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“I don’t know if we’re going to celebrate Halloween this year,” he said, half-joking.
After Saturday’s historic loss to Duke, nobody was in a celebrating mood at Virginia Tech (6-2, 3-1 ACC), which dropped out of both polls Sunday.
The Hokies, who travel to Boston College this week, didn’t drop out of the Coastal Division race, just a game back in the loss column of Miami, who they’ll play in two weeks. The ‘Canes could suffer their first loss this weekend, as three-touchdown underdogs at Florida State.
It’s why Beamer, despite how much it might rankle a fan base eager to assess blame for Saturday’s disappointment, is trying keep his team looking forward.
“Disappointment’s going to happen to all of us,” Beamer said. “But the real secret, or the real key thing, is how you react to disappointment. And that kind of determines who you are, in my opinion.”
Players described the mood at Sunday’s practice, which is usually reserved for review of the previous day’s game, as down.
“I’d be disappointed if they weren’t down,” Beamer said. “It’s a disappointing loss. But yeah, the other side of it is let’s find out what went wrong, figure that out and get it right and let’s try to play better this week. We’re going to have to.”
“We just have to put it behind us and move on and not make it a burden,” linebacker Tariq Edwards said.
Although the mood wasn’t great, the Hokies think things picked up as practice progressed.
“Obviously the guys were sad,” quarterback Logan Thomas said. “Nobody wants to lose a game at all. But I think we’re all motivated. It was probably the best Sunday practice that we’ve had. I took it upon myself to set the tempo and make sure that nobody was going through the motions, that we’re all going full speed.
“I think the guys are ready to go,” Thomas added. “Obviously, I think [the Duke game] was eye opening for all of us.”
Boston College (3-4, 1-3 ACC) doesn’t have a resume that scares you, although the Eagles played Florida State tough in a 48-34 loss at home last month and didn’t wilt at Clemson in a 24-14 loss.
Under first-year head coach Steve Addazio, BC appears to know what it is: a hard-nosed, physical team in the mold of good Eagles teams of the past. Tailback Andre Williams is averaging an ACC-best 144.3 rushing yards per game and has already gone over the 1,000-yard mark this year, with 183 carries for 1,010 yards and eight touchdowns.
“This Boston College group will absolutely hammer you,” Beamer said. “They’re physical, they’re tough. And Boston College has always been that way, but I think it’s more so right now, under the staff that’s there now. So it’s quite a challenge for our football team.”
Here are a few more press conference notes and quotes …
– ESPN has requested a six-day hold deciding kickoff times for three Nov. 9 games, including Virginia Tech-Miami. That means the Hokies won’t find out the starting time for that game until noon on Sunday at the latest. The game will be on ABC or ESPN. The two other games being held for consideration are Florida State at Wake Forest and Notre Dame at Pittsburgh.
– Cornerback Kendall Fuller was named the ACC’s Co-Defensive Back of the Week after his three-interception performance against Duke. The true freshman is tied for the national lead with five picks, joining four others: Tulane’s Lorenzo Doss, Virginia’s Anthony Harris, Oregon State’s Steven Nelson and Northern Illinois’ Jimmie Ward.
– Virginia Tech has not historically played great at Boston College. Although the Hokies have won on their last two trips to Chestnut Hill, they were fortunate to get to overtime and pull last year’s game out 30-23. In 2006 and ’08 they brought ranked teams to Alumni Stadium to face unranked Boston College squads. They lost both times.
“It’s definitely going to be a mental challenge for us,” Thomas said. “Boston’s going to probably be a little chilly. At the same time, they have a great team that’s going to force us to know what we’ve got to do with the football. Defensively, they show multiple looks and we’ve got to be able to take care of the football. And yeah, bounce back this week. I think the guys are ready to go.”
– Thomas said his biggest issue Saturday was that he was making progressions, but doing them too quickly.
“My footwork and my brain really weren’t jelled together, which means I was looking at two when my feet were still ready for one,” he said. “So that’s what kind of got me off my game.”
He estimated that he played well for about 75 percent of his snaps.
“Which obviously isn’t very good,” he added.
“I think when you go out there and compete, some days are better than others,” Beamer said of his senior quarterback. “But I’ve got all the confidence in the world in Logan Thomas and he’s a guy that’s very much the leader of this football team. Very much a guy on this football team that can get us back and playing well this week.”
– Asked whether Duke was better defensively than people thought or if Virginia Tech just didn’t close things out, Thomas said this:
“We had 40 minutes time of possession, 30 plus first downs, out-gained them by almost 200 yards,” he said. “So, no. We just hurt ourselves.”
– Beamer continued to stand behind kicker Cody Journell, despite the senior’s struggles. Journell is 8-for-14 this year and missed kicks from 40 and 45 yards Saturday that proved costly. He’s missed at least one field goal in each of the last four games he’s attempted one.
“I’ve still got confidence in him,” Beamer said. “I’ve seen him kick too many good balls for me not to have confidence in him.”
Beamer said Journell’s struggles haven’t changed how the Hokies approach their decisions when on the edge of his field goal range. When they went for it on 4th-and-11 in the first quarter Saturday, it was because of the wind, even though Duke’s kicker made two field goals from 50-plus into that end of the stadium.
“I was concerned about the wind,” Beamer said. “It was really changing up.”
– Beamer’s assessment is that a variety of little things are still holding them back, although one thing stands out.
“It still gets down to making plays at the right time and critical time,” he said. “And [we] just didn’t get it done. ..
“When you give up that ball, when you get a turnover, that hurts you more than anything. I think that determines the games more than anything.”
– On the play that Duke’s Anthony Boone scored on a touchdown run, backup defensive end Ken Ekanem was one of a few players who got sucked in toward the middle and lost contain on the outside.
Ekanem was in the game only because senior J.R. Collins was serving a one-game suspension for an undisclosed violation of team rules.
“Of course J.R. has been playing so hard and playing well, and he’s a valuable part of the football team, but we had enough personnel to get the job done,” Beamer said. “We just didn’t make enough plays.”
“They had a hat on a hat, so it was just good offense by Duke,” defensive tackle Derrick Hopkins said. “Everybody was in the right position, but they just had a good play. Once we corrected it, they didn’t run it again.”
– Beamer said he was going to try to get clarification from ACC coordinator of football officiating Doug Rhoads about the Duke punt that was originally ruled a touchback, then changed to be down at the 1-yard line.
“I don’t understand how a guy out of bounds could affect the play inbounds,” Beamer said. “But they seemed very sure that that was the rule. But that was a new one on me. They taught me something and I’ve been around it a long time. But they taught me something there.”
That play didn’t affect much. Thomas completed a 56-yard pass to Demitri Knowles on the next snap and the Hokies moved 99 yards for their only touchdown of the game.
– Game story: Devils get their due against Virginia Tech
– Notes and a post-game wrap: Kendall Fuller steals Exum’s spotlight
– Aaron McFarling column: Virginia Tech offense to blame in loss
Now, here are five thoughts following the Hokies’ loss to the Blue Devils …
1. The Hokies walked a fine line all season, and it finally caught up to them Saturday.
It’s been said all year: the Hokies have little to no margin of error. And Saturday’s embarrassing 13-10 loss to Duke really played out not too much differently from any other game Tech has played this season, except for the end result. The defense played well. The offense gained yards but couldn’t finish drives. The game was tight. The difference? The offense turned it over four times and the field goal misses finally caught up to the Hokies.
This game was not abnormal, though. It was almost the same as every other game the Hokies have played this year. They’ve weathered red zone woes and field goal misses and, occasionally, multiple turnovers. And if Tech had somehow pulled this one out at the end — which it had multiple chances to do — the post-game would have been more of the “we ain’t pretty but we’ll take it” variety. It was the case against East Carolina. It was the case against Marshall. And to a lesser degree, it was the case against Georgia Tech. (UNC and Pitt, despite not being works of art, felt like the Hokies had more control on the game, despite not being blowouts).
What’s the cliche? Play with fire too many times and you’ll get burned? It was bound to happen. And the razor thin margin of error on which Virginia Tech had been getting by doesn’t hold up when you do things like turn the ball over four times, including once in the end zone. Or have a penalty that negates a touchdown pass. Or can’t capitalize off four turnovers. I’ve written all year that the Hokies aren’t good enough to blow teams out. The defense is good enough to keep them in any game, and if the offense can do just enough, it’s usually a successful formula. They didn’t do just enough Saturday.
2. Logan Thomas had his worst game this year, and the play-calling at moments was curious at best.
There’s no sugar-coating it: Thomas didn’t throw the ball well. After nearly the longest mistake-free potion of his career — 116 straight passes without an interception — the senior reverted to his old form, throwing four interceptions, a couple of which were backbreakers. He sailed one, one of a number of high throws early (shades of last year). He forced another in the end zone on third down, perhaps his most critical error, since it prevented the Hokies from definitely putting points on the board. He had two in the second half, one of which came when the game was on the line. I still have yet to see a replay of the last one when he wanted to go deep. Numerous people have said he had a receiver open deep but rifled a ball short to Demitri Knowles that was batted into the air and picked.
The decision-making was what separated this year’s Thomas from last year’s, and really had been the difference in an offense that statistically hasn’t been any better. When he didn’t have those picks, Virginia Tech won, even with little offense. But, going back to point No. 1, the Hokies can’t afford to make those kind of critical mistakes, not with an offense that isn’t going to score a lot of points in the first place. Thomas’ contributions are still enormous for this offense. He once again shouldered the rushing load, going over 100 yards. And at times — like the 99-yard touchdown drive — he looked like he had the last three games, a confident, capable passer. But it didn’t last. And overall, it was his worst game of the year from a decision-making sense, and for quarterbacks, that’s where it’s all at.
Offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler is not blameless here, though. And as Aaron aptly wrote in his column today, his grace period ended with this loss. Tech’s paltry offensive numbers could be overlooked as long as the team was winning. But some questionable play-calls in a loss are certain to be put under a microscope. The Hokies appeared to be running the ball better, even going hurry-up on one drive and gashing Duke up the middle. Then, for some reason, they stopped. So did the drive, stalling out at the goal line when Tech ran J.C. Coleman twice from inside the 5, including on a second-and-goal from the 1, what seems like a perfect time for a power back like Trey Edmunds (who had run four times for 23 yards on the drive). Later, on a fourth-and-1, the Hokies ran a stretch play to Edmunds that Duke was able to run down and stop short of the sticks. It’s easy to cherry pick a few play-calls that don’t work after the fact, but those were a couple at the time didn’t make a whole lot of sense and still don’t in hindsight.
3. The defense is doing all it can do.
Though Tech’s defenders tried to take some of the blame for the result last night, outside of a couple quarterback runs, there wasn’t a whole lot more the Hokies could do defensively. They held Duke to 198 total yards, fewer than any an FBS team has had against them this year. They had four interceptions, repeatedly giving the offense great field position. They didn’t allow a completion in the second half. Duke was 0-for-11 on third downs, the first team not to convert a third down this year and win a game. In fact, the ESPN ticker last night showed this stat: the Blue Devils were the first team in the last 14 years to throw four interceptions and complete less than 30 percent of their passes and still win the game. As receiver Willie Byrn said last night, “What more can the defense do, really?”
It reinforced the fact that Bud Foster has his group ready to play every week. Duke was a challenging offense, one that was averaging 35.7 points and 452.1 yard per game entering Saturday. It’s another notch in the defensive coordinator’s belt, even if the Hokies didn’t win the game. And the effort was more remarkable considering Tech was playing without suspended starting defensive end J.R. Collins and injured cornerbacks Kyle Fuller and Brandon Facyson. The secondary included Antone Exum, making his season debut after offseason knee surgery, true freshman Chuck Clark, who made his first start as the nickel back, and Kendall Fuller, who stepped in as the boundary corner and made three interceptions, proving he’s the elite talent everyone thought he could be. It really was a great defensive showing that got lost in the offensive ineptitude.
4. Cody Journell’s struggles finally caught up to the Hokies, although there are really no alternatives.
It’s been said for weeks, even though Journell appeared to get back to his old form with a 4-for-5 kicking performance against Pittsburgh. But Journell’s struggles this year, especially with how close all of the Hokies’ game have been, was bound to catch up to the team eventually. He missed from 45 early, hitting the left upright, and from 40 late, a kick that was pressured and might even have been tipped. Those aren’t necessarily easy kicks — anything from 40-plus gets dicey — but they are certainly within range for someone who last year made those kind of field goals regularly.
That’s not to put the blame entirely on Journell. That’s unfair in a game in which the offense couldn’t move the ball well enough to give him anything other than 40-plus field goals to attempt. But it’s clear that his accuracy will be an issue for the rest of the season, and any time he lines up for a kick, it’s not going to soothe anybody’s nerves. The thing is, the Hokies don’t appear to have many other options. If Ethan Keyserling, who replaced Journell during his one-game suspension and went 0-for-3 against Marshall, is the next in line, it’s not a stocked cupboard at kicker. The quiet transfer of Brooks Abbott over the summer didn’t seem like a major blow at the time, but he would have been a viable option in place of Journell. Right now, Tech will probably just have to ride it out with the senior, struggles and all.
5. The Hokies can talk about the Coastal Division still being within reach, but no game is a gimme at this point.
Six straight wins and what appeared to be an easy remaining schedule had Hokies fans thinking the Coastal Division was definitely in reach (and made some writers make foolhardy predictions that Tech would definitely win the division). A loss to Duke — even an improved one like this year’s version — shows that nothing can be taken for granted with this team. It’s not as though Virginia Tech took Duke lightly. It just didn’t play well. And that could happen in any week for this team.
A game next week at Boston College, where Tech never seems to play well, is a dangerous one. Miami didn’t look great in a win against Wake Forest this week and, at No. 6 in the country, is certainly overrated, but the ‘Canes will present a formidable challenge at Sun Life Stadium in a few weeks. Maryland and Virginia, supposed gimmes given the Terps’ injury woes and the Cavaliers’ general decline, might not be so easy. If you can lose to Duke at home, really, anything is possible. The Hokies’ goal of winning the division remains in front of them — and would be a reality if they could win out, since they only have one conference loss at this point — but Virginia Tech isn’t to the point yet where any game is a guaranteed win.
That had most of the stuff about the offense’s struggles and this pretty telling quote from wide receiver Willie Byrn: “What more can the defense do, really?”
Read that first before moving on to this post. Now here are some more notes and quotes from the post-game …
Much of this was in the game story, but it deserves to be broken out here:
– It was Duke’s first-ever win in Blacksburg.
– The Blue Devils had not beaten the Hokies since 1981, a streak of 12 games.
– Duke had not beaten a ranked team since 1994 (Virginia), a streak of 47 straight games.
– The Blue Devils had not beaten a ranked team on the road since 1971 (Stanford).
– The Hokies hadn’t lost to an unranked team at home in 20 games. The last time it happened? James Madison in 2010. That should pretty well sum it up.
“I don’t think we played a Virginia Tech football game tonight,” Hokies coach Frank Beamer said.
The Hokies didn’t win, although it’s tough to blame the defense. Virginia Tech only allowed 198 total yards, had four interceptions and didn’t allow Duke to complete a pass in the second half. That effort allowed the Hokies to have nearly a 20-minute edge in time of possession.
“Sometimes maybe the best team doesn’t win,” defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. “And I think today was one of those days.”
Virginia Tech’s defenders put on a good face afterward, taking some of the blame for the loss.
“That’s the most disheartening part is you can put that loss on us too,” linebacker Jack Tyler said. “Statistically and score-wise, it doesn’t seem like the defense played too badly, but we could have done better. We could have done more to get a win for our team.”
“Our job is just to give [the offense] as many opportunities to score as possible,” cornerback Antone Exum said. “I think we did that at times tonight. But we still gave up some field position, which allowed them to kick some field goals that we didn’t want to give up.”
Exum returns, Kyle sits, Kendall thrives
Exum made his return, Kyle Fuller was limited to spot appearances on special teams and Brandon Facyson didn’t suit up Saturday against Duke, but the biggest cornerback story of the day was freshman Kendall Fuller.
The younger Fuller had three interceptions in the Hokies’ 13-10 loss to Duke, becoming the first Virginia Tech player to notch three picks in a game since Jayron Hosley did so against Russell Wilson and N.C. State in 2010.
“With just a week of learning boundary corner, I can’t speak any more highly of him,” Tyler said. “Like I said before, he’s not a freshman. He plays like wily veteran.
“He’s good. He’s really good. We were hoping that coming in that he would be good and he is.”
Kendall Fuller normally plays Virginia Tech’s nickel position, but injuries forced him to the boundary corner spot.
His brother Kyle’s groin injury prevented him from playing more than on special teams. He had started 34 straight games prior to Saturday, dating back to the 2011 Orange Bowl. Facsyon’s concussion kept him out of the game.
With Exum making his debut after offseason ACL and bone fracture surgery, the Hokies moved Kendall Fuller to the outside and had freshman Chuck Clark make his first start as the nickelback.
Duke tested the younger Fuller often and had little success. He now has five picks this year, a Virginia Tech freshman record.
Exum, meanwhile, didn’t get tested much. Duke, which only completed seven passes, didn’t have any on the senior.
“It’s definitely bittersweet,” Exum said. “Because it was a milestone for me being out there and I was excited to play with my team again, but I definitely didn’t want to be on this end of the game.”
Quarterback Logan Thomas again led the Hokies in rushing, carrying the ball 24 times for 101 yards and punching in a touchdown from 5 yards out. It was Thomas’ 24th career rushing touchdown, breaking the previous mark of 23 set by Tyrod Taylor.
His passing day left more to be desired. Thomas was intercepted four times, snapping a streak of 116 straight throws without a pick, which was close to a personal best. Thomas finished 21-for-38 for 214 yards.
He appeared to throw a second quarter touchdown to D.J. Coles, but Coles was flagged for illegal motion, moving forward before the snap. On the next play, Thomas forced a ball into coverage that was intercepted.
“It’s a tough one,” Beamer said. “That’s kind of a diagram of the football game there.”
“There’s a fine line between winning and losing,” offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler said. “We’ve been walking that line. Today, our kids learned how important the details are. Lining up incorrectly, penalties and turnovers did it for us.”
The Hokies’ offense struggled despite them getting more out of their running game than they had in all but two games this year.
Virginia Tech ran for 173 yards. It had run for only 180 in its first three ACC games.
The Hokies’ backs – Trey Edmunds and J.C. Coleman – still only managed 74 yards on 22 carries. The team averaged 3.8 yards per carry, not great, but better than the 3.3 Tech was averaging coming in.
Place-kicker Cody Journell‘s turbulent 2013 season continued. The senior made a 42-yard field goal but missed from 45 yards and, with a chance to tie the game late, from 40.
“I’m always concerned when a guy as steady as Cody missed two, but we’ll look at it,” Beamer said. “There was pressure on the last one. We’ll have to look at it, but there was a lot of pressure there.”
Journell is now 8-for-14 on field goals this year. He missed only five field goal attempts all of last season.
“We wouldn’t be anywhere where we were in the past without Cody,” Tyler said. “That last one, I think it even got tipped. So it’s not even his fault. It’s just tough. Sometimes they don’t just go your way. But we still have confidence in Cody. He’s a senior leader and we’re going to need him going forward.”
Starting defensive end J.R. Collins and backup linebacker Deon Clarke were both suspended for the game for what Virginia Tech said was an undisclosed violation of team rules.
Collins, a senior who coaches praised earlier this year for turning his life around, leads the team with 8.5 tackles for a loss and five sacks.
Sophomore Dadi Nicolas started in Collins’ place and finished with six tackles, a tackle for a loss and an interception off a ball batted into the air.
The Hokies wore orange jerseys and pants with maroon helmets for the first time in 19 years and only the second time under Beamer.
The last time they had that combination was a 43-23 home loss to Virginia.
– The last time Tech recorded four or more interceptions in a game and lost was a 50-49 loss to Rutgers in 1992, when it had five.
– The last time the Hokies had four interceptions in a game was against North Carolina in 2010. The last time they threw four in a game was against Miami in 2001.
– In addition to Nicolas and Clark, tight end Darius Redman made his first career start. He was in for Kalvin Cline on the first play, although Cline came in the next play, so it was more of a formation reason than anything.
– Defensive tackle Derrick Hopkins came in at fullback for a goal line play in the second quarter. The running play behind him did not get any yardage.
– The Hokies were 4-for-6 on fourth-down conversions. They were 4-for-18 on third-down conversions.
– Duke was 0-for-11 on third-down conversions and possessed the ball for just 20:33 to the Hokies’ 39:27.
– Defensive tackle Luther Maddy led the Hokies with a career-high eight tackles and the team’s only sack.
– Duke linebackers David Helton and Kelby Brown combined for 33 tackles.
– Kickoff specialist Michael Branthover didn’t dress for the game, but, in a bizarre situation, the Hokies decided in warmups to dress him out. They called for him over the PA system in the stadium to report to the locker room. Luckily, he was in the stadium. He kicked off for Tech in the second half.
The Hokies will try to bounce back in a noon game at Boston College (3-4, 1-3 ACC), which lost 34-10 at North Carolina on Saturday.
Virginia Tech is 3-1 in the ACC, a half game back of Coastal-leading Miami. The teams play in Miami on Nov. 9.
“Really, we have everything we want in front of us,” Tyler said. “We can still go to the ACC championship. We can still achieve those goals. We’re just going to have to play a lot better and work a lot harder.”
BLACKSBURG — Virginia Tech’s offense doesn’t appear to have returned from the bye week.
The Hokies finished with 179 yards but turned the ball over three times in the first half Saturday, going into the locker room trailing Duke 6-0.
Neither team managed to do much, although the Blue Devils got two field goals from 50-plus from Ross Martin that’s been the difference.
Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas looked out of sorts for the No. 16 Hokies, going 9-for-18 for 82 yards and throwing two picks. His interception-less streak ended at 116 passes.
One came when he forced a pass into tight coverage on a third-and-goal play. The play before, an illegal motion penalty on D.J. Coles negated a touchdown pass to the senior.
Duke didn’t fare much better. Quarterback Anthony Boone was 7-for-19 for 107 yards but was picked off three times, twice by cornerback Kendall Fuller and once by defensive end Dadi Nicolas on a ball tipped into the air.
Virginia Tech had a chance to tie the game at 3 right before halftime, but kicker Cody Journell’s 45-yard field goal attempt hit the left upright.
Duke took advantage, going 37 yards in 42 seconds to set up a field goal. Martin, who made a 51-yarder earlier in the second quarter, drilled a 53-yarder to make it 6-0 heading into the locker room.
Although they didn’t score any points, the Hokies did manage to run the ball better than they have since ACC play started. Tech has 97 rushing yards at the break, with 45 from Thomas and 38 from Trey Edmunds.
Virginia Tech is playing without starting defensive end J.R. Collins and backup linebacker Deon Clarke. The school said head coach Frank Beamer will make a statement regarding their status after the game.
Cornerback Kyle Fuller, who suffered a groin injury this week, has only played on special teams.