Published November 20, 2014
Virginia Tech lost more than a game on this trip to Miami.
The Hokies' streak of 10-win seasons is now certain to end at eight. Another trip to the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game looks doubtful. And at this point, the Hokies will have to scramble just to salvage a winning record.
Miami beat Virginia Tech 30-12 on Thursday night, a pair of special-teams miscues by the Hokies setting up two early touchdown passes by Stephen Morris. The Hokies outgained Miami, had more first downs, dominated time of possession, and still got handed their fourth double-digit loss of the season.
"It's a weird feeling," Hokies linebacker Jack Tyler said. "Things are not going our way."
That's most assuredly the case.
The Hurricanes were outgained 421-347, went 1 for 12 on third down, and managed exactly 3 yards on 12 plays in the third quarter. And in the end, somehow, none of that mattered, and Miami moved to the top of the ACC's Coastal Division.
"It's critical," said Al Golden, the Hurricanes' second-year coach. "Again, I know everybody wants us to be national champions yesterday and get back to BCS games and all that, but the reality of it is the pathway through that is the Coastal. It's almost like we have to re-educate our team. They have to understand, that's how you get there."
The message seems to have been received.
Duke Johnson had a 7-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter and finished with 217 all-purpose yards for the Hurricanes (5-4, 4-2), who snapped a three-game slide. The division is hardly a done deal, however — Miami has conference games left with Virginia and Duke, both on the road.
Logan Thomas had a 73-yard scoring run on a quarterback draw for Virginia Tech (4-5, 2-3), which lost to Miami for just the third time in the last 10 meetings.
"I don't fault our effort," Hokies coach Frank Beamer said. "I fault our execution. We didn't do the things to win the football game."
The win puts Miami a half-game ahead of Duke and North Carolina in the Coastal race, though the Tar Heels are ineligible for postseason play, including the ACC title game.
"This game really helps us," Johnson said.
The Hokies and Hurricanes are two of the best teams on Thursday night — a combined 34-8 record entering the game, Virginia Tech with a 19-5 mark, Miami 15-3.
And the Hokies were 25-2 in ACC games played in November.
Now, they're 25-3, all three losses coming to Miami, and the Hokies had plenty of chances in this one. Most were wasted, like getting only two field goals in four trips to the red zone, and the Hokies wound up falling for the fourth time in their last five games.
"We haven't got it fixed yet," said Beamer, whose team is 0-5 away from home this season. "But I'm not going to give up trying, I'll tell you that."
Virginia Tech ran 82 plays to the Hurricanes' 58, held the ball for more than 34 minutes, picked up 24 first downs to Miami's 15, and still lost. A blocked punt led to one Miami touchdown, a big return by Johnson set up another, and that was pretty much all Miami needed.
"Points is the name of the game," Beamer said. "You turn the ball over in the red zone twice, that's what I'm talking about — execution. Defensively, we gave up a couple of long plays — execution. We get a punt blocked — execution."
Thomas was 19 for 37 for 199 yards and two interceptions, and rushed 22 times for 124 yards. Morris completed 13 of 28 passes for 170 yards.
For years, special teams were an absolute strength of Beamer's teams at Virginia Tech — so much so, they earned the moniker "Beamer Ball." But on Thursday, not only did the Hokies allow the blocked punt (a play where Virginia Tech's A.J. Hughes mishandled the snap before trying to get the kick away) and an 81-yard return by Johnson, but kicker Cody Journell also missed a field goal and a point-after attempt.
And eventually, Miami broke through.
The Hurricanes failed to convert any of their first nine third-down attempts, but when Morris connected with Rashawn Scott for 26 yards in the fourth quarter, Miami was in business. Five plays later, Johnson plowed just across the goal line, putting Miami — clad in an all-orange ensemble, a pregame surprise to the team by Golden — up by 15.
"I just wanted them to have fun. I think they were excited about it," Golden said of the uniform switch. "Guess that means we have to keep wearing them."
The first quarter set the tone for everything. Virginia Tech ran 26 plays to Miami's seven, outgained the Hurricanes 129-36 and had its offense was on the field for all but 2:29 of the period — and trailed 14-3.
Miami's two touchdown drives were a combined 35 yards, lasting four plays. Gabe Terry's blocked punt started a drive that ended with Morris finding Allen Hurns with a 16-yard scoring pass, and the long return by Johnson led to Morris hitting Mike James for another touchdown, also from 16 yards out.
The Hokies fought uphill the rest of the night.
"Pride," Virginia Tech cornerback Antone Exum said. "We still have three games left and we need to win two games to make it to a bowl game. ... Nobody wants to go out losing. We're not going to lay down for anybody. If we lose, we're going to give it our best shot. I know I am."