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STEVE DESHAZO: Virginia Tech best start sweating the small stuff
BLACKSBURG—The first sign that this is a football season unlike any in the past two decades came at the edge of Virginia Tech’s campus, where scalpers were holding up tickets.
For a nationally televised Thursday night game. Against Florida State.
That’s unheard of at Lane Stadium. But then, this has been an abnormal year for the Hokies—one they hope is simply an aberration and not the start of an unwelcome trend.
For most of a chilly night, the Hokies hung with the eighth-ranked Seminoles in a game that looked like an Atlantic Coast Conference championship preview when ESPN scheduled it back in the spring. But Rashad Greene’s 39-yard touchdown reception with 40 seconds left doomed Tech (4–6) to a 28–22 loss, its fifth defeat in its last six games. The Hokies now must win their final two contests—at Boston College and against Virginia—to salvage a .500 record and a 20th straight bowl appearance.
As has been the case all season, little things made the Hokies look bad. Stadium workers set off fireworks after quarterback Logan Thomas’ apparent first-quarter touchdown run—but it was negated by a holding penalty. Coach Frank Beamer, who oversees Tech’s once-mighty special teams, had to burn a timeout when the wrong personnel took the field for an FSU field-goal attempt—then chewed out defensive end James Gayle on the sidelines.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this, and it shouldn’t have been. The Hokies were ranked 16th in The Associated Press preseason poll. Ten defensive starters returned, and they talked openly about being one of the best editions in Tech’s illustrious history.
The offense had lots of turnover—but also plenty of talent, starting with Thomas, who was coming off a record-setting first season as starter and was projected as a first-round NFL draft pick next spring, should he decide to come out.
Nothing has worked out as expected. The defense, which sorely misses injured linebacker Tariq Edwards, ranked a pedestrian 40th in the nation entering Thursday’s game. The Hokies allowed a last-minute touchdown pass in a stunning loss to Cincinati at FedEx Field, then gave up a combined 116 points in lopsided road losses to North Carolina, Clemson and Miami.
Thursday night brought an improvement, as Tech held FSU to minus-15 yards rushing, and Bud Foster dialed up the pressure on Seminoles quarterback E.J. Manuel. But Manuel shredded the pass defense on scoring drives late in each half.
Meanwhile, Thomas again showed scouts from a dozen NFL teams that he desperately needs another season before his command of the game catches up with his ample physical gifts. The 6-foot-6, 260-pound junior hit Marcus Davis on a gorgeous 54-yard fade pass and made three sharp throws to Corey Fuller on a second-quarter touchdown drive, but otherwise he was erratic.
Thomas threw high, low and late. And after connecting with Dmitri Knowles on a 35-yard strike in the final minute to give the Hokies a chance at a dramatic comeback, he was picked off by FSU’s Tyler Hunter.
Last season, Thomas had the privilege of handing off to ACC player of the year David Wilson and throwing to Tech’s career receiving leaders, Danny Coale and Jarrett Boykins, while operating behind a veteran offensive line. He has none of that infrastructure this season, and it shows.
None of the current generation of Tech players can remember a time when the Hokies weren’t a winning program. They’ve been so good for so long that it’s easy to forget the construction job Frank Beamer did in his first several seasons
It won’t take as much restoration to fix what the Hokies hope is just a blip. But after facing their first real adversity in two decades, there’s some definite work ahead.
Steve DeShazo: 540/374-5443