Another disappointing outcome for the Hokies, who couldn’t do enough offensively to stick with Clemson in a 38-17 loss. Read my game story here.
I have to get on the road here pretty soon, so I’ll try to wrap this up quickly on the blog.
** The game story has most of the details about the offensive struggles, which offensive coordinator Mike O’Cain, in a familiar refrain, said came down to a few plays. (And yes, I realize this will tick off a large portion of the fan base.)
“It’s a simple game,” O’Cain. “It’s making plays. And we didn’t make plays.”
Clemson’s defense is not great, yet the Tigers have had the Hokies’ number in all three games the last two years.
Tech managed 406 yards and 17 points against a Clemson defense that entered the game ranked 97th nationally in total yards and had allowed an average of 523 yards and 37 points a game against ACC foes.
Despite the struggles, the Hokies aren’t tearing everything down on offense during the bye week.
“I don’t think it’s a matter of re-examining,” O’Cain said. “That’s not a question. … It’s not so much what we’re doing. It’s a matter of doing what we’re doing better. And again, I know I keep saying it over and over: make plays when your number is called.”
** Telling stat: In the second half of the last three games with Clemson, Virginia Tech has been out-scored 62-7.
** You can’t overlook the early mistakes in this loss. Trailing 7-3, Clemson punted to start the second quarter. It was short, though, and glanced off the leg of unsuspecting Hokies receiver Christian Reeves, a big special teams gaffe.
The Tigers recovered at the Tech 26 and would capitalize with a touchdown run by Tajh Boyd to take a 10-7 lead.
Two possessions later, quarterback Logan Thomas sailed a pass over the middle that was intercepted by Clemson safety Jonathan Meeks and returned 74 yards for a touchdown to give the Tigers a 17-10 lead.
“The ball just came out of my hand real bad,” Thomas said. “It slipped out of my thumb and my pointer finger and it just floated away. … I knew right away.”
** Missed opportunities were the tale of the second half. Thomas overthrew Dyrell Roberts on what would have been a sure touchdown on the first drive of the second half. Hit that and it’s 17-17. Instead, the Hokies still trailed.
“The defense wasn’t set and I was expecting them to kind of keep it a little bit skinnier, go down the sideline and he was thinking bend it a little bit,” Thomas said of the read play. “I guess we missed by a yard or something like that, and that would’ve put us tied with them. Like I said earlier, the third quarter just didn’t go our way.”
** A huge stretch came in the third quarter with back-to-back questionable calls. I’ll go to the portion I wrote for my game story:
The Hokies looked to be in business when Thomas stood his ground in the pocket with a defender wrapped around his ankles and completed a third-down pass to running back J.C. Coleman that would have moved the chains. Instead, the officials whistled the play dead, inexplicably so from the Hokies’ perspective.
“I don’t know that I’ve seen that called,” a perplexed Frank Beamer said to reporters after. “Y’all seen that called lately?”
“It changed the tides right there,” Thomas said. “But we can’t do anything about it now.”
After a punt, Tech thought it forced a huge turnover, jumping on a ball knocked loose from receiver Sammy Watkins by safety Detrick Bonner. It was initially ruled down but was reviewed after some prodding by Beamer. Officials upheld the call, although replay made it look like it could have gone either way.
“Those plays get the momentum going and the whole game changes a little bit,” Beamer said.
Clemson scored 14 points right after that to break the game open.
** That late wide receiver option pass by Marcus Davis was a play the Hokies had tried earlier. The first time they failed to complete the first lateral in the play and it went out of bounds. Coaches saw that the receiver was open, though, so they went back to it.
Clemson read the second one the whole way, however, and it was picked off by safety Xavier Brewer.
“We thought it was worth another try,” O’Cain said. “And obviously it didn’t pan out. I think sometimes plays like that, they can be really big or they can be really bad. And you’ve got to take those chances at time.”
** You can’t overlook the running game’s struggles, although the stats didn’t look like it. Thomas was almost all of the success there, with a career-high 99 rushing yards and a late 19-yard touchdown.
But the running backs, a week after looking like they might be breaking out, combined for 93 yards. None of them had more than Tony Gregory‘s 29. And Gregory fumbled at the end of one run, fortunate to have it bounce right to wide receiver Corey Fuller.
Gregory and Martin Scales averaged 6.2 yards per carry, but Coleman and Michael Holmes averaged 2.2 yards per carry. Holmes was stuffed early on a fourth-down run when Tech was leading 7-0.
** On defense, Virginia Tech couldn’t have asked for much more, despite the scoreboard saying 38 points at the end.
Clemson, which entered Saturday average 525 yards a game, finished with only 295 yards against the Hokies. It’s the second-fewest yards gained by a Chad Morris offense in his 34 games as a college coordinator. (Bud Foster‘s crew has now held Morris’s offense to two of his three worst performances.)
Virginia Tech pressured Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd, sacking him five times and intercepting him once, although it wasn’t enough to offset bad field position and a struggling offense.
Three of the Tigers’ touchdown drives started on the Hokies’ side of the 50. Another started at the 48. (The fifth touchdown was a result of an interception return.)
“It’s very frustrating, but it happens sometimes,” defensive end James Gayle said.
The Hokies forced six three-and-outs, held Clemson to 135 rushing yards and only 160 passing but still came up short.
“With an offense like that, if you can keep them in check, you definitely give yourself a chance to win,” linebacker Bruce Taylor said. “We just didn’t get it done.”
** Safety Michael Cole, a Cave Spring product, made his second interception in as many games.
This one was highlight-reel worthy. Boyd overthrew a pass across the middle in the first quarter. Cole slipped as he changed direction and fell on his back but still managed to snag it out of the air.
It’s the third turnover the redshirt freshman has come up with in the last two games. He also recovered a fumble against Duke.
** A few quick hitters:
- Linebacker Tariq Edwards (knee) played for the first time this year, getting in during the third quarter.
- Kicker Cody Journell made a 40-yard field goal just before halftime. He’s made 20 of 21 going back to last year.
- Defensive tackle Luther Maddy had two of the Hokies’ five sacks. He has four in the last two games.
- Left guard David Wang (knee/ankle) started and played the whole game.
- Fuller had four catches for 96 yards and a touchdown. Marcus Davis had six catches for 58 yards.
** Lastly, the Hokies aren’t folding up shop yet. With a 2-2 ACC record and a head-to-head game with Miami coming up, the lackluster Coastal Division — amazingly — remains wide open. (UNC, which is probably the best team, is ineligible.)
“It’s pretty simple: we’ve just got to win,” cornerback Antone Exum said. “We’re still in the hunt. As crazy as that sounds, at 4-4 we’re still in the hunt. We have to go down to Miami and handle business.”