Without prompting, Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer brought up one of his most devastating losses after Clemson’s convincing 23-3 win tonight at Lane Stadium.
He mentioned how, in 2007, the Hokies lost a Thursday night home game 14-10 to Boston College, after Eagles quarterback Matt Ryan ripped their hearts out with a last-minute touchdown drive.
“I felt awful that night,” Beamer said. “But you know what: We came back and beat them in the ACC championship game.”
The Hokies did indeed rattle off five straight wins, including the conference title game, after the Boston College loss. Had they not lost that game, they would have played in the national championship game. So that, combined with the way they lost, certainly made that night more heart-breaking than tonight.
Moreover, that was the eighth game of 2007, while tonight was the fifth game of 2011. So the Hokies have plenty of time – seven games – to come back from this, and maybe play Clemson in the ACC title game. Since the Tigers play in the Atlantic Division and Tech is in the Coastal, this loss won’t work against the Hokies in direct head-to-head tiebreaker situations for the Coastal’s spot in the title game.
And look, very few reasonable people would (or should) have thought this team would go undefeated and play for the national title – especially after seeing its problems (mainly on offense) during the first four games. Even though the Hokies started 4-0 against a relatively weak non-conference schedule, they didn’t have the look of a national title contender – and they certainly didn’t even look like an ACC title contender tonight, as their offensive issues continued to plague them.
But this is just where Tech is at right now. There is a lot of season left to fix the offense. As Beamer said of the impact of this loss on the season, “This thing is far from over.”
This team has come back from setbacks in the past – the 11 straight wins after last year’s 0-2 start, in addition to 2007. And remember that the last time Tech failed to score a touchdown at home before tonight was in 1995 against Cincinnati. That made the Hokies 0-2 to start that season, but they won 10 straight and the Sugar Bowl – a monumental victory for their program.
All that said, those teams are different than this one. And as the Hokies work toward overcoming tonight and ironing out the issues that popped up, they have a challenging opponent (Miami) coming to Blacksburg on Saturday. That looks like their toughest game until Nov. 10 at Georgia Tech – a huge Thursday night Coastal Division matchup.
Can they fix their offensive problems quickly enough to beat a Miami defense that will be at full strength (after NCAA suspensions), with the exception of defensive end Olivier Vernon?
We shall see, but as inside linebacker Bruce Taylor said, “It’s not like we haven’t been in this position before.”
Said Beamer: “I think this game makes next week real important.”
To replicate what they did in 1995, 2007 and 2010, they need to figure out how to score more points. It’s really that simple. The Hokies had drives end at the Clemson 41, 48, 32, 7, 45, 42 and 12. The results of those drives: interception, lost fumble, punt, field goal, punt, punt and turnover on downs.
“We’re beating ourselves right now,” said senior receiver Danny Coale.
On the drive that ended at the 7, Tech had second and goal at the 2, then got flagged for a false start penalty on third and goal at the 2. That was their most glaring missed opportunity, as they settled for a field goal after failing to convert the third and 7 when Thomas threw an incomplete pass. And that drive started at Clemson’s 31-yard line after a Jayron Hosley interception.
“We’re on the 2-yard line,” said quarterback Logan Thomas. “That should be an automatic touchdown.”
What happened on the false start?
“I think the band was playing and the center just didn’t hear the snap count because everybody else [the other linemen] went,” Thomas said. “The defense played a great game. They gave us more than enough chances to go out and put points on the board. We shot ourselves in the foot. I think we left a lot of points on the field. I think if we get those, it’s a different ball game. We hope to see them [Clemson] again. At least I do.”
Quarterbacks coach and play caller Mike O’Cain likes to watch the film before passing judgment on a player’s performance, but he was not down on Thomas, who completed 15 of 27 passes for 125 yards and an interception (which bounced off Jarrett Boykin’s hands).
On the drive that ended at the 12 (the turnover on downs), Thomas’ pass to Coale was low and hit the ground as Coale tried to catch it near the first-down line on fourth and four. While that was a poor throw, O’Cain wasn’t displeased with Thomas’ overall showing.
“I think he threw the ball pretty well overall,” O’Cain said.
Could O’Cain think of any changes that need to be made in the passing game?
“Again, this is right off the cuff, probably need to throw the ball down the field a little bit more than we did,” he said. “The times we threw the ball down the field, we weren’t getting past them [the cornerbacks]. I’ll go back and look and see. We were running the football pretty well. That’s one reason we didn’t throw the ball as much.
“I think our offense is very good. When we’re hitting on all cylinders, it’s pretty daggone good. You can’t turn the ball over. You can’t jump offside on the three-yard line. You’ve got to score points when you get in the red zone.”
That pretty much sums it up.
One quick note on receiver Marcus Davis. He started after spraining his right foot last week at Marshall, but didn’t have a catch tonight. His playing time was very limited.
“His foot, the cold weather affected that and I’m not sure what happened there,” Beamer said.
Beamer stuck with punter Scott Demler throughout the game. His punts traveled 27, 32, 35, 11, 28, 29, 29 and 44 yards. It was almost painful to watch Demler, as fans booed him. Did Beamer think about going with Coale?
“No, not really,” Beamer said. “We need to get settled and we’ve got what we got.”
Said Demler: “I know what I’m doing wrong. It’s the same thing. It’s the drop [too high in the hand-to-foot exchange]. There were some punts which I hit pretty well, but the wind just took them. There were some gusts of 20 mph winds out there, and I hit one punt that looked like it was going to be a 45-yard punt and the wind just took it and made it 30 yards. You can’t really do anything about that.
“It’s disappointing to me because I know I can do a lot better. There’s no doubt in my mind that I know I can do a lot better. It was definitely tough with the wind tonight and the wet balls.”
Demler definitely heard the boos, too.
“It’s unfortunate because if only they [the fans] knew how hard everyone tries out on this field,” he said. “It’s not like we go out there and be like, ‘Oh, I don’t want to play well today.’ That doesn’t happen. We’re out there, and it’s 24/7 playing football. It’s a job. We all love the sport. I don’t think fans, they have no idea how hard we actually try out there. It’s disappointing that that happens, but I know myself that I can do a lot better.”
Despite his struggles, he insisted that he is not in his own head, as it were.
“No, it’s just the only thing I know I have to do, especially with this wind, I should have lowered my drop even more, just tried to drive it,’ he said. “I just focused on the hang time and making sure there was no return. I just hung it up there for a few of them.”