Lost among the embarrassingly slow start and gut-punch of a finish of last Saturday’s 27-24 loss to Cincinnati was the fact that for the last quarter and a half, Virginia Tech’s offense actually moved the ball as well as it has all season.
Not including the possession that ended on a Hail Mary, four of the Hokies’ final five drives went for longer than 60 yards. Two ended in touchdowns — a 3-yard run by Michael Holmes and a 56-yard catch by Corey Fuller – that gave Virginia Tech a late lead that it wasn’t able to hold.
“We want to take that second half and build on that,” quarterbacks coach and play-caller Mike O’Cain said.
After a poor start, one that saw Tech gain 72 yards and only two first downs in the first half, the Hokies’ offense came around in the second half, getting 297 of their 402 yards from the middle of the third quarter on.
The lengthy drives went down like this:
** Tech got going on a five-play, 62-yard drive, highlighted by a 50-yard pass from Logan Thomas to Marcus Davis to get to the Cincinnati 3. It was the third time Davis had been targeted on the day and was his third catch for 74 yards, prompting the question: why doesn’t Tech get the play-maker involved earlier?
“You’ve just got to go with whatever the coach is calling,” Davis said. “If my number is called, I’ve got to make the most of it. If I don’t get my number called, I still want to go out there and play as hard as I can and leave it all out on the field.”
Martin Scales‘ touchdown run on the next play was negated by a Riley Beiro hold (one that running backs coach Shane Beamer called “a God-awful call and probably one of the worst I’ve ever seen.”).
Thomas followed it up with a poor pass to an open Randall Dunn near the goal line that was too high and glanced off his fingers into the air for an interception, a wasted opportunity.
** The Hokies went 62 yards on nine plays the next time they got the ball. J.C. Coleman got plenty of work on the drive, carrying three times for 12 yards and going for 24 yards on a rare screen pass.
“He had some physical, physical runs Saturday that he’s running over linebackers from Cincinnati, so that was good to see,” Shane said.
The drive stalled and the Hokies settled for a field goal to pull within 13-10.
** The next drive covered 74 yards in eight plays and ended with Holmes’ touchdown run. Holmes did most of the heavy lifting. After Thomas completed passes to Eric Martin and Davis to start the drive, Holmes carried the ball on five of the final six plays, gaining 48 yards in his best stretch of plays this year. It was perhaps a sign that he can be the featured tailback the Hokies have lacked.
“I thought he had a good look in his eye, if that makes sense,” Shane said. “He showed some, not that he hadn’t before, but I thought he showed a lot of competitiveness, a lot of intensity, a lot of toughness. I thought he showed a lot of that on that drive. He took some shots on that drive. I said, ‘Do you want out? Do you need a blow?’ And he kept looking at me like, ‘Heck no, don’t take me out of this game.’ And that was good to see.”
The touchdown run itself was a physical one.
“He flat ran over a guy,” Shane said.
But it was the play of the offensive line — which featured an interior group of Michael Via (LG), Caleb Farris (C) and Brent Benedict (RG) – that made the biggest difference.
“Guys just came out with a higher emotion,” right tackle Vinston Painter said. “And we wanted to get our guys going. We knew the coaches wanted to run the ball. We wanted to run the ball. And that’s what we’d like to do. And we knew in order for us to try to take over that game, we had to get it going. We had to make sure everyone executed their assignments to the best that we could. And we just went out and did it.”
** After a three-and-out, the Hokies went 93 yards in six plays on their last full drive. A Dyrell Roberts run for 25 yards got the Hokies out of bad field position.
Thomas completed all three passes on the drive, including a 56-yarder to Fuller on a crossing pattern that then broke free up the sideline for what some thought would be the game-winning score. In a faster pace situation, Thomas once again looked more comfortable.
“I feel like when we run those types of offenses, we actually click a little bit better, get moving down the field, get into a rhythm a little bit quicker,” Fuller said. “That’s what I personally think.”
Coaches and players, well aware of the team’s early-game struggles, think it showed the offense’s potential.
“Like you saw in the second half, when our offense was at its best, it’s explosive and we can make big plays down the field, with the running game and the passing game,” Painter said.
The question now is: are the Hokies capable of doing that for an entire game?