Virginia ultimately lost its ninth straight game to Virginia Tech on Saturday because its offense couldn’t find an answer for Bud Foster’s blitzes and its defense wore down with the Hokies on the field so much.
But the first thing Coach Mike London was asked about during his postgame news conference was the poor clock management that allowed Virginia Tech place kicker Cody Journell to attempt the game-winning field goal with four seconds left in the fourth quarter. London had two timeouts in his pocket and waited to use them until he was icing Journell before the kick
Let’s set the situation: Virginia Tech cornerback Antone Exum had just intercepted a pass by quarterback Michael Rocco on Virginia’s 24-yard line with 3 minutes 21 seconds remaining. The Hokies proceeded to run the ball five times, picking up a first down even as quarterback Logan Thomas was inexplicably snapping the ball with plenty of time remaining on the play clock.
Then, Cavaliers defensive tackle Chris Brathwaite went down with an injury with 50 seconds left on the clock and Virginia Tech facing third and nine. Still, London didn’t call a timeout. On the ensuing play, Thomas ran a sneak, and even then London didn’t call a timeout. It allowed the clock to wind down to four seconds, setting up Journell for his 28-yard field goal.
Instead, London ended up using the two timeouts to try and ice Journell to no avail. Here’s what London said when asked initially if he thought about using the timeouts:
“Not really. Again, I thought we were playing well defensively. You just have to make the decision, if you try to save timeouts with seconds on the clock, or hopefully your defense will get a crack at maybe causing a turnover or maybe knocking them back a little bit. That didn’t occur. You try to play the game so you can get into it in the last second.”
But David Teel of the Daily Press soon followed with another question, given London’s convoluted answer. He laid out how there could have potentially been 40 seconds remaining, instead of four, if he burned his timeouts. Here’s how London responded:
“I’ll have to go back and look at that again. I’m trying to remember the sequence of events and the information that I’m getting from the upstairs and all that. When I do, and if I do, then I’ll definitely talk to you about how that played out.”
Whatever the reasoning, London’s clock management was again an issue Saturday and it left many Virginia fans scratching their heads. That, though, wasn’t the only London decision that factored into Saturday’s result.
***With the Cavaliers nursing a 14-7 lead midway through the third quarter, London decided to fake a field goal rather than kick a 38-yard attempt with senior Drew Jarrett. Virginia Tech had converted a fake punt earlier in the first half, but the Cavaliers attempt at some trickeration fell short.
Holder Jacob Hodges was stopped two yards short of the first down marker by Virginia Tech linebacker Chase Williams, and the Cavaliers never did grab hold of the momentum again. The Hokies proceeded to march down the field 85 yards for a touchdown, with Thomas picking up steam while Virginia defensive linemen Chris Brathwaite and Brent Urban and safety Brandon Phelps all went down to injuries.
“Not that it was out of range, but it was close. You notice the wind there a little bit, there was a swirling wind there,” London explained when asked about the fake field goal. “That’s something we’ll have to look at. I felt good about the call.”
Added Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer, “Thank goodness we got them stopped and kept it to a seven-point game.”
***If that wasn’t enough for tortured Virginia fans, the play that ultimately doomed the Cavaliers was also controversial. On the Exum interception that set up Virginia Tech for the dramatic win, Smith felt the officials let the Hokies cornerback get away with a penalty. Replays showed Exum tugging at Smith’s left shoulder pad as he came out of his break, and it allowed Exum to jump the route and intercept a wobbly pass from Rocco.
“Definitely a lot of holding on that play, but everything’s not gonna get called and that’s a big one I wish got called,” Smith said.
Perhaps, though, it was a fitting end for an offense that mustered a season-low 217 yards, only 30 on the ground. The Cavaliers went 3 for 14 on third downs, largely because “we failed too many times on first and second down,” according to offensive coordinator Bill Lazor.
It ruined an inspired afternoon of football from senior linebackers Steve Greer and LaRoy Reynolds, who each set new career highs in their final game with 19 and 15 tackles, respectively.
“It’s very simple,” Lazor added. “They blitzed. They put everyone up near the line of scrimmage. We had prepared for that. We had prepared to be able to run the ball against that. We didn’t do it well enough and we knew that when that happened, we’d have to execute in the passing game against single coverage and we weren’t able to do that.”
Rocco said his struggles were more because of Virginia Tech’s pressure than winds that gusted up to 30 mph. But it didn’t make this latest defeat to the Hokies any easier to stomach, even though the Cavaliers managed to stay step-for-step with Virginia Tech much of the day.
“Losing close hurts more knowing what everybody put into it and how back-and-forth the game was,” Smith said. “It definitely hurts worse than getting blown out.”