BLACKSBURG, Va. — As college football pressed into its second month in a COVID-19 world, perhaps no two schools could serve as better divergent examples of the experience than Boston College and Virginia Tech.
BC couldn’t be more fortunate. They returned for voluntary workouts in June and, after discovering one positive test after the first week, their returns have been spotless. They’ve become a model for how college football can carry on with the proper protocols, and three wins in their first four games under first-year head coach Jeff Hafley have iced the cake.
When the Eagles walked into Lane Stadium on Saturday night to face the Hokies, some things were the same (cardboard cutouts in the stands) and some were different (the crowd of 1,000 friends and family members), but they were staring down a team affected by COVID-19 like no other in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The Hokies’ season opener last month was postponed because of an outbreak at N.C. State. Their de facto opener against Virginia was postponed because of their own virus issues. When they finally took the field against the Wolfpack, 23 Virginia Tech players missed the game for COVID reasons. The next week against Duke, 21 were held out, and 15 missed last week against North Carolina.
The severity of the situation hit Hokies redshirt junior quarterback Hendon Hooker hard. After going through screenings for COVID-19 before the season, doctors discovered Hooker had a medical condition — he’s never revealed the details — that needed to be treated before he could play again.
He made his first start of the season Saturday, guiding a depleted team past one that couldn’t stop sabotaging itself.
No. 23 Virginia Tech handed Boston College a 40-14 reality check, Hooker rushing for three touchdowns off the option and throwing a fourth to Khalil Herbert. The Hokies (3-1, 3-1 ACC) racked up 350 yards on the ground, averaging 8.5 yards across 41 carries, with Hooker totaling 164 on 18.
With running back Herbert adding 143 on 18 carries, the two became the first Hokies duo to rush for 100 yards in the same game since Tyrod Taylor and Darren Evans in 2010. The last time two players rushed for 100 yards on the Eagles was 2017, when Lamar Jackson and Reggie Bonnafon did it for Louisville.
“The story of the game was they ran the ball right through us,” BC linebacker Max Richardson said. “So if you can’t stop the run, you can’t win, and I think when they got the run game going, the quarterback got a lot of confidence from that. And so his momentum was going all game.”
The Eagles (3-2, 2-2 ACC), who’d been relatively mistake-free and opportunistic in fourth quarters, committed five turnovers, matching their three total giveaways from the first four games in