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MATT GENTRY | The Roanoke Times
Virginia Tech wide receiver Willie Byrn (82) and his offensive teammates sit on the bench as time runs out on a 13-10 loss to Duke on Saturday in Blacksburg.
Sunday, October 27, 2013
BLACKSBURG – 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.
On the opposite sideline, the guys in blue had started celebrating a landmark victory. They hugged. They high-fived. They prepared the water cooler for their coach.
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.
Tech’s defense got robbed by this 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. Cody Journell missed two field goals that he once made with ease. 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.
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.
His unit has to be better. He has to be better.
“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.
“You just can’t have those setbacks. You can have them every once in a while and make incredible plays to overcome them, but a lot of the time, if you turn the ball over and you have execution problems, the other team’s going to beat you. They’re going to take advantage.”
Despite all the missed opportunities, the Hokies still had a chance at the end. With Duke facing a fourth-and-1, Brandon Connette spun away from the lunging arms of two Tech defenders and picked up the three yards.
Reality set in for both sides. The Hokies had lost at home to Duke. And as much as Tech’s defense might want to commiserate, the offense must take the blame.
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