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Ryan Willis Silences Questions, Concerns In Impressive First Hokies Start and Win

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Naturally, a Virginia Tech win over Duke is no upset. However after suffering a shocking upset loss to Old Dominion while losing its starting quarterback, Josh Jackson, to a broken fibula in the process, and starting a Kansas-transfer and former walk-on, Ryan Willis, in his place who had thrown more interceptions than touchdowns on the road against an undefeated and ranked Duke team, odds were not in favor of the Hokies.

From early on, it was clear the Hokies had shaken off last week’s embarrassing loss and Willis primed for the opportunity. He connected with nine different receivers, completing 17-of-27 passes for 332 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Hokies to a dominating 31-14 win over No. 22 Duke.

Willis wasn’t perfect but he was clean. His decision-making with throwing the football did not resemble his days at the then-woeful Kansas. For most of the night, He took what the Blue Devils’ defense gave him. Additionally, his quick reads kept Duke off balanced defensively. And he got a bit of help from his receivers in the process.

Willis connected with seldom targeted tight end Dalton Keene on a screen, allowing Keene the spacing to turn up field for a 67-yard touchdown in the second quarter that broke the game open, putting the Hokies ahead 17-7. It was Willis second touchdown toss of the game.

As the offense needed first downs to control the clock in the fourth quarter, Willis hung a deep pass on the back shoulder of Tre Turner, who adjusted and came down with a 33-yard reception on 3rd and 6. Later on the drive, Willis threw a similar pass to Phil Paterson in the end zone on a fade, allowing Paterson to turn and adjust and snag Willis’ third touchdown pass to seal Saturday’s win with just over nine minutes remaining.

Willis’ performance in Durham, N.C. did wonders to ease any concerns over the former walk-on assuming the starting quarterback responsibilities. Jackson will be out indefinitely and Justin Fuente chose Willis over highly-touted redshirt freshman Hendon Hooker.

Willis managed the game and attacked the Duke defense in the process. He did so without much of a running game, as the Hokies struggled on the ground with 81 yards and 2.1 yards per carry. Duke played a lot of single-high baiting Willis to make throws against man-to-man coverage, and he did so.

With his first start and win in the books at Virginia Tech, now the junior will have to duplicate the success in another daunting task, as highly-ranked Notre Dame comes to Blacksburg next Saturday. The undefeated Fighting Irish are coming off a just as dominating win over previously undefeated Stanford. Willis will need to be just as clean as he was in Saturday’s win over Duke.

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