BLACKSBURG, Va. — Virginia Tech’s players, coaches and fans came dressed in maroon, the first sellout crowd of the season hopeful the return of an annual rite of passage — a Thursday night game at Lane Stadium — would goad the Hokies into resembling the team that once racked up 10-win seasons with ease. Instead, they all witnessed a nationally televised confirmation of their worst fears.
The decline of Virginia Tech football was there for all to see in an embarrassing 30-6 loss to Miami, a setback that will go down as the worst defeat Coach Frank Beamer has suffered at home since a 41-7 loss to Florida State in 1989, his third year on the job.
And this one featured all the long-term symptoms that have derailed Virginia Tech (4-4, 1-3 ACC) of late: a slow start, a sputtering offense, a rash of momentum-killing turnovers and penalties and a defense all too susceptible to big plays.
A defiant Beamer tried to stress the positives, but even he understood the deeper meaning to Thursday night.
“I think we’re really going to be a good football team next year, and that’s kind of where we are,” he said in a postgame news conference.
If this were a funeral for Virginia Tech’s 2014 season — and the long stretches of stunned silence suggested as much — Hurricanes tailback Duke Johnson delivered the eulogy, rushing for a career-high 249 yards and scoring two touchdowns. Backup Gus Edwards added 115 rushing yards and two more touchdowns as Miami totaled 364 yards on the ground, the most given up by the Hokies under Beamer.
There was anticipation when the night began. Virginia Tech was hosting its first Thursday night game since 2012. It was the school’s first sellout since last October. The Hokies even unveiled maroon pants for the first time in five years. The Hokies and Miami (5-3, 2-2) were well aware of the stakes in the wide open ACC Coastal Division; neither could afford a third conference loss.
But Johnson quickly erased any lingering doubt as to whether the Hokies’ status as a contender could be salvaged.
Miami’s first seven plays of the game went to Johnson, and he capped off a first-half beatdown with two touchdowns — an untouched 24-yard run and a 22-yard catch with three seconds remaining in the second quarter — and the Hokies headed into the locker room facing an insurmountable 24-0 deficit, a showering of boos and “a lot of negative energy,” defensive end Ken Ekanem said.
“You can’t dig yourself holes in these situations, in these games, in these moments, and expect things to magically turn around,” defensive tackle Corey Marshall said.
The frustration, though, was not born from one night of inept play. Virginia Tech fell to 16-15 against Football Bowl Subdivision competition since 2012, a three-year run of mediocrity that seemed to reach a new nadir Thursday.
This is just the second time since 1993 — when Beamer’s active streak of 21 consecutive bowl appearances began — and the second time in three years the Hokies have suffered three defeats before November. Virginia Tech will need to win two of its final four games just to qualify for another bowl game, but the Hokies have been trending in the wrong direction since a 35-21 upset at Ohio State last month that looks more like a fluke with every week.
The offense, in particular, has once again turned into an eyesore, and Beamer would not commit to starting quarterback Michael Brewer next week.
The Hokies had just 36 yards of offense at halftime, including minus-13 rushing yards. They burst out of the gate in the second half only to watch three straight drives into Miami territory end with consecutive fumbles by tailbacks Marshawn Williams, Joel Caleb and Jerome Wright. Though Williams finished with 100 rushing yards, it rang hollow.
“We’re just inconsistent,” offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler said. “At times, we look like we know what we’re doing and at times we don’t. At the end of the day, it’s my responsibility.”
In reality, the smash-mouth offensive approach Beamer and Loeffler wanted has now become a muddled mess that lacks any sort of identity.
Only a 14-yard touchdown catch by wide receiver Isaiah Ford with 1 minute 30 seconds left, on a drive led by backup quarterback Mark Leal with the once-full stands resembling a spring game crowd, saved Virginia Tech from its first shutout since 1995.
“Don’t give up on us,” Ford said. “As long as I’m here, this’ll never happen again.”