Two games into the season, and No. 13 Virginia Tech can already forget the national championship talk that prevailed throughout their preseason camp.
These Hokies can't even beat an FCS powerhouse, losing 21-16 to James Madison on Saturday. It was their second consecutive performance dominated not by a powerhouse offense, a stout defense or game-changing special teams, but by mistakes, missed tackles and disappointment.
"I don't know what's going on," tailback Ryan Williams said. "I really don't."
Drew Dudzik ran for two touchdowns and threw for another for the Dukes (2-0), a top team in the Football Championship Subdivision, but only the second from a lower tier to beat Virginia Tech. Richmond, also in the FCS, beat the Hokies 24-14 at Lane Stadium in 1985.
Virginia Tech is the second ranked team to lose to a lower division team. The first was No. 5 Michigan, which fell 34-32 to I-AA Appalachian State on Sept. 1, 2007.
Dudzik called it the biggest victory in school history, and coach Mickey Matthews agreed, a remarkable thought because Matthews led the Dukes to the 2004 FCS national championship.
"This is the biggest win of my professional career," he said.
And it happened with Tech looking too much like the mistake-prone team that lost just six days earlier 33-30, when No. 3 Boise State scored the go-ahead touchdown with 1:09 left.
The Dukes needed no such late-game heroics, hanging onto the ball for the last 5:23 to finish off the Hokies. Leavander Jones and his teammates streamed onto the field to celebrate.
"It was like a dream come true when the clock hit zero," Jones said. "It was like, 'Oh my God, we did it!"
Dudzik attempted just eight passes, but completed five for 121 yards, including three huge third-down conversions in the second half. The Hokies also helped on both of the Dukes' second-half scoring drives with 15-yard personal fouls for tackling players out of bounds.
Tackling was more of a problem for the Hokies on one play in the first half.
Facing a third-and-17 from his 23, Dudzik hit Jamal Sullivan with a swing pass going left, and the tailback went 77 yards down the sideline, breaking several tackles for the touchdown. Last week, Boise State had a 71-yard touchdown, also on the third-down play.
"We need to block better and we need to tackle better," Frank Beamer said after his team's first home loss in 33 games against a non-league opponent. "Execute. We need to execute."
Dudzik also ran 12 times for 35 yards, and went in virtually untouched on TD runs of 7 and 12 yards. The latter came with 13:45 remaining, and while Virginia Tech drove deep into Dukes territory twice thereafter, the first drive ended when Tyrod Taylor's fourth-down pass to Jarrett Boykin in the end zone was broken up by Jones. Darren Evans fumbled it away at the Dukes 19 on the next series, and James Madison ran out the last 5:23.
"Mistakes," Williams said. "Mistakes are killing us."
Taylor also fumbled once and threw a second-half interception.
The Hokies (0-2) began the season expecting their loaded offense to be their strength, but with the offensive line again having trouble creating holes for the running backs, the unit did less against the Dukes than it had done against Boise State on Monday night.
After scoring a touchdown on their opening possession, the Hokies made five trips inside the Dukes 25 and came away with three field goals by Chris Hazley and nothing else.
Their highlight came very early as Taylor drove them 94 yards in 17 plays, capped by his 9-yard TD pass to Boykin. Taylor had an 18-yard scramble on third-and-6 in the drive.
But the Hokies never found that rhythm again, and James Madison did.
"Once we got out there, we knew we could play with these guys," safety Vidal Nelson said. As the game went on, he said, "our confidence shot up and we just kept making plays."