Old Dominion Virginia Tech Football

Virginia Tech quarterback Ryan Willis (5) looks downfield during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Old Dominion in Blacksburg Va,. Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019. (Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times via AP)

BLACKSBURG — Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente didn’t like the way his offense closed out Saturday’s 31-17 win over Old Dominion.

The Hokies fumbled twice in the final nine minutes as they were trying to put the game away. They lost their season-opener 35-28 to Boston College thanks in large part to five turnovers.

It’s part of the reason why Fuente kept starting quarterback Ryan Willis on the bench after he fumbled at the end of a first down run with 8:06 to go in the game. Officials initially ruled Willis down by contact, but that call was overturned on replay.

Old Dominion defensive end Marcus Haynes jarred the ball loose by whipping Willis down to the ground directly on his neck and head. Fuente’s immediate concern was for Willis safety

“When he was a little shaky getting up, I was yelling at him to get down so we could sub,” Fuente said.

But Willis could have gone back in the game, according to Fuente.

“I held him out because I wanted to see if he was OK and he was ready to go back and all that stuff, and also because we turned the ball over,” Fuente said.

Willis accounted for four of Tech’s turnovers last week. He took better care of the ball on Saturday at Lane Stadium for three and a half quarters. He was 16 of 28 for 272 yards with three touchdowns (two passing) and 34 rushing yards.

“It’s unfortunate I fumbled,” Willis said. “Kind of got my neck jammed in myself and rolled by on top of the guy and he stripped it out. It’s a good play by a defender.”

Willis wasn’t the only player that lost playing time because of turnovers. Freshman running back Keshawn King was benched after putting the ball on the ground two minutes into the second quarter. He didn’t see the field again until the fourth quarter and didn’t get another carry.

It cut short what looked like a promising game for King, who had 19 yards on Tech’s opening drive including a 4-yard touchdown run.

“Keshawn’s fine,” Fuente said if an injury kept him out of the lineup. “He’s got to get up with the ball in his hands to continue to get carries.”

Virginia Tech hasn’t turned the ball over this much in a two-game stretch since it fumbled nine times in the first two games of Fuente’s tenure. The Hokies had solid ball security the last two years with 16 turnovers in 2018 (ranked No. 30 in FBS) and 14 in 2017 (No. 19 in FBS).

“When somebody loses the ball, as much as we emphasize ball security, it’s a big thing,” Virginia Tech receiver Hezekiah Grimsley said. “Even if we’re up 30, somebody fumbles, it’s like we’re down. It’s a big deal, as much as we work on it and our DBs try to rip the ball out every practice. That’s not us. We know that’s not how we play and we know we have a lot of things to clean up.”

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Mike Niziolek is the Virginia Tech football beat writer for The Roanoke Times. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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