MIAMI GARDENS — Virginia Tech’s “T-unit” got it done on Saturday at Hard Rock Stadium.
The Hokies tight ends combined for 149 yards and four touchdowns in a 42-35 win over Miami. Dalton Keene and James Mitchell accounted for all but two of Hendon Hooker’s 10 completions in the quarterback’s first career start.
A few more games like that might help the “T-unit” nickname they gave themselves stick.
“That’s something that we really needed, especially coming off of last week,” Keene said after the game.
Keene had a breakout year for Tech in 2018 as a favorite target of Ryan Willis. The two didn’t have the same success this fall with Keene catching only six passes for 27 yards (four of those came in the season-opener) in Tech’s first four games, but the junior co-captain was back to his playmaking ways on Saturday thanks to Hooker.
It started late in the first quarter when Hooker found Keene on a short crossing route. Hooker, who got the ball off right before taking a hit from defensive end Jonathan Garvin, didn't even get to see Keene take it 20-yards to the end zone for his first career passing touchdown.
Keene turned a short screen pass in the second quarter from Hooker into a 17-yard touchdown.
The two connected for one more score when Hooker made a nice read on Tech's opening drive of the fourth. Hooker pulled the ball back from Deshawn McClease on an RPO with Keene wide open in the corner of the end zone.
“It’s about time we found the tight ends a couple times,” Keene said with a smile. “We had a big day.”
It was Mitchell who set up Keene’s final touchdown with a 67-yard gain, which ended an offensive drought that lasted the entire third quarter (Tech pick up a single first down). Mitchell outran defensive back Trajan Brady down the sideline to get open.
“It was kind of like a rub play, and Damon [Hazelton] did a good job of getting an inside release on his man, and he set it up,” Mitchell said. “Hendon made a good throw and I made the catch. That was pretty much it.”
Mitchell’s big contribution in the first half was a 1-yard touchdown run. The Hokies are having success this season handing off to the sophomore in the red zone (he scored his first career rushing touchdown in a win over Furman).
Hooker found Keene one final time to convert a third-and-five on Tech’s game-winning drive. He completed a throwback pass for a 26-yard gain down to Miami’s 3-yard line.
“I think it was just a really good play call, to be honest with you,’ Keene said of his third down catch. “We’d been setting some stuff up to do that and he [Hooker] just did a really good job. I was proud of him for staying composed down to the end.”
Keene took a vicious hit at the end of the play from safety Amari Carter, but popped right back and helped open a lane for Deshawn McClease’s 3-yard touchdown run on the next play.
The toughness Keene showed is something he hopes opposing teams take notice of in the coming weeks. While Keene mostly stayed away from social media last week, he took some of the criticism of the Hokies to heart.
“We weren’t happy with what we put on film [against Duke],” Keene said. “What we put on film was a soft football team, and we just wanted to turn that around, because that’s not who we are. There’s nothing worse you can be called than a soft football team.”
That was on Keene’s mind when he lined up against former teammate Trevon Hill — a frequent critic of the Hokies — throughout the game. When the two locked up in the second quarter on a third-and-one, Keene took Hill to the ground as Keshawn King picked up a first down.
“I knew he was going to play hard, but if I hit him enough times, he’s not going to want any more,” Keene said. “It’s just one of those things. I was ready for it. I’d been looking forward to it.”