– Game story: Virginia Tech establishes a decade of dominance over UVa
– VT sidebar: Unexpected playful Virginia Tech outing
– VT notes: Running back Trey Edmunds suffers broken leg
– McFarling: Eric Kristensen gets some name recognition
– UVa sidebar: Virginia squanders more opportunities
– UVa sidebar: Same old, same old for Cavaliers
– UVa notes: Kevin Parks passes 1,000-yard mark
– Woody: UVa’s nightmare is finally over
Now for some day-after thoughts …
1. Ten straight wins against a state rival is great, but …
It still felt like this team was capable of accomplishing more. Certainly the 6-1 start suggested as much (even thought a two-game improvement from last year’s 6-6 record is nothing to scoff at). And in the end, the individual losses to Boston College and Maryland on their own didn’t cost the Hokies as much as the 13-10 loss to division winner Duke at home in late October. If that contest goes another way, Tech is playing in the ACC championship game next week (although without Kyle Fuller, probably Antone Exum, potentially Brandon Facyson and now Trey Edmunds, you have to wonder if missing out on a Florida State matchup probably wasn’t for the better for the hobbled Hokies anyway). This was probably as weak of a Coastal Division as there’s been since the ACC went to a two-division split, and it was there for the taking. The Hokies just couldn’t seize it. With Logan Thomas departing along with nearly the entire defensive front, you have to wonder exactly how competitive Virginia Tech will be in division next year. It might have missed its best chance in a while. (Then again, Tech has done OK for itself in previous so-called “rebuilding” years.)
That’s not take anything away from the streak against UVa, which, for BCS conference schools, is now tied with Wisconsin (vs. Minnesota) for the longest winning streak in the country against a rival in a yearly matchup. Seniors in this year’s class were in middle school the last time Tech lost to UVa, which is crazy to think about. That’s 14 wins in 15 years for the Hokies, a dominance that’s only been accomplished by a few other teams around the country right now (Navy over Army chief among them). Some luster comes off of that considering the mess that Virginia football has become in recent years. And if Mike London stays (and all outward signs are that he will), I’m not sure if that course will be changed anytime soon. But even when rivalries are supposed to be one-sided, teams slip up every now and then, which is why 10 straight wins in this game is an impressive nod to Virginia Tech’s consistency. Like Frank Beamer said, it’s probably something that’s not going to be done again.
2. Kendall Fuller is going to be a star by the time he’s done at Virginia Tech.
Of course,that’s suggesting that he’s not right now, which is probably incorrect. You can say that linebacker Jack Tyler has been the Hokies’ best defender. The same can probably be said about defensive tackle Derrick Hopkins, with arguments for a few other players too. But Fuller has turned in what has to be one of the best freshman performances in Virginia Tech history. His eight-tackle, four-pass breakup, one-interception, half-sack performance against the Cavaliers was among the team’s best Saturday. By then end, with brother Kyle and Exum not dressed and Facyson out because of a shoulder injury, he was the last corner standing from Tech’s fearsome foursome, and he didn’t flinch. UVa inexplicably kept throwing in his direction. He kept swatting it away or, in one instance, picking it off. That’s six interception for him this year to go along with 56 tackles and 16 passes defended. Honestly, he should get a good, hard look at being a first-team All-ACC pick this year. He’ll probably be held back the fact that he’s a freshman and didn’t start every game (or sometimes doing so at nickel), but his performance is certainly worthy of it.
You hear a lot about how Virginia Tech develops underrated talent coming out of high school. Fuller, a five-star talent, is a completely different case. The coaches had enormous expectations of him this year and he met or exceeded all of them. Torrian Gray talks about Fuller like he’s a seasoned veteran, able to change positions in an instant and not miss a beat. Normally, freshmen have a very limited role and some do it well. Kendall has done so with everything the Hokies have thrown his way. Tech’s secondary appears to be in good hands once Kyle and Exum leave, with not only Kendall but Facyson. If Fuller’s doing this in his first year, you’d have to imagine in his next two, barring injury, he’ll be in consideration for All-America honors.
3. Aside from the running game, the offense didn’t look a whole lot better against Virginia than it did in a lot of its games.
Up 16-6 at halftime after is best drive of the game, a two-minute drill done in less than a minute that ended with Edmunds’ touchdown catch, all the Hokies needed to do to completely put the game away was punch it in for one touchdown in the second half. They never got there. After a 61-yard drive to open the second half (which ended on a double deflection interception deep in UVa territory), the Hokies’ drives went for 15 , negative-9, 15, 0 and 16 yards before a kneeldown to end it. It still seems like the same Four Corners rut that Tech has gotten into from time to time, sitting on a lead, not taking too many chances and leaning on the defense. Given how inept Virginia’s offense was Saturday, that’s probably a tack that’s going to win you the game. But it didn’t necessarily allay any fears of the fans that not much has changed on the offensive side of the ball.
The Hokies did run the ball well with their tailbacks. Edmunds had 11 carries for 93 yards, an 8.5-yard average, prior to his injury at the start of the fourth quarter. J.C. Coleman had 14 carries for 57 yards, a 4.1-yard average. Take away the 49 yards lost on sacks and Tech had 37 carries for 175 yards, a 4.49-yard average that is among its best this year. Its 126 total rushing yards (with sacks) was still its third-highest total in ACC play this season. But pass protection wasn’t great again. Thomas faced tons of pressure against a very good UVa defensive front and completed only 44.8 percent of his passes. Freshman left tackle Jonathan McLaughlin will have better days ahead. He was abused most of the night by Cavaliers defensive end Eli Harold, who had three sacks. That’s 12 sacked allowed by Tech the last two games. It fits into the Hokies’ offensive narrative this year: even when one thing is working, another is not. The Miami game was the only one in which everything came together for Tech’s offense. And with Edmunds’ season-ending broken tibia, it’d be surprising if things came together in whatever bowl game the Hokies end up in.
4. I’m not sure if Eric Kristensen will be the kicker going forward, but he’s certainly seizing the opportunity right now.
Aaron McFarling wrote a nice column today on Kristensen, who made field goals of 22, 30 and 38 yards in Saturday’s win. Those aren’t tremendously long field goals, but going 3-for-3 is a major accomplishment for a Hokies kicker this year. Tech’s kickers had been 11-for-21 entering the day. They weren’t all pretty — his last one was a liner that managed to go through the uprights — but they all went in. When kicks don’t go in, especially from short distances, it can crush a team’s momentum. And I’d say if Kristensen had misfired on any one of his three kicks Saturday, the outcome of the game might have been drastically different. That’s just how games go sometimes. Although Cody Journell might have possessed a stronger leg, Kristensen has been much more reliable (in more ways than one). And when it comes to kickers, coaches want reliability over everything else. Having range is nice, but a coach can game plan around not attempting field goals of 42 yards or longer. He can’t game plan around a sudden case of the shanks. (Just ask Nick Saban.)
Kristensen got this gig ahead of schedule. He freely admits it. So you have to wonder if he’ll retain the job this offseason. Tech has a commitment from Michael Santamaria of Athens, Ga., a pretty highly-ranked kicker. And the competition will sure to be fierce heading into the start of next season with the guys currently on the roster. (Richmond transfer Remington Hinshaw will supposedly also be in the mix.) Kristensen will have to earn the job, but for right now, he’s giving the Hokies exactly what they’ve needed all year: a consistent leg who can puts points on the board. You have to wonder if they had that all year if they wouldn’t be playing in Charlotte next weekend.
5. Your guess is as good as mine right now on a potential bowl destination for the Hokies, although the Sun Bowl seems to be a popular prediction.
Here’s the thing: nobody quite knows what’s going to happen with Clemson. Yes, Florida State will probably get into the BCS title game (it’s 27.5-point favorites against Duke, although I would have lost a fortune betting against the Blue Devils this season). The Orange Bowl is not obligated to take an ACC replacement, but if Clemson is in the top 14 of the BCS rankings (it was sixth last week and probably won’t drop too far after a loss to No. 10 South Carolina), that seems like a pretty safe bet. After the Orange Bowl, the Chick-fil-A Bowl goes next. It doesn’t typically take the ACC title game loser. Would Miami be next choice? (It certainly would be a TV draw.) Would the CFA Bowl consider bringing Virginia Tech back to the Georgia Dome for a second time this year? (And third time in Atlanta overall?)
The Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando picks after Atlanta. Considering the Hokies went there last year, a repeat trip seems unlikely. That puts the Sun Bowl in El Paso up next. Sort of the red-headed stepchild of the ACC bowl agreements like Boise once was for its remoteness, it seems like everyone has to take their turn heading out West. Since the ACC began its agreement with El Paso, Miami has gone once (2010) and Georgia Tech twice (2011, ’12). It’s almost certain the Yellow Jackets won’t go back there again, and the Hokies are in the scrum of teams that might be available. The Belk Bowl in Charlotte is next, followed by the Music City Bowl in Nashville. CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm, who is usually pretty good with his projections, has Tech playing in the Sun Bowl against UCLA.
There’s plenty of politicking that goes on with these bowl selections and nothing is certain until everything is settled (remember the Hokies’ surprise Sugar Bowl bid a few years back?) So you never know. Duke could upset Florida State, causing the whole bowl outlook in the ACC to change in a moment’s notice. Stranger things have happened. Although the Hokies might have a good idea of where they could end up, they won’t know for sure until next Sunday.