Deadline loomed for this long game, so I apologize for the delay with this post. Here’s my game story for Sunday.
Also read Aaron McFarling‘s column on the offense’s early-game woes.
And now for a few more notes and quotes …
** Just a stomach punch of a loss for the Hokies, one that was eerily similar to the Boise State loss in FedEx a few years ago.
“You always see it on TV or you see it in movies or something like that and you just don’t want to be that team,” Tech wide receiver Marcus Davis said. “The feeling inside of you is unreal, but it happens.”
Quarterbacks coach and play-caller Mike O’Cain summed up the feeling well.
“Not that you ever want to get beat badly like we did at Pittsburgh, but those games, you don’t look back and say, ‘If we had just done this’ or ‘If we had just done this,’ the game would have been different,” he said. “This one, it sticks with you more because there’s maybe one play, where if we do this one play differently, we win.”
** Let’s start on offense, where the Hokies had one of their worst first halves in recent memory.
Virginia Tech managed a meager 72 yards of offense and getting just two first downs. The first of those didn’t come until the 5:17 mark of the second quarter, nearly 25 minutes into the game. The last time the Hokies had two or fewer first downs in the first half of a game was a 1996 loss at Syracuse.
“I don’t really attribute it to one thing,” Davis said. “It is just something we have been struggling with all year.”
The struggles weren’t confined to one facet of the game. Quarterback Logan Thomas was 7-for-13 for only 37 yards, again sailing some of his throws high.
“It’s a mixture of things,” Thomas said. “Sometimes it’s being hit, sometimes it’s letting it go early and not getting my feet completely down.”
The running game produced just 35 yards on 13 carries. The Hokies were 1-for-7 on third downs, punted five times and turned the ball over once on a fumble by receiver Corey Fuller.
“It’s a combination of every position at one point in time not making a play or not doing exactly the right thing,” O’Cain said. “And that’s the way offensive football is. … And when you’re struggling a little bit, everything’s critical. Every play is critical right now.”
Said Thomas: “We have to figure it out soon.”
** The offense came around late, with 173 yards in the fourth quarter. Despite the slow start, the Hokies’ 402 yards were the second most they’ve had this year.
Michael Holmes (60 yards, TD) started to run with a little more purpose. And Thomas hit Fuller for what seemed liked it was going to be the game-winning 56-yard touchdown with less than two minutes left.
“They were in our face all day long,” O’Cain said. “It felt like we had to get some things across the field.”
Thomas finished 17-for-30 for 242 yards.
Part of that was because the Hokies rediscovered Davis in the receiving game, after he had one catch for three yards through two and a half quarters. In the third quarter, he had a 21-yard catch, then hauled in a big one over the top for 50 yards. He had 101 receiving yards on five catches, the fourth 100-yard game of his career and his second this season.
What did Virginia Tech do after that big catch, though? Turned it over. Martin Scales had a touchdown run negated by a holding penalty on fullback Riley Beiro. Thomas threw a pick on the next play when his high pass tipped off Randall Dunn‘s fingers and into a defensive back’s hands, one of the crucial sequences of the game.
** Defensively, it’s hard to ignore the ending, when the Hokies twice gave up late leads with long touchdown plays.
Ralph David Abernathy IV broke loose on a busted coverage on a wheel route, going for 76 yards and a touchdown.
After the Hokies took the lead late, Cincinnati went 85 yards in 1:30 before Damon Julian hauled in a 39-yard game-winning catch with 13 seconds left. He beat Kyle Fuller on the play.
“I just made the biggest mistake I could ever make,” Fuller said. “That’s letting the receiver get behind me. That’s what happens. … I take responsibility.”
** The Hokies put lots of pressure on their cornerbacks, selling out to stuff Cincinnati’s running game. They did well in that regard, holding the Bearcats to 103 yards on the ground.
But Munchie Legaux had a career day, throwing for 376 yards and three touchdowns. His previous career-high was 217 yards.
Saturday’s total was the most by a Virginia Tech opponent since California’s Aaron Rodgers threw for 394 yards in a 52-49 win in the 2003 Insight Bowl.
** Antone Exum’s adjustment from safety cornerback hit some more rough patches.
The junior was beaten frequently by Cincinnati receivers and committed four penalties — two facemasks and two pass interferences — that resulted in 47 yards and three first downs. He also whiffed on a tackle near midfield during Abernathy’s touchdown reception in the fourth quarter.
Despite Exum’s struggles, head coach Frank Beamer still expressed support for him as a cornerback after the game, as did teammates.
“You’ve got to have a short memory as a defensive back,” Fuller said. “We’re in man. They put it on us.”
** Fuller struggled with cramps for some of the second half and was forced out of the game briefly.
Cincinnati took advantage near the end of the third quarter, targeting his replacement, true freshman Donaldven Manning, and again exposing the Hokies’ dire depth situation in the secondary.
Manning missed a tackle on a 30-yard gain by Julian. On the next play, Kenbrell Thompkins beat him for a 29-yard touchdown.
“I thought he was ready, but he’s a freshman and I think they went at him,” Fuller said. “But that doesn’t matter.”
** Although the offense struggled, freshman punter A.J. Hughes enjoyed his finest day as a collegian, averaging 45.9 yards on seven punts. His first effort went 55 yards, flipping field position. His third one went 57 yards for a career long. He also had a 56-yarder.
** Two pretty nice defensive plays that were overlooked by the end. Cincinnati tried a fake field goal late in the first quarter, completing the pass to the backup center. But J.R. Collins and Jack Tyler sniffed it out, pushing him out of bounds at the 3-yard line, two yards short of the first down despite a 16-yard gain. That kept the score 3-0 early.
In the second quarter, defensive tackle Kris Harley made a diving interception on a pass tipped by linebacker Bruce Taylor. He made the catch at the Cincinnati 13-yard line, setting up the Hokies’ first touchdown, a 5-yard run by Thomas on fourth down.
** The Hokies dropped to 0-3 at FedEx Field, having previously lost to Southern California in 2004 and Boise State in 2010. They’ve now lost five straight games in NFL stadiums.
** Neither LG David Wang (ankle) nor LB Tariq Edwards (knee) played.
Michael Via and Matt Arkema started at the guard spots, but by the end, the Hokies had gone to an interior line of Via (LG), Caleb Farris (C) and Brent Benedict (RG).
Tyler and Taylor played the entire game at the inside linebackers spots. Tyler had a team-high 11 tackles, a half a tackle for a loss and two quarterback hurries. Taylor had seven tackles and a tackle for a loss.
** Virginia Tech’s players put on a brave face after. Most spoke about the disappointment of the loss but again were looking ahead at how not to let this derail the rest of the season.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Taylor said. “Especially when you come out and play hard the whole game, except for a few plays. … I told the guys I hate losing. I hate the feeling. I hope they hate is as much as I do. But we’ve just got to come back and have a great week of practice and get back on track.”
Beamer, who was glassy-eyed afterward, summed up the game like this: “I thought we had it a couple times and then didn’t have it. I thought they made some great plays and we helped them a little bit. But that’s the way it is. We have our conference to look forward to and we have to get past this one and move on.”