No. 23 Hokies getting healthy as Boston College visits
For No. 23 Virginia Tech, there are two pieces of good news entering a Saturday night Atlantic Coast Conference home game against Boston College.
First, the Hokies (2-1, 2-1 ACC) are back at Lane Stadium after taking a 56-45 loss last week at then-No. 8 North Carolina last week. Second, their roster is starting to fill out week by week after a September in which they fought COVID-19 as hard as anyone in college football.
Virginia Tech has been down at least 15 players in each game, including key performers such as safety Divine Deablo and quarterback Hendon Hooker. In fact, the Hokies walloped North Carolina State 45-24 in their season opener on Sept. 26 despite the absence of 23 players plus defensive coordinator Justin Hamilton.
Head coach Justin Fuente said Monday that he expects Deablo to start this week, and he also announced that Hooker would make his first start of the year. Hooker entered the North Carolina game at halftime and gave the offense a spark, throwing for two touchdowns and running for a third.
It was Hooker who steadied the team last year after it got off to a rough start, leading to speculation that the program’s streak of consecutive bowl appearances would end. Instead, his presence led to a November surge that made it 27 straight bowl trips.
“He has a little presence about him,” Fuente said of Hooker. “He has an easily approachable and easy to talk to demeanor that the guys feel comfortable with.”
Deablo’s return is even more critical in a way. Injuries, coronavirus opt-outs and other issues have eaten away the secondary’s depth. Manning the safety positions during the fourth quarter at North Carolina were walk-on Tyler Matheny and linebacker Alan Tisdale.
Boston College (3-1, 2-1) will aim to capitalize on that weakness. The Eagles are off to a better start under first-year coach Jeff Hafley than many anticipated. They are coming off a 31-30 overtime win at home last week against Pittsburgh, decided when Panthers kicker Alex Kessman, who converted a 58-yard field goal to force OT, sprayed a PAT wide right.
Boston College quarterback Phil Jurkovec and wide receiver Zay Flowers have formed one of the ACC’s top pass-catch duos so far. They hooked up six times for 162 yards and three scores last week. Jurkovec survived six sacks to throw for 358 yards and earn ACC Quarterback of the Week.
In the team’s first four games, Jurkovec has compiled a program-record 1,181 yards. That’s more than guys named Doug Flutie, Matt Hasselbeck and Matt Ryan.
“These games are coming down to the wire,” Jurkovec said, “but through it all, we stick together. Zay is one of the best receivers in the country. He made the plays; he got open.”
The Eagles’ only loss was nearly a win against the same North Carolina team that Virginia Tech couldn’t stop. A defensive two-point conversion by the Tar Heels kept Boston College from perhaps tying the game late in a 26-22 decision on Oct. 3.
Ultimately, the Saturday game could come down to the Eagles’ ability to at least slow down running back Khalil Herbert. The Kansas transfer leads FBS with averages of 10.4 yards per carry and 149.7 yards per game.
–Field Level Media