BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) — Three weeks and a quarterback change appear to have made a significant impact for Virginia Tech.
The Hokies had a bye week after their 45-10 loss to Duke three weeks ago, but came back from the break with a new quarterback in Hendon Hooker and the results have followed. They won 42-35 in Miami last weekend, and beat Rhode Island 34-17 on Saturday.
"It feels like right now we have some momentum and our mentality has gotten way better," linebacker Rayshard Ashby said.
Hooker threw three touchdown passes for the second straight game without trying to do too much.
"Whatever they're giving us, that's what we're going to take," he said after completing 16 of 27 passes for 261 yards. He also ran 15 times for 43 yards and led an offense that scored on all five of its trips inside the Rhode Island 20-yard line.
Hooker hit Damon Hazleton from nine and 37 yards in the first half and Dalton Keene from three yards after the Rams pulled to within 17-14 in the third quarter. The Hooker-to-Hazleton connection almost teamed up for a third first-half score, but Hazleton dropped what looked like a sure 71-yard scoring pass before halftime. His scoring toss to Keene was his fourth to the tight end in the past two games.
"The biggest thing is that he's taken care of the football in both starts," coach Justin Fuente said.
Virginia Tech (4-2) won its second in a row, but without showing the firepower that marked the victory at Miami a week ago.
The Hokies were stopped on three consecutive runs after having a first down at the Rams' 5 yard-line on their opening possession, having to settle for a field goal, and needed a 75-yard scoring drive early in the final quarter to get some insurance points.
The Rams (1-5) fell to 1-18 against Football Bowl Subdivision schools, but not before putting a scare into the crowd at Lane Stadium.
"We came out and did exactly what we needed to do," Rams coach Jim Fleming said.
"They needed just 2:34 after taking the second-half kickoff to drive for their lone touchdown, a 9-yard pass from Vito Priore to Ahmere Dorsey. A 2-point conversion made it a three-point game, but Hooker drove the Hokies 93 yards for Keene's touchdown on the next series.
"It's not like we learned something tremendous about ourselves because we were able to stay close to Virginia Tech," Fleming said.
A scoring run by Deshawn McClease pushed the margin to 14 points. Brian Johnson kicked a pair of 22-yard field goals.
Rhode Island: Rams coach Jim Fleming admitted this week the game was as much about a payday for his program as anything, but they did some things that suggest things may improve when they go back to playing competition at their level. In Aaron Parker and Isaiah Coulter, they have two top quality receivers, and Priore was solid against the Hokies, completing 26 of 47 for 286 yards.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies were more impressive on offense at Miami last week, but Hooker had as many completions — 10 — by halftime as he had all game against the Hurricanes, and he did it in five fewer attempts. The return of Hazleton to form will continue to provide a huge boost to the Hokies' passing game, but he had a moment late in the first half he'd like to have back: he dropped a nicely thrown ball from Hooker that likely would have been a 71-yard scoring play.
The Hokies will be without rover Reggie Floyd for the first half of next weekend's game against North Carolina after the senior was called for targeting for a hit on Coulter early in the fourth quarter.
HE SAID IT
Rhode Island was added to Virginia Tech's schedule after the Hokies canceled a series with East Carolina and needed a replacement, even if a victory — Virginia Tech's second against an FCS-level school — meant it wouldn't count toward bowl eligibility.
The Rams got their first real look at the Hokies after topping Brown 31-28 last weekend.
"We went home and watched Miami-Virginia Tech and said, 'What the hell are we getting into," Fleming said.
The Rams return to CAA competition next Saturday, facing Albany in Upstate New York.
The Hokies remain at Lane Stadium to face Coastal Division rival North Carolina next Saturday.
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