Virginia Tech safety Antone Exum was holding back. He was asked if the defense played well enough to win in Saturday’s 38-17 loss to No. 14 Clemson and answered with a terse “yes.”
He would only call the offense’s struggles “a little bit frustrating,” especially in the third quarter when Virginia Tech kept stopping Clemson’s offense but the scoreboard stayed the same. The reality of the situation then occurred to him, one that hasn’t changed even though the Hokies have their worst record through eight games since 1992.
“As crazy as it sounds,” Exum said. “We’re still in the hunt.”
Indeed, in the ACC’s Coastal Division, a .500 record in conference play qualifies one as a contender. Regardless of what happens Saturday night between Florida State and Miami, the Hokies would find themselves staring at a third straight appearance in the ACC championship game if they can beat the Hurricanes in a Thursday night matchup following their upcoming bye week.
After the game against Miami, Virginia Tech faces Atlantic Division foes Florida State and Boston College before closing with reeling Virginia.
Heck, someone in the Coastal Division could very well make history as the first five-loss team to earn a berth in the title game. Before Virginia Tech can start thinking in those terms, though, the Hokies will need to put together their first complete performance of the year.
On Saturday, the issues lay with the offense. Virginia Tech gained 406 yards, but considering it produced only 17 points against a Clemson defense allowing 523 yards and 37 points per game against ACC foes this year, the results were nothing to brag about. But both play-caller Mike O’Cain and Coach Frank Beamer said they won’t spend the bye week making any sort of drastic changes.
“I don’t think it’s a matter of re-evaluating what we’re doing,” O’Cain said. “It’s a matter of doing what we’re doing better. And again, I know I keep saying it over and over: Make plays when your number is called.”
Added Beamer, when asked how frustrating this season has been: “We played good football at times and we played inconsistent football at teams. We’re still looking for that consistent football team. But we’ve been there. We’ve just got to keep working. Putting our head down and keep working.”
More notes from Saturday’s game . . .
***The offense’s woes masked a second straight strong effort from Virginia Tech’s defense. The Hokies held Clemson to 295 yards, more than 230 less than the Tigers’ average this season.
It also marked the second-fewest yards Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris has produced since joining the college ranks. In fact, Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster has now contributed to two of the three least productive college games Morris has been involved with.
The Hokies sacked Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd five times, including twice in three plays to start the game. Defensive tackle Luther Maddy had two sacks for the second week in a row, including one on that opening series. Defensive end James Gayle said it sent the message that “we were coming to play and we weren’t gonna be pushed around.”
“It really just didn’t go our way today offensively. Defensively, we did, for the most part, we kept them in check,” linebacker Bruce Taylor said.
In terms of adjustments, Exum said the Hokies used safety Kyshoen Jarrett as a hybrid linebacker to help stop the run most of the afternoon. Jarrett would come to the line of scrimmage and become an eighth man in the box, and then match up with Clemson’s slot receiver when the Tigers ran a passing play.
It meant Exum, safety Detrick Bonner and cornerback Kyle Fuller were left on an island quite a bit with Clemson’s dynamic wide receivers, DeAndre Hopkins (three catches, 68 yards) and Sammy Watkins (eight catches, 84 yards). The Hokies held their own much of the day, not allowing the duo to break tackles.
Hopkins did break loose from Fuller for a 37-yard touchdown pass that put Clemson up 31-10 at the end of the third quarter, a play in which safety Michael Cole was late with help.
Cole, by the way, had his second interception in as many games Saturday, and this one should make the highlight reels. After falling down, Cole somehow corralled a tipped pass from Boyd while laying on his back on Clemson’s second drive of the game. At that moment, with Virginia Tech already up 7-0, it looked like the Hokies could score a major upset.
That wouldn’t be the case. But as quarterback Logan Thomas said of the defense, “I can’t fault them at all.”
“We just played with a lot of emotion. We were disciplined. Guys were flying around, making plays. Sacking them, covering them well in the back end for the most part. Just a couple plays don’t go our way.”
***I’ve written plenty about the offensive woes already, but if you’re looking for more check out my game story. One note, though. When I asked Beamer why it was that Clemson’s defense has had its best games against Virginia Tech the past two years, he defended his offense.
“We had a lot of yards. We just didn’t capitalize,” Beamer said. “If you’ve got 400 yards, you’re doing something pretty good.”
To be exact, Virginia Tech gained 406 yards Saturday. And we should point out that the Hokies had been clicking to a certain extent over the past 10 quarters, exploding in the second half against Cincinnati and scoring 75 combined points against North Carolina and Duke.
But if the Hokies averaged 406 yards per game for the season this year, they would rank No. 64 nationally. You can draw your own conclusions, but in college football these days, 400 yards of offense doesn’t mean what it once did.
***Left guard David Wang started after missing three of the past four games due to knee and ankle injuries. … Thomas finished with a career-high 99 rushing yards. But Virginia Tech’s four tailbacks – Michael Holmes, Martin Scales, JC Coleman and Tony Gregory – combined for just 93 yards on 26 carries.