Another brutal deadline game tonight. Here’s my game story, which should be updated on the website with the version for tomorrow’s paper sometime soon. And here’s Aaron McFarling‘s column from the game.
Now here’s a little bit more on the Hokies’ 13-10 Russell Athletic Bowl win.
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** “It’s kind of like nothing comes easy for us,” head coach Frank Beamer said.
That pretty well summed up the game. It was not pretty. Virginia Tech had 84 yards of offense and no points through three quarters. The stadium was half-empty, so the atmosphere wasn’t great. It was raining, adding to the problems.
Yet Virginia Tech pulled it out, scoring 13 points in the fourth quarter and overtime to narrowly avoid its first losing season since 1992.
“I think that gets said a lot: rather than getting down a couple times this year, we could have shut it down, and these guys never did,” Beamer said.
** That said, it was a rough offensive performance, one that’s sure to increase the calls for Beamer to do something about restructuring his offensive staff before the start of next season.
Nobody wanted to talk about it afterward. Asked if he’s considering any changes, Beamer again avoided the question, although changes at this point seem imminent.
“We are going to enjoy this win,” he said. “These guys worked hard for this win tonight. It wasn’t easy.”
Much-maligned offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring had a similar comment when asked about his future with the staff.
“At this moment in time, what I’m concentrating on and what’s important to me is I’m going to go back and celebrate and rejoice with the people who mean the most to me in this world,” Stinespring said. “And that’s this coaching staff, these players. … I’m going to go back and hug some necks and celebrate.”
** During the first half, Pete Roussel of coachingsearch.com tweeted that Virginia Tech wide receivers coach Kevin Sherman will join the Purdue staff after the bowl game, something Sherman would neither confirm nor deny afterward.
“My focus right now is enjoying this win right now,” Sherman said. “I don’t know what you’re talking about just yet.”
Asked if he would be back next season, Sherman said, “I can’t answer that question,” although he did say he had coaching ties to Purdue without mentioning them specifically.
The 44-year-old Sherman, who is a Ferrum grad, has been at Virginia Tech the last seven years, hired in 2006 to replace Tony Ball. He spent six years at Wake Forest before that.
** Why all the angst about the offense in a game the Hokies won? It wasn’t pretty. Virginia Tech finished with a season-low 196 yards. It had only 3 rushing yards on 32 carries, getting 20 yards on 21 carries from the tailback quartet of Martin Scales, J.C. Coleman, Michael Holmes and Tony Gregory.
Tech’s 3 yards rushing are the fewest in a win under Beamer. It’s the third-fewest ever under Beamer in 26 seasons (-14 vs. Miami in 1994; -1 vs. Syracuse in 1987).
Quarterback Logan Thomas was off target for most of the night, under pressure from a relentless Rutgers defensive front that sacked him four times and battered him repeatedly. He finished 15-for-39 for 193 yards, a touchdown and two more interceptions, giving him 16 this year.
“They played tough the entire day,” Thomas said. “In the passing game, they were playing with us any time, they would show us one thing, drop out and show us another and stay there when we were expecting them to drop out, so we finally got into a groove of what we were expecting them to do, and we started picking up things time after time. It was just feeling them out just like a boxer.”
Thomas did manage to spark the offense in the fourth quarter, however, hitting Dyrell Roberts for 32 yards and Corey Fuller for 25 on back-to-back plays to set up a field goal that got the Hokies on the board at 10-3. After Tech got the ball back, Thomas dropped a perfectly thrown pass into Fuller’s arms for a 21-yard touchdown in the corner of the end zone to tie the game at 10.
Despite what most agree was not a great season, Thomas finished the year with 3,500 total yards, breaking the school record of 3,482 he set last year in one fewer game.
Thomas, who had 524 rushing yards, became the first Tech quarterback to lead the Hokies in rushing for the season since Bobby Owens led Tech in 1965 with 526 yards.
** Thomas again declined to make a definitive statement afterward about what he’s going to do about the NFL. The junior is holding off on his decision until he hears back from the NFL Draft Advisory board.
He was asked point blank if this was his last game as a Hokie.
“I can’t tell you now,” Thomas said. “I have a big decision in front of me. Either way it goes, I’m proud to be a Hokie.”
** Virginia Tech was only in the game because of its defense, which turned in one of its best performances of the year. Rutgers also finished with 196 yards, and 43 came on one long catch by Brandon Coleman that didn’t lead to any points.
The Scarlet Knights’ only touchdown was given up by the Hokies’ offense. And their only field goal came after a late hit penalty at the end of a punt return gave Rutgers good field position.
“I couldn’t commend the defense more,” Thomas said. “The entire season that’s how it’s been.”
“We never lose hope with the guys on the other side of the ball,” said cornerback Antone Exum, who earned game MVP honors. “We knew they would at some point make the plays that needed to be made for us to take the lead.”
Bud Foster‘s crew finished with 12 tackles for a loss and three sacks. Defensive lineman Tyrel Wilson recovered a fumble. Exum intercepted a pass that set up Thomas’ touchdown pass. Safety Detrick Bonner nearly had two picks, although he dropped them both.
Linebacker Bruce Taylor, who along with James Gayle and some others didn’t start because they were late to a team dinner, had a strong final college game, finishing with a team-high 11 tackles and adding 1.5 TFLs, a pass breakup and a quarterback hurry. Alonzo Tweedy, also playing in his last college game, had eight tackles, a tackle and half and a sack.
Taylor, Exum and a few other defensive players jawed with Rutgers players right before halftime. The teams had to be separated before it escalated.
“I wasn’t really upset about that whole scuffle that happened, because you know we’re out there fighting,” Taylor said. “And when guys are cheapshotting you, you’re not going to stand for it. And it was more just to liven it up. The offense was struggling. We’re going to fight. And that’s what I told them at halftime.”
What precipitated it? Taylor said he got stepped on “in an inappropriate area” one time. “It’s just how it goes sometimes,” he said.
** Tech got off to a disastrous start. The Hokies fell behind 7-0 after only two offensive plays. They averted disaster on the first, when an errant Thomas pass almost got picked. They couldn’t on the second, when an early shotgun snap by center Caleb Farris whizzed by an unready Thomas. Farris thought he had caught a Rutgers defender in the neutral zone.
“Our coaches told him always snap it, so you know they picked up the flag afterwards,” Thomas said. “I was just trying to pick it up and get it. In hindsight I wish I would have kicked it out of the end zone. I thought I was going to be able to pick it up and get it to the 1-, 2-yard line and maybe be down by contact.”
He couldn’t. The ball trickled into the end zone, where Thomas tried to corral it and reach out of the end zone to avoid a safety. The ball was knocked loose before the whistle blew. Rutgers linebacker Khaseem Greene recovered the loose ball. After a brief meeting by the officials, they ruled it a touchdown.
Replays showed that Thomas might have had his knee on the ground with the ball stretched only to the goal line, which still would have been a safety but not the touchdown for Rutgers it became.
** A few other quick notes …
- Receiver Marcus Davis finished with 62 yards, giving him 953 for the season. That’s just nine shy of Andre Davis‘ single-season school record of 962 set in 1999.
- Davis and Corey Fuller said they have accepted invitations to play in the East-West Shrine Game at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., on Jan. 19.
- The teams combined for 21 punts, a Russell Athletic Bowl record. The previous record was 19 set by Alabama and Colorado in 1991.
- A.J. Hughes punted 11 times, with a 42.2-yard average. He had a long of 57.
- The Hokies were penalized 14 times for 95 yards.
- Rutgers (9-4) saw its nation’s-best bowl winning streak end at five.
- Kicker Cody Journell went 2-for-3 on field goal attempts, making them from 25 and 22 but coming up short on a 51-yard attempt that in the fourth quarter. It was nine yards longer than his career long.
- Beamer improved to 9-11 in bowl games. He ended a two-game bowl losing streak and avoided losing three in a row for the first time in his career.
- After losing the Sugar Bowl to Michigan in overtime last season, the Hokies played three overtime games this year and won all of them (Georgia Tech, Boston College and Rutgers).