We’ll be flying back today, but I hope to write my five thoughts post on the plane at some point. Finding time to post it between flights might be an issue. I might not get it up online until later in the day.
Now for a little bit more.
** First things first, as I mentioned in the story, the Coastal is essentially out of the discussion for the Hokies now. Virginia Tech (4-5, 2-3 ACC) is now a game and a half behind Miami (5-4, 4-2 ACC), which also owns the head-to-head tiebreaker.
The ‘Canes have only Virginia and Duke left on their ACC slate, so it’s time for the Hokies to readjust their goals. The ACC title it out of reach. So is the Coastal Division. What’s left?
“I think the greatest thing you can play for, when it’s all said and done, is pride,” head coach Frank Beamer said. “When it looks tough, you really see what people are made out of, and things are really tough right now. We’ve probably got the best team in the ACC coming next Thursday. … So things are tough. But pride and trying to get to a bowl game — we’ve still got that to play for.”
The players sounded shocked afterward that that’s what their goals are.
“We’re so used to winning here,” linebacker Jack Tyler said. “It’s kind of a weird feeling. … We’ve been so good for so long. We have the coaches to get us back there and the players. We have the talent. We just have to execute and get it right on the field.”
They Hokies vowed not to fold up shop.
“We haven’t not made it to a bowl game in forever here at Tech,” cornerback Antone Exum said. “We have to make sure that doesn’t happen. … Nobody wants to go out losing, nobody wants to lie down for anybody. We’re not going to lie down for anybody. We are going to give it our best shot and play our hearts out. I know I am.”
** Let’s take the loss in pieces. The offense managed only 12 points and failed to score on seven second-half possessions against a Miami defense that entered the night allowing an ACC-worst 499.1 yards and 32.4 points per game.
The Hokies had four red zone possessions and produced only six points, turning the ball over twice. The first came on an interception by Logan Thomas on an underthrown ball to fullback Joey Phillips on the opening drive. The second came on a critical play in the third quarter, when he mishandled a snap on a third-and-goal from the Miami 1 and fumbled it away.
“I don’t fault our effort,” Beamer said. “I do fault our execution.”
The offensive effort was even more jarring, considering Miami finished the game minus two defensive starters. Safety Deon Bush came out of the game after a hard hit with his helmet on J.C. Coleman that drew a flag. Linebacker Denzel Perryman left the game late with an ankle injury.
Virginia Tech finished with 421 yards, 65 more than Miami, a difference that was much more drastic earlier in the game.
“It hurts, it really does hurt to drive the ball up and down the field like that and not get any points,” right tackle Vinston Painter said. “It hurts as an offense. It hurts as a lineman.”
** Thomas finished with 199 passing yards and a career-high 124 rushing yards, 73 of which came on a touchdown run. But he was off for most of the night.
He had three turnovers and completed only 19 of 37 passes, missing some open throws. The most glaring miss came in the fourth quarter, with Tech down 20-12. The Hokies got into a fourth-and-one at the Miami 39 and had a nice play set up. Thomas sold a play-action fake and had Phillips wide open coming out of the backfield. He overthrew him by several feet, turning the ball over on downs, a play that summed up the night.
For the first time, Thomas declined to show up for interviews with the media afterward, although teammates came to his defense.
“It just not Logan,” running back Tony Gregory said. “It’s all of us.”
** The stats will say Tech ran for 222 yards, but it’s misleading. Seventy-three of those yards came on Thomas’ run, when a linebacker slipped and created a huge hole for him to run through in the middle of the defense.
Take that out and the Hokies had 149 yards, only 98 of which came from their tailbacks. Gregory had 10 carries for 50 yards, Michael Holmes had eight for 25 and Coleman had five for 23, the opposite of the paring down of the running back rotation coaches had spoken about this week.
“There’s no question we’d like to run the ball better,” Beamer said.
The split of carries was bizarre. Coleman, who coaches said was assuming a larger role, didn’t have a carry in the first quarter. Holmes, who coaches said was getting a reduced role, got significant time. Beamer’s answer for why was perplexing.
“We kind of got down to packages a little bit and trying to take advantages of guys’ skills,” Beamer said. “Those packages weren’t called there in the first part of the game. We’d like to get Holmes going, get him back there at the tailback position. Let him get going. … Just the way the game went was J.C.’s deal.”
** The special teams mistakes continue to pile up. Punter A.J. Hughes didn’t handle a wide snap correctly, took too long to get it off and had a punt blocked. That led to an early touchdown. One possession later, the Hokies gave up an 81-yard kick return to Duke Johnson.
Asked about the problems, Beamer said it wasn’t a difficult fix.
“It’s pretty simple,” he said. “The punters catch the ball and you kick it. When you’ve got a lane in a kickoff coverage, you stay in that lane. It’s pretty simple, and we spend a lot of time on that. You just execute.”
More on the special teams problems in a follow-up story for Saturday.
** While there was lots of focus on the offense, the defense didn’t have a great first half. Put in unfavorable situations because of special teams gaffes, the Hokies couldn’t keep Miami out of the end zone.
Miami quarterback Stephen Morris connected with Allen Hurns for a 16-yard touchdown pass after the blocked punt. After the long kick return, Mike James got free out of the backfield and was wide open for a 16-yard touchdown that made it 14-3.
“[The short fields are] frustrating, but at the same time it’s nothing we can’t handle on defense,” Tyler said. “We have to do what we have to do and that’s make stops. Giving up 30 points isn’t going to win a game either.”
The Hokies’ defense hung tough for a while after that. After those two quick touchdowns, the Hokies gave up lots of yardage but no touchdowns, forcing Miami to kick field goals after drives of 70 and 82 yards.
But they gave the offense ample opportunity to mount a comeback in a third quarter, when Miami only gained three yards. The Hurricanes were forced to punt five straight times to start of the second half. Tech couldn’t capitalize with any points.
Things got out of hand late. Miami broke through with a 69-yard drive highlighted by a trick play, a wide receiver pass back to Morris that went for 20 yards. Johnson got into the end zone on a 7-yard run to make it 27-12, an insurmountable lead considering how the game was going.
** Beamer kept coming back to execution as the reason for the Hokies’ struggles, again citing four or five plays that could have changed the tenor of the game, a refrain growing old to a frustrated fan base.
“Turning the ball over in the red zone twice? That’s what I’m talking about. Execution,” he said. “Defensively, we gave up a couple of long plays. Execution. We got a punt blocked. A guy bobbles the ball and get a punt blocked. Execution. Kickoff coverage — we got a guy that gets out of position and all of a sudden pops on us. Execution.”
** Beamer had a serious discussion with the officials after the end of the first half, wanting to know why the clock kept running when the Hokies had gotten close to a first down.
Beamer’s contention was that with a close play, the clock should stop for a measurement. The Hokies didn’t get it, but there was miscommunication about whether or not Tech wanted a timeout.
Here’s how Beamer described it: ”I was waiting for them to stop the clock to measure or give us a first down and stop the clock. The clock is going to stop either way. Well the clock didn’t stop. And finally I called a timeout. So then they measure and now we’re a little bit short. And, they didn’t come to me, but they said they came over and said, ‘Do you want your timeout?’ But no one asked me. So now, they put the ball back in play and start the clock again. And we’re sitting there with three timeouts.”
Beamer said 6 or 7 seconds ran off when the officials didn’t stop the clock before the measurement and 7 or 8 after they started it again without granting Tech a timeout.
“We would have had one more shot at a play there,” Beamer said. “It’s miscommunication. It’s kind of an unusual situation. Just … things not going quite right.”
** Here are a few stats of note:
- Miami was 1-for-12 on third downs.
- Tech had a 34:21 to 25:39 time of possession advantage.
- The Hokies had zero sacks.
- Miami was 6-for-6 in red zone scoring.
- Johnson had 13 touches and 218 all-purpose yards.
- Demitri Knowles had a solid game returning kicks, taking back four kicks for 145 yards. His long went for 51 yards.
** So what now? It’s a strange position Virginia Tech is in right now, one the Hokies haven’t experienced in a long, long time.
“I’ve always said there’s a thin line between being OK and not OK,” Beamer said. “I think sometimes you just assume you should win 10 games and that should happen. But it doesn’t just happen. You get in there with some inexperienced players at times, but his late in the season there’s certainly no excuse either. Just not quite clicking.
“It’s a team game and we’re just not quite clicking. I think everyone’s trying as hard as they can, but it’s very frustrating, very disappointing. I know our fans are disappointed and I’m disappointed because we’re disappointing them. But we’re trying to get this right. You’ve got to keep hanging in there and it’s going to turn around.”