After putting up 80 points over the past two weekends, the Virginia offense--built around the rushing of tailback Thomas Jones and the development of first-year starting quarterback Dan Ellis--could be forgiven for thinking it was finally coming together.
But Virginia Tech's relentless pressure on the line of scrimmage, an ineffective Cavaliers offensive line and several penalties stifled Virginia in tonight's 31-7 loss. Virginia's 213 total offensive yards was the team's lowest output in three years.
"We got our [butts] kicked," said Ellis, who was sacked six times.
Tech's defensive line harried Ellis almost constantly. The Cavaliers' big offensive line, normally one of the team's strengths, left Ellis unprotected, particularly on several rollouts. Unable to target a receiver consistently, Ellis appeared indecisive and was sacked for a combined 45 yards behind the line of scrimmage.
"The protection was a problem sometimes but not all the time," Virginia Coach George Welsh said. "I think he had enough time. Maybe our receivers just could not get open. . . . I think the quarterback held the ball too long on at least half of [the plays]."
Ellis completed 16 of 26 passes for 162 yards, the lowest yardage total of his five games as a starter. The junior had put up big numbers before--including a 14-for-18, 190-yard, three-touchdown performance in the Cavaliers' 45-40 victory over Brigham Young last week--but did not fare well under the Hokies' pass rush.
"He was under pressure," senior guard Noel LaMontagne said. "You can't get any kind of performance out of a quarterback while he's under pressure.
"I put it on the offensive line tonight. We did not perform the way we should have."
The brunt of the pressure did not come from its expected source, Hokies all-American defensive end Corey Moore. While the senior registered two tackles (one sack), the other end, senior John Engelberger, got four tackles for losses, two of which were sacks. Senior linebacker Michael Hawkes also had two sacks.
"We have four guys on the line of scrimmage who are capable of taking over the game," Moore said. "John Engelberger showed that tonight."
The offense of the Cavaliers (3-2) thus far has centered around senior tailback Thomas Jones, the nation's fifth-leading rusher with 155 yards per game entering the contest. But he was held to 83 yards on 23 carries.
Jones's total was his lowest of the season, and the game marked the second time he's been held under 100 yards. The other, a 97-yard effort at Clemson Sept. 11, came during the Cavaliers' first loss, by a similarly lopsided 33-14 margin.
"When you play Tech, you've got to throw the ball," Ellis said.
"They put eight, nine guys in the box, they're going to stop the run. You're not going to rush for 250 yards on them. It's just not going to happen."