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STEVE DESHAZO: Hokies’ flaws get exposed again

LANDOVER, Md.—It may be the slightest of silver linings for Virginia Tech fans that there was no finger-pointing after Saturday’s stunning 27–24 loss to Cincinnati. Kyle Fuller wouldn’t allow it.

“I just made the biggest mistake I could make,” the Hokies’ standout junior cornerback said. “I let the receiver get behind me. I take responsibility.”

The receiver inquestion was the Bearcats’ Richard Julian, who hauled in a gorgeous 39-yard touchdown strike from Munchie Legaux with 13 seconds remaining. The play handed the Hokies another FedEx Field heartbreak, piled onto a similar 31–30 last-minute loss to Boise State in 2010.

It might be enough to convince Tech to turn down any future invitations to play at the Washington Redskins’ stadium.

Fuller, of course, did what team leaders do: become stand-up guys. It wasn’t he who was flagged for four major penalties and missed an open-field tackle on Cincinnati’s previous touchdown pass. (That was fellow corner Antone Exum.) He didn’t blow the assignment on that play and leave Ralph David Abernathy wide open. (That was freshman safety Michael Cole.)

And Fuller wasn’t part of an offense that went without a first down for nearly the game’s first 20 minutes.

No, a team is only as strong as its weakest link. And the Hokies (3–2) have yet to get every piston firing simultaneously.

Quarterbacks coach Mike O’Cain was addressing the offense’s troubling penchant for slow starts, but he could have been speaking for the whole team.

“I think it’s just a bunch of little things,” he said. “I think you’re going to find,if you look back, that if we’d stayed on a block for a little longer, if a back had made one more cut, we’d have been fine. Every position, at one point in time or another, is not making a play at exactly the right time.

“It’s hard to overcome mistakes if all 11 guys aren’t executing. And when you’re struggling, everything gets magnified.”

Saturday could serve as Exhibit A. Tech’s offense was inept early, managing just 72 first-half yards. The Hokies’ only points came on a 13-yard drive that followed Kris Hurley’s interception of a pass tipped by Bruce Taylor.

Backed up to the shadow of their own goal line often in the first half, the Hokies couldn’t pass effectively—a repeat of their 35–17 loss in Pittsburgh two weeks ago.

Quarterback Logan Thomas was erratic early. He threw high on a potential touchdown pass to tight end Randall Dunn, and the Bearcats’ Arryn Chenault intercepted at the 3. And dynamic receiver Marcus Davis touched the ball once in the first 30 minutes.

On one first-half play, Davis vented his frustration after getting open deep and not seeing the ball.

In the second half, the Hokies were more creative and effective on offense, rolling up 330 yards and 17 points. But the defense—which made no qualms about aspiring to be the best in the nation—became porous. Exum suffered through a nightmare of a day, with two pass-interference calls and two face-mask flags (and another that went uncalled), plus his whiff on Abernathy’s touchdown catch.

“It’s extremely frustrating,” Thomas said, “to know you’re one thing away from the play you want to make, the first down you want to get. Hopefully we can get those things corrected in the next few weeks.”

The Hokies won’t be playing in the BCS championship game, but they still control their destiny in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Their rally from an 0–2 start in 2010 shows that Frank Beamer knows how to right a wavering ship.

But the Hokies know they can’t and won’t win the ACC with 80 or 90 percent efficiency. They’re not quite good enough. With this team, it’s got to be all or nothing.

Steve DeShazo: 540/374-5443

sdeshazo@freelancestar.com

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