LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Hendon Hooker was perfect from the air and ran for three scores to lead Virginia Tech to a 42-35 victory over Louisville Saturday.
After throwing three interceptions in a 23-16 loss to Wake Forest last week, the junior quarterback rebounded by going 10-of-10 for 183 yards passing. That supplemented a rushing attack that garnered 283 yards for the Hokies (4-2, 4-2 Atlantic Coast Conference). He contributed 68 of those yards on the ground.
“He was really efficient in what we needed him to be,” Hokies coach Justin Fuente said. “What, I think, he has the potential to be. That’s what he’s done, basically, every game he’s ever played, except for one (last week).”
About three hours before kickoff, Louisville (2-5, 1-5) announced nine players would be unavailable for undisclosed reasons. That included leading solo tackler Monty Montgomery, starting free safety Isaiah Hayes and three of the Cardinals top four defensive ends – Yaya Diaby, Tabarius Peterson and Dayna Kinnaird.
After the game, Cardinals coach Scott Satterfield said the team learned Saturday morning the players would miss the game, and he confirmed many of the absences were COVID-19 related.
“We have been doing a great job with it, really this whole time,” he said. “We got caught with it. This is the most difficult time for us coaches because you are dealing with all these parameters with this. You got to deal with and move forward. That’s kind of what we did.”
As a result, a Cardinals team that likes to play up to eight defensive linemen had just five available Saturday.
The Hokies, who entered Saturday with the nation’s third-best rushing offense, came out rolling. They scored three touchdowns on their first four drives, all on Hooker runs, to build a 21-0 lead with 9:28 left in the first half.
Hooker said news of the missing Cardinals came too late to affect the game plan.
“We just came right here and just played football as we do day in and day out,” he said.
The Cardinals rallied, and a Javian Hawkins 90-yard scoring run to end the half cut the Hokies lead to just 21-14. The run by Hawkins, who finished with 129 yards on 17 carries, was the third-longest run in Louisville history and the longest since 1971.
Virginia Tech would expand the lead on the opening drive of the second half with a Tre Turner 1-yard run capping a 63-yard, seven-play drive. The defense responded by getting a fourth down stop when Chamarri Conner picked off a Malik Cunningham pass at the Hokies 1.
The Hokies’ Khalil Herbert ran 21 times for 147 yards. His 24-yard TD run with 3:23 left made it 42-28.
Cunningham threw for 350 yards and three scores, one of which was an 82-yard strike to Dez Fitzpatrick, on 23-of-35 passing for Louisville but also threw three interceptions.
The Hokies 10 passes were the fewest they’ve thrown since Tyrod Taylor threw only nine in a 31-7 win over Miami (Fla.) on Sept. 26, 2009.
“GUT PUNCH” DOESN’T HURT HOKIES
Hawkins touchdown run certainly energized the Cardinals as they ran to the locker room at halftime, but the Hokies seemed to take the play in stride.
In the final seconds of the half, Fuente said he assumed they’d still have a 14-point advantage because Louisville was pinned deep on its side of the field.
“I’m formulating what to say because that’s a gut punch,” the coach said.
But as he got back to the locker room, he said he was already pleased by what he saw, with players unhappy with the result but eager to get back on the field.
Conner agreed and added that while Louisville may have had the momentum, Virginia Tech still had the lead.
“Everybody was still hyped,” he said. “Everybody was ready to go locked in.”
Virginia Tech: The Hokies dominated early but some self-inflicted mistakes (1-of-7 on third downs, seven penalties) allowed Louisville to crawl back in a game that seemed headed for a blowout. Still, they responded strongly to start the second half to regain control of the game.
Louisville: A defense that had been improving in recent weeks got off to a wobbly start thanks to the late scratches, and a couple of offensive miscues helped put the Cardinals in a hole that was too big to overcome. The big play offense finally got going to the tune of 548 yards, but Louisville could not overcome three crucial turnovers.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies step out of ACC play for the only time in the regular season when they host in-state foe Liberty next Saturday afternoon.
Louisville: Travels to Virginia next Saturday night.