Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer took longer than usual to enter the interview room at Sun Life Stadium on Thursday night, his face pale and eyes dejected after another demoralizing three hours on the gridiron. Though Virginia Tech’s 30-12 defeat at Miami was its fourth loss in five games, there was some closure about this one.
The program’s eight-year run of 10-win seasons is officially over. Virginia Tech’s chances of playing in the ACC championship game for a third straight year are all but gone. Even the “Beamerball” moniker lost some of its cache after a cavalcade of nationally televised errors.
And so, with the worst Virginia Tech football team in 20 years reeling, Beamer uttered words that are wholly unfamiliar to a fan base that has enjoyed a remarkable era of success.
“I think the greatest thing you can play [for], when it’s all said and done, is pride,” he said. “When it looks tough, that’s when you really see what people are made out of and things are really tough right now.”
There was no masking the disappointing among Virginia Tech’s coaches and players after this latest setback. Throughout the bye week, they talked about being rejuvenated by the chance to grab control of the Coastal Division and salvage what was already a down year by Beamer’s standards.
But a season that began with promise is now on the verge of chaos. The Hokies (4-5, 2-3) must win two of their next three games to simply become eligible for a bowl game, and that includes next Thursday’s matchup with No. 9 Florida State.
“We haven’t not made it to a bowl game in forever here at Tech, so we need to make sure that doesn’t happen,” cornerback Antone Exum said. “Nobody wants to go out losing. Nobody wants to lay down for anybody. We’re not gonna lay down for anybody. If we lose, we’re gonna give it our best shot and play our hearts out. Or I know I am.”
They have only themselves to blame for this loss, though. Special teams miscues and costly red zone turnovers gift-wrapped Miami a crucial victory.
Beamer was unforgiving in his assessment of the special teams, the unit he coaches personally. Punter A.J. Hughes bobbled a snap to set up Miami’s first touchdown and Hurricanes running back Duke Johnson returned a kickoff 81 yards to set up their second score.
“It’s pretty simple,” Beamer said. “Your punter catches the ball and kick it. When you got a lane in a kickoff coverage, you stay in that lane.”
The offense wasn’t much help, driving into the red zone four times but mustering just six points and two turnovers. Quarterback Logan Thomas had one of the more uneven performances of his career, finishing with a career high in rushing yards but also two interceptions and a crucial fumble near the goal line with Virginia Tech trailing by eight points midway through the third quarter. He then refused to speak with reporters after the game.
“I thought he played tough as heck and with great effort and he had about three plays he’d like to have back and that probably can be said about just about everybody on our football team,” Beamer said of Thomas.
But even Beamer couldn’t hide how that fumble altered the course of the game. Virginia Tech’s defense held Miami to three yards in the third quarter, and Beamer planned to go for a two-point conversion if the Hokies scored. “You really feel like if you can get the game tied up that you’ve got the momentum,” he lamented
Then again, it seemed like an appropriate ending in a season that has entered territory nobody expected just two months ago.
“We haven’t gotten it fixed yet, but I’m not gonna give up trying, I’ll tell you that,” Beamer noted before heading for the team charter back to Blacksburg.
***Anybody hoping for some clarity about Virginia Tech’s running back rotation were out of luck Thursday. The Hokies used three tailbacks, and redshirt junior Tony Gregory finished with the most carries (10) and yards (50). Redshirt freshman Michael Holmes gained 25 yards on eight carries, while freshman JC Coleman – the team’s leading rusher entering Thursday – had five rushes for 23 yards.
Some wondered why Coleman didn’t play as much, especially early in the game. Beamer said the team simply didn’t call the packages Coleman is involved with often to start, but he also noted “we’d like to get Holmes going.”
The Hokies finished with 222 rushing yards, but Miami entered Thursday allowing close to 250 yards on the ground per game.
“There’s no question we’d like to run the ball better, but we’ve said that for a long time, too,” Beamer added.
***Virginia Tech lost a chance at scoring a touchdown to end the first half with what appeared to be some poor clock management. As the teams walked to the locker room, though, Beamer was involved in an animated discussion with one of the game officials. Here’s what he said happened:
“I was waiting for him to stop the clock to measure or give us a first down and stop the clock. The clock’s gonna stop either way. Well, the clock doesn’t stop and finally I call a timeout.”
Except the officials didn’t acknowledge the original timeout.
“They said they came over there and said, ‘Do you want your timeout,’ ” Beamer said. “But they never asked me. So now that they put the ball back in play and start the clock again. . . . We’d had one more shot at a play there and then it got down to five seconds. Just miscommunication. A little bit here and a little there. Kind of an unusual situation. Things not going quite right.”