Before we get to the ugly — and there was plenty of ugliness in Virginia Tech’s 14-10 win at Duke on Saturday — the important part of the Hokies trip to Durham, N.C., is they came away with a victory and remain atop the Coastal Division standings heading into a Nov. 10 showdown at Georgia Tech.
The Hokies’ battered defense will now get a bye week to recuperate, and as running David Wilson said in his attempt to put a positive spin on this near-disastrous afternoon, “If we would’ve came up here and blew them out and then we have a bye week, I have the fear that some of my teammates would get relaxed.”
But it was painfully obvious to anyone in attendance at half-empty Wallace Wade Stadium that the Hokies have some serious hiccups, especially offensively, that must be improved upon before they take on the Yellow Jackets in Atlanta 12 days from Saturday.
Let’s ignore Virginia Tech’s first half, when it gained 301 yards, scored two touchdowns and watched quarterback Logan Thomas throw two interceptions. The touchdown drives were long (12 plays, 85 yards and eight plays, 90 yards) while the interceptions were probably the biggest reason the Hokies weren’t able to run away from the Blue Devils early. But the redshirt sophomore admitted both were his fault, and quite frankly, he was bound to throw some interceptions after the superb three-game stretch he had coming into Saturday.
What should be most disconcerting to fans is the second half, when as it turned out, all the Hokies needed was one sustained drive to put away the Blue Devils.
But on its first five drives of the second half, Virginia Tech gained a grand total of 71 yards. Even the Hokies’ only substantial drive of the half, when they picked up 44 yards late in the fourth quarter, didn’t accomplish much considering Duke got the ball back with plenty of time to put together a potentially game-winning touchdown drive.
So what went wrong? Did Duke’s defense do anything differently? That was the question asked of every Virginia Tech offensive player during postgame interviews. None could really explain it.
Wilson said he noticed the Blue Devils sideline amped up with more energy heading into the second half, and then unprompted, went on to accuse them of some questionable bottom-of-the-pile tactics.
“Just dirty stuff,” he said. “Pinching, punching, reaching through the facemask, grabbing my [groin].”
Thomas, who admitted he was preparing for the worst — having to orchestrate a game-winning touchdown drive — before cornerback Kyle Fuller stopped Duke’s Sean Renfree on fourth and two with less than five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, said it was the Hokies’ inability to convert several third-and-shorts that bogged down the offense.
Virginia Tech converted just 5 of 14 third downs Saturday, including a 3-for-11 mark after halftime. In the second half alone, the Hokies came up short on third and five (wide receiver Jarrett Boykin had a four-yard catch), third and two (Wilson ran for a one-yard loss), third and four (Thomas incompletion intended for Boykin), third and four (Thomas incompletion to tight end Chris Drager) and third and five (Thomas rushed for a loss of four yards).
“I think they came out with a different game plan, but at the same time we just didn’t get ourselves going,” wide receiver Danny Coale said. “And finishing those third-down situations . . . it wasn’t very good football there.”
Coach Frank Beamer said the team’s execution just wasn’t very good, and all those misses on third-and-manageable seem to indicate he’s right. But getting down to the nitty-gritty of what went wrong — was it Virginia Tech’s veteran offensive line, bad play calls, poor decision-making or all of the above — will surely consume offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring and play-caller Mike O’Cain over the coming days.
As we’ve learned in the past, sometimes the best defense against Georgia Tech’s triple option attack is a ball-control offense.
“I didn’t think we executed our best, but I think that goes back to Duke a little bit,” Beamer said. “But I think we’ve got to take ownership of that a little bit also.”
***Virginia Tech’s offensive struggles were compounded by another poor afternoon for its special teams. Senior place kicker Tyler Weiss, a transfer from Murray State, was forced into duty after redshirt sophomore Cody Journell re-aggravated a quad injury late this week.
Weiss, who hadn’t attempted a field goal since 2007, missed wide right on his only kick of the day from 29 yards out. He made seven of his 10 field goal attempts for Murray State back in 2007. Journell is 10 of 13 on field goals this year and had made six straight after missing three of his first seven kicks in the season’s first four games.
The good news is that Beamer said he expects Journell to be healthy in time for the Georgia Tech game. The bad news was that Beamer’s season-long search for a consistent punter continues.
Freshman Michael Branthover had an up-and-down afternoon in his third game as the team’s starting punter. The two-time All-Met from DeMatha had a booming 75-yard punt — tied for the second-longest ever in school history — early in the fourth quarter. But he also shanked punts for 22 and 19 yards in the third quarter and averaged just 37 yards on his six punts Saturday.
Lucky for Virginia Tech, it didn’t end up costing the team a win thanks to a defense that seemed to buckle down at just the right moments. After the game, Beamer said he has no plans to replace Branthover, but that the freshman must get a more consistent drop in order to avoid those shanks.
***Despite a lackluster performance by Virginia Tech, the game ended on a heartwarming note. Making his first start at middle linebacker since suffering a devastating quad injury in March 2010, redshirt senior Barquell Rivers ended up with the game-clinching interception. Rivers had five tackles for the game. “That’s kind of a perfect ending for ol’ Barquell, to come down here and get the interception that let everyone breath a little bit,” Beamer said. . . .
Wide receiver Danny Coale landed hard on his left elbow after making a 60-yard catch in the second quarter. He returned to the game late in the first half after trainers determined he had simply landed on his funny bone. During his postgame interview, though, Coale said his arm was still numb from the play.
“I was on the bench and I was like: ‘Everything’s fine, so why’s there so much pain? Don’t tell me it’s funny bone, because there’s nothing funny about this.’ ” . . .
Coale’s roommate, tight end Chris Drager, had a career-high four catches for 39 yards . . . The win gave Virginia Tech 11 straight victories in true road games, a new ACC record. It also gave the Hokies eight wins for the 14th straight season, the longest active streak in the country. . . .
That’s all I’ve got from here in Durham. Beamer will have his normal teleconference with reporters Monday, but the Hokies players will not be available to reporters again until next weekend when preparations for Georgia Tech begin in full.
But stay tuned to Hokies Journal as I’ll try my best to keep the blog active with some new material throughout the bye week.