BLACKSBURG — Virginia Tech football’s first three drives on Friday night ran nearly 20 minutes off the clock.
That wasn’t by accident.
The Hokies slowed down their offensive operation to a crawl as it looked to keep the ball out of the ACC preseason player of the year Sam Howell’s hands in a 17-10 win over North Carolina.
“When the clock was running, we kind of wanted to keep the clock running it,” Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente said.
Fuente previously deployed the strategy late last year in games against Clemson and Virginia. It helped the Hokies keep things close against the heavily favored Tigers through two and a half quarters.
Tech quarterback Braxton Burmeister offered insight into the game plan in his postgame press conference on Friday.
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“We have a few different tempos,” Burmeister said. “Coach Corn [offensive coordinator Brad Cornelsen] and I discuss it between series. It kind of changed throughout the game and momentum and what we wanted to do.”
The slow tempo is nicknamed “milk” for milking the clock. Burmeister would often go the sideline to get the play call directly from grad assistant Matt Herrmann — Cornelsen calls the game from the booth — and the offense would frequently huddle up.
Burmeister isn’t required to hold the ball until the play clock runs down to a specific time, but he rarely snapped the ball with more than five seconds left on the play clock.
“I had a set time in my mind depending on if we had shifts or motions on the play,” Burmeister said. “I’d just check the clock and break it at that time and just go execute.”
Tech won the time of possession battle in the first quarter 12:30 to 2:30 on Friday night.
The plan wasn’t as effective in the second half when the Hokies had multiple three-and-outs and turned the ball over on the first play of a drive, but Fuente still thought it was worth it given how fresh it kept the defense in the second half.
“We looked fast,” Fuente said.
Burmeister had mixed emotions when he got back to the locker room after the game thanks to a spotty second-half performance. He blamed himself for the Hokies not putting the game away sooner.
He regretted throwing an interception in the fourth quarter in the face of pressure when he should have just taken the sack. He threw the ball in the general direction of tight end James Mitchell, but the ball fell well short of its intended target.
Burmeister also lamented poor throws to running back Raheem Blackshear on a pair of third-down attempts. Both plays would have likely gone for big gains (and first downs) if they connected.
“In the second half, I’m going to take the blame on that one,” Burmeister said.
The former Oregon quarterback went 12 of 19 for 169 yards with a touchdown and interception.
He proved as elusive in the pocket as he did last year — he was only sacked once — and consistently extended plays with his legs. He had nine carries for a career-high 53 yards (5.9 yards per carry) and made some nice throws on the run including his 11-yard touchdown pass to Mitchell.
The touchdown throw came with some light-hearted teasing from Fuente.
“I don’t think he was throwing it to James, personally,” Fuente said, with a smile. “You’ll have to ask him. I think he was throwing to Tayvion [Robinson]. That’s my take on it. I thought it was a great catch. The ball was moving. James just reached up there and snatched it out of the air.”
Burmeister said he was throwing in the general direction of Mitchell and Robinson.
“I saw both of them, and was like one of them is going to catch it,” Burmeister said.
The quarterback hopes more plays like that are in store for Tech’s offense in the weeks to come.
“It’s easy to go out in the first half and make plays, but got to be able to play the whole game,” Burmeister said. “It’s something I’ll work on.”