Virginia Tech did not trail until 5:59 remained in regulation, when a play-action fake allowed wide receiver Mark Pope to get behind the Hokies’ secondary for a 36-yard touchdown reception. Pope ran untouched into the end zone with Dorian Strong (Wise High School) giving chase.
The touchdown was the only play longer than 20 yards Virginia Tech (4-4, 4-3 ACC) conceded in facing dynamic dual-threat quarterback D’Eriq King, who entered Saturday as the ACC leader in total offense. King accounted for 270 yards one game after amassing 535 in a victory over North Carolina State.
“I was pleased with the way we played defense the whole game,” Hokies Coach Justin Fuente said. “That is an explosive, dangerous unit, and we threw the kitchen sink at them. Our guys executed pretty well. We defended in the back end against some pretty explosive players. I thought the guys played their tails off.”
Linebacker Dax Hollifield led the way with 13 tackles and a sack, and linebacker Rayshard Ashby and cornerback Devin Taylor, a transfer from Illinois State, each added 11. Virginia Tech sacked King six times, with nose tackle Jarrod Hewitt collecting 2.5.
A defensive stand in the closing minutes gave the Hokies possession for a final time with 1:45 to play, but they were pinned at the 3 following Lou Hedley’s 52-yard punt. Virginia Tech advanced to its 43, and on fourth and 10 with five seconds left, a play involving laterals ended when quarterback Hendon Hooker was tackled for a four-yard loss.
Hooker accounted for 261 yards of total offense, part of Virginia Tech’s 362 as a team, and one touchdown. The redshirt junior threw one interception and was sacked six times, cutting significantly into his rushing yardage (59 yards on 21 carries).
“Just trying to be alert with the pressure on me, trying to move around and get my feet set,” Hooker said. “But yeah, the pressure did affect it a little bit, but that’s football, and I’m still supposed to make the plays.”
Virginia Tech rushed for 160 yards, well below its ACC-leading average of 263 per game, in the return of running back Khalil Herbert. The graduate transfer from Kansas entered third nationally in rushing in major college football despite missing all but one snap in last weekend’s 38-35 loss to No. 22 Liberty with a sore hamstring.
Herbert had 49 yards on eight carries in Virginia Tech’s third loss in four games, which dropped the Hokies into a tie for fifth place in the ACC. The top two finishers in the regular season standings earn spots in the ACC championship game.
“During the week each day I got better and felt better each day,” Herbert said. “Coach did a great job of just getting me back. Trainers did a great job of helping me get healthy. I wasn’t really worried about what the workload was going to be like, just being healthy and being able to help the team any way I can.”
Power running behind a punishing offensive line allowed the Hokies to grow the lead to 24-13 late in the third quarter on the strength of Jalen Holston’s second touchdown run and kicker Brian Johnson’s field goal from 38 yards.
Holston scored from one yard one snap after carrying for 19 yards. The 11-play drive covered 74 yards and featured an appearance from backup quarterback Quincy Patterson II, who rushed for nine yards on third and one from the Miami 29.
Patterson, a redshirt sophomore, had not played since the first game of the season against N.C. State, a 45-24 victory Sept. 26, when Hooker was recovering from an undisclosed health issue unrelated to the coronavirus pandemic.
Miami (7-1, 6-1) climbed within 24-19 on tailback Cam’Ron Harris’s six-yard run up the middle with 1:27 to go in the third quarter. The Hurricanes failed on the two-point conversion pass attempt when officials ruled Miami had an ineligible player downfield in offensive lineman Zion Nelson.
The halftime lead belonged to Virginia Tech at 14-13 courtesy of touchdown runs from Hooker and Holston, a redshirt junior who has become a more significant contributor with Herbert ailing. Holston’s touchdown came with 8:47 left in the second quarter.
“Nobody likes losing here,” Hewitt said. “Everyone’s pretty upset, but the thing is, I’m proud of my guys. Coach Fuente kind of echoed that, talking about how proud he was of the preparation we had this week and kind of coming out against a really good football team and giving it our all. It really came down to the wire. It doesn’t feel good, I’ll tell you that, but proud of my guys.”