Sunday, October 27, 2013

(L) Virginia Tech vs. Duke

Hampton Roads:
Frank Beamer stood near midfield with his hands clasped behind his back. Powerless, capitulatory, he waited for Duke to kneel on the ball one more time and run out the clock. Orange-clad fans filed slowly down the stairwells of Lane Stadium. They'd stayed hopeful to the end, but the hope finally ran out. Their team had lost at home to Duke.

That pretty much says it all, doesn't it? Duke isn't what it once was - and neither is Virginia Tech - but that simple statement remains salient: The Hokies lost at home to Duke.

The what-ifs began immediately. It's only natural. As Tech linebacker Jack Tyler watched the final seconds tick off the clock, punctuating Duke's 13-10 victory, he searched his mind for ways he could take the blame.

"To be honest, I was just thinking back to a couple plays," said Tyler, part of a unit that forced four turnovers and held the Blue Devils to 198 total yards. "A couple plays that could have gone differently if we'd have just wrapped up a little bit better or gotten to the ball a little faster. Things like that eat at you.

"We played a good defensive game, but whenever you lose, you think about those small things and what you could have done just a little bit better to help your team get a win."

A noble concept, and the right mentality to maintain harmony inside that locker room. But from the outside, blame for this loss needn't be distributed equally. It can't be. Tech's defense clearly contributed more toward a positive outcome than the offense.

"Critical mistakes in critical, critical situations" is how Tech receiver Willie Byrn put it, and that's about as well as it can be put. Forget little things. For Tech to lose at home to Duke, a lot of big things have to go wrong.

After going more than 100 straight throws without an interception, quarterback Logan Thomas threw four of them Saturday. Although he accounted for 315 yards, including his second career 100-yard rushing effort (101 yards), the senior was just 21-for-38 passing, and his four interceptions derailed any comeback hopes.

"I think I obviously could have made a lot better choices, a lot better plays," Thomas said. "I think I played well for about 75 percent of my snaps, which obviously isn't very good."

Cody Journell missed two field goals that he once made with ease. Journell is 8 for 14 and missed kicks from 40 and 45 yards Saturday that proved costly. He's missed at least one field goal in each of the past four games he's attempted one.

Tech went 4 of 18 on third down - a dismal conversion rate that forced the defense to make stop after stop.

And that's the crazy thing: For the most part, the Hokies did make those stops. Just as they had throughout Tech's six-game winning streak, the Hokies stonewalled Duke time after time. Freshman Kendall Fuller had three interceptions. Fuller was named the ACC's Co-Defensive Back of the Week and is tied for the national lead with five picks. Fuller's brother, Kyle, was named one of 15 semifinalists for the Jim Thorpe Award, given to the country's top defensive back. Finalists will be announced Nov. 25, the winner Dec. 12.

The problem? Tech kept giving it back.

"We didn't do our most important job," offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler said. "We didn't take care of the football."

Loeffler's grace period ended with this loss. Offensive struggles against East Carolina and Georgia Tech could be forgiven because they didn't cost the team the game. But this performance underscored the one-dimensional nature of Tech that we've seen too often.

"We made plays on that 99-yard drive," Byrn said. "We're slinging the ball around, we're getting good blocks, getting good reads, running backs are running well, everything's clicking. On the other ones, we're getting down there where we need to be, and once we get there, something happens."

The Hokies, who travel to Boston College this week, didn't drop out of the Coastal Division race, though, hanging a game behind Miami in the loss column. The two play in two weeks, and the 'Canes are three-touchdown underdogs this weekend at Florida State.

Boston College (3-4, 1-3 ACC) doesn't have an impressive resume, although the Eagles played Florida State tough in a 48-34 loss at home last month and didn't wilt at Clemson in a 24-14 loss.

Under first-year head coach Steve Addazio, BC appears to know what it is: a physical team in the mold of good Eagles teams of the past. Tailback Andre Williams is averaging an ACC-best 144.3 rushing yards per game and has already gone over the 1,000-yard mark this year, with 183 carries for 1,010 yards and eight touchdowns.

More information:
» Hampton Roads: Virginia Tech Falls Out of AP Football Poll

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