saturday came as the offense was sputtering — Tech had two turnovers, four penalties, allowed three sacks and were averaging 2.6 yards per carry on the ground. The Hokies went into halftime with 127 total yards.
Did Fuente think about making a change at quarterback for a second straight week? The only personnel change the coaching staff discussed was replacing Silas Dzansi at right tackle with Luke Tenuta, a move they made before halftime.
When Willis went to the sidelines after the interception, he didn’t think his day was over either.
“No,” Willis said, when asked if he thought he might get replaced under center. “There’s a difference between making a mental mistake and a physical mistake. I threw a ball a hair long. Hezzy jumped a hair early. It was a bad combination. My eyes were in the right place.”
The decision to keep Willis in the game drew boos from the home crowd. The fans booed again when Tech’s final drive of the second half stalled at Furman’s 32-yard line and one final time when Willis remained under center in the second half.
“I heard it,” Willis said. “It’s disappointing. We have a great fanbase. It just shows it means a lot to them. I’m going to do everything in my power to put the best product on the field possible and do everything in my will to get wins every week for this team.”
Virginia Tech quarterback Hendon Hooker did make a brief appearance handing off to Tre Turner when Willis had the wind knocked out of him after a 5-yard run in the fourth quarter.
Willis final line wasn’t overly impressive — 17 of 21 for 123 yards with a touchdown and an interception — but Virginia Tech expected Furman would focus on taking away the deep ball. The Paladins got burned in the second half against Georgia State last week giving up five passes of 20-yards or more (three for touchdowns).
Tech only had one pass of 20-yards or more.
“I made all my reads today,” Willis said. “It’s going to be the best I’ve ever graded out, I already know that ahead of time. What we do during the week it all adds up. I feel like me and the coaching staff are on the same page.”
While fans are growing increasingly frustrated with Tech’s offensive struggles, Willis remains optimistic they will turn things around in the coming weeks.
“This team has so much potential and talent,” Willis said. “We just need to put it on display. We see it during the week during practice. We got a lot of youngsters that are great ball players. We need to go out and execute. We are young, I really wish I had another year just seeing where this program is headed towards. We just need to go out there and execute.”