BLACKSBURG—Virginia Tech quarterback Ryan Willis lost the battle with himself.
Tech offensive coordinator Brad Cornelsen described Willis in fall camp as a quarterback that wants to “push the envelope” thanks to his natural talent throwing the ball.
“He’s still, every day, every series he goes out there in a game it’s a battle between him and himself to just focus in and lock in on the details of what he needs to do,” Cornelsen said during fall camp. “Because his instincts, his talent wants him to push the envelope. He has to find the right times to do that and that’s going to be something he always has to kind of be careful with.”
On Saturday at Boston College, everything Willis does well was on display—he threw for 344 yards (29 for 47) and tied a career-high with four touchdowns making a series of impressive throws—but the bad decisions over-shadowed the positives.
Willis’ four turnovers (three interceptions and a fumble) were the difference-maker in the 35–28 loss with two of his interceptions killing promising drives in the end zone.
“I need to take care of the ball better,” Willis said plainly. “There’s a couple reads I can make better.”
It was the ninth multi-interception of Willis’ career and first time the veteran quarterback threw three interceptions in a game since his final two starts at Kansas in 2016. Willis lost the starting job as a sophomore after turning it over seven times during the stretch.
Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente didn’t sugar coat his assessment of Willis’ performance.
“We got to be better than that,” 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, he forced some ball in there sometimes when they weren’t good. I still believe Ryan can make plays and take care of the football.”
Willis took responsibility for the miscues on the sidelines as well as he tried to rally the team.
“I think he did a good job of being talkative when he made mistakes,” Virginia Tech tight end James Mitchell said. “He didn’t get down, he didn’t get others down, which is huge at the quarterback position. So, I mean, he did a good job of trying to keep everybody up and just playing for the next play.”
The attitude helped Tech’s offense put together an 18-play, 83-yard drive that put the team one defensive stop away from having a chance to tie the game. Willis converted a pair of fourth downs on the drive on a couple of hard-fought rushing attempts and converted a third-and-8 with an impressive 22-yard throw at the sidelines to Kaleb Smith.
Willis’ continued fight resonated with his teammates more than the turnovers.
“He knows that we’ll never give up on him,” Virginia Tech receiver Hezekiah Grimsley said. “Nobody’s mad at him today.”