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Willis Emerges for Hokies

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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In a key showdown at nationally-ranked Duke, Ryan Willis responded with the game of his career.

The last few weeks have come in a hurry for Virginia Tech quarterback Ryan Willis. After getting some late playing time in a big win over William & Mary, Willis suddenly found himself as the starter in a back-and-forth game with Old Dominion when Josh Jackson left the contest due to injury. Though Willis played admirably in his first meaningful action with the Hokies, the bottom line was a very disappointing loss to a young FBS program and, with Jackson out indefinitely, immediate pressure.

In a key showdown at nationally-ranked Duke, Willis responded with the game of his career. The Kansas-transfer has stabilized, perhaps even saved, Virginia Tech's season.   

Willis was great in Durham, leading the way in a 31-14 triumph over the Blue Devils. He completed 17-of-27 passes for 332 yards and a career-high three touchdowns, putting the game away with a 10-yard toss to Phil Patterson in the fourth quarter. Willis' first score, connecting with Ball State-transfer Damon Hazelton, was the starting point for 21 unanswered points from the Hokies. The end result was 413 total yards, zero turnovers and Virginia Tech tying for the most points scored against a strong Duke defense since 2016.

While at Kansas, Willis passed for 330 yards as a freshman versus Texas Tech and 348 yards as a sophomore against TCU. That said, he has never had a showing like his latest. Willis was composed, efficient and thorough in pacing the Hokies to a much-needed triumph. While losing a player like Jackson would be devastating to many teams, Willis, with plenty of experience on his resume, has brought a veteran poise off the bench. For Virginia Tech, he has proven to be a game-changer already.  

Embodying the resiliency that has long made the Hokies successful, Willis and the Hokies now have notable momentum heading into October. What a difference a week makes; now the remainder of the schedule looks filled with opportunities. Next up is a home clash with top ten Notre Dame, an anticipated rematch from the two program's first-ever meeting in 2016, a Virginia Tech victory. Then, the Hokies dive back into ACC play. Already 2-0, Virginia Tech will have its say in the coastal. Four of the Hokies' final five games will be in Blacksburg. 

What Willis has done has revitalized his team. From a loss and an injury that could have derailed Virginia Tech, he and the Hokies will now have a chance to shape both the conference and national picture. Suddenly, the narrative has changed. As the middle of the season settles, keep an eye on Willis and keep an eye on Virginia Tech. The Hokies are coming and Willis, all of the way from the mid-west, is out in front.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports