Saturday’s ACC championship game was supposed to be a coronation for conference player of the year David Wilson. Instead, the Hokies’ running back left Charlotte steaming after Virginia Tech got blown away by Clemson while he finished with a season-low 11 carries for 32 yards.
The junior, who confirmed this week he plans to explore his NFL draft options, wasn’t shy with expressing just how frustrated he was with the lack of action. Wilson openly questioned Virginia Tech’s play calling during his postgame chat with reporters minutes after the Hokies’ 38-10 loss, the worst defeat Virginia Tech has suffered against a conference opponent since joining the ACC in 2004.
“Part of the reason we stopped running the ball is because I guess the coaches thought it was unsuccessful the times we did try,” said Wilson, who entered Saturday as the nation’s third-leading rusher. “But at the same time, you’ve got to get your guys going. The offensive line, gotta get them moving, and get your running back into the flow of the game. When you see that happening, you can’t just exclude them.
“I was expecting to have a real big week,” he later added. “The team could have accomplished a lot this week, and I could’ve accomplished a lot of individual goals.”
That, though, doesn’t explain why Wilson managed only six carries (and 21 yards) before halftime with the game still well within reach. Wilson said afterward it seemed like every time the Hokies had a run play called, Clemson’s defense dialed up a blitz right where the run was headed.
“We running our plays right into their blitzes, it’s not gonna work,” Wilson said. “I never got to get in a rhythm. My carries came far between.”
Coach Frank Beamer said the plan was to establish Wilson, but things changed once Clemson scored three touchdowns in a span of 4 minutes 24 seconds.
“We tried to get [Wilson] going there in the first half and they did a good job of stopping us,” the coach said. “We wanted to get him more involved in the second half, then the score got down quickly.”
This, though, isn’t the first time the Hokies have mysteriously shied away from giving Wilson carries. During a win over Boston College in October, he also had six carries for 21 yards rushing in the first half before asking the coaches to get him the ball more. In the second half, he exploded for 113 yards on 11 rushes.
Wilson also brought up the Hokies’ 38-0 win over Virginia last week, when he received just eight carries in the first half. He ended getting 16 rushes after halftime and finished with 153 yards.
This time, Wilson said he didn’t ask for more carries in the locker room at halftime, under the assumption they would eventually come his way. Clemson, after all, entered Saturday’s game ranked No. 91 in the country against the run this season.
“It was the same thing at the U-Va. game. First half I only had a couple carries and they started feeding me in the second half,” Wilson said. “I guess they never got around to it.”
Wilson’s veteran offensive line didn’t do him any favors as it was overmatched once again against Clemson’s defensive front. Even though the Tigers had just two sacks, they put pressure on quarterback Logan Thomas all night, and when Wilson did get the ball, Clemson clogged any available running lanes for him to maneuver through.
Wilson has 1,627 rushing yards for the season, just 28 shy of tying Ryan Williams’s school record set back in 2009. The tailback didn’t speculate about his future at Virginia Tech on Saturday, but he’ll get a chance to break that mark when the Hokies likely accept an invitation to the Chick Fil A Bowl on Sunday. There’s a chance it could be his final game in a Virginia Tech uniform
Still, Wilson’s frustration after this game was out of character for him, and it was the most frustrated I’ve seen the happy-go-lucky tailback during two seasons of covering Virginia Tech football. And so when Wilson was asked specifically whether he was upset with the play calling of Mike O’Cain and offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring late Saturday night, he didn’t exactly give his coaches a ringing endorsement.
“I know the coaches have a game plan and try to execute that game plan,” Wilson said. “Me as a player, all I can do is execute what they call upon me to do, and that’s what I try to do.”