BLACKSBURG — In naming Ryan Willis the starting quarterback before the season, a move that surprised no one, Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente and offensive coordinator Brad Cornelsen praised Willis’ ball security.
Willis threw just nine interceptions in 364 pass attempts.
Then came Saturday afternoon in Chestnut Hill, Mass., and Willis took the notion that he protects the football and tossed it away like one of his three interceptions in the Hokies’ loss to Boston College.
“We’ve got to be better than that,” Tech coach Justin Fuente said. “We’ve got to be more disciplined. We’ve got to have our eyes in the right spot, that’s part of playing quarterback. Obviously, forced some balls in there sometimes when they weren’t good. I still believe Ryan can make plays and take care of the football.”
Willis said he appreciates his coach’s support and knows the importance of cutting out those critical errors.
“I need to take care of the ball better,” Willis said after the defeat that dropped his record to 4-7 as Tech’s starting quarterback.
Tuesday, with the chance to review his errors on video, Willis said he sees his mistakes as correctable and knows for the Hokies to be successful, he can’t afford to be as turnover-prone as he was Saturday against the Eagles. (Willis also lost a fumble in the game.)
“I kind of looked at myself in the mirror. I said, I’ve got two choices. I can either feel bad for myself and sulk and feel like the world is crashing down on me, or my second choice, I can put it behind me,” Willis said. “I can flush it. Learn and grow from it and get ready for a team that’s coming into our place trying to beat us.”
That team is Old Dominion. In last year’s 49-35 upset loss in Norfolk on Sept. 22, former Tech quarterback Josh Jackson broke his leg, pressing Willis — a Kansas transfer who sat out the 2017 season — into action.
Willis went 9 for 18 for 131 yards and a touchdown in relief, gamely trying to help the Hokies battle back.
Tuesday, Willis wasn’t in the mood to wax nostalgic about the game that launched his run as Tech’s starter behind center.
“My number was called. I was prepared. I did the best of my ability,” Willis said.
He did acknowledge he’s gained valuable experience running the Tech offense in the games since that day.
“I’m a lot more comfortable in the huddle,” Willis said. “Kind of had more live snaps in the system. It’s more third year here. Things just flow lot easier for me. I kind of take control easier. It flows better.”
That experience and his previous success protecting the football is what led Willis to retain the starting job after battling sophomore Hendon Hooker in the preseason. Hooker, a gifted runner, did not play in Saturday’s loss at Boston College.
Of course, Willis’s interceptions weren’t Tech’s only offensive issue at BC. Junior wide receiver Hezekiah Grimsley lost a fumbled punt return on a day when the Hokies lost five turnovers in all.
“It is frustrating, because we know that’s what we preached all week — taking care of the ball,” Grimsley said. “It was just poor ball security. Of course, that’s just another thing to clean up. It just hurts, because that’s what our offense is based off of — taking care of the ball, but we’ll clean it up.”
The Hokies also struggled on the ground, a familiar failure from last season. They finished with just 98 yards on 42 carries, and lost junior running back Jalen Holston to an injury. Monday, Fuente said Holston would be out for an extended time.
He did not have an update on center Zacharriah Hoyt, who left the game with a left leg injury.
Tuesday, defensive coordinator Bud Foster said he hoped that defensive end TyJuan Garbutt, defensive tackle Robert Porcher and cornerback Jovonn Quillen will be available Saturday against Old Dominion.