Instead of the scenario listed above, the Hokies came out and fell directly on their face. Hard. Like an asphalt faceplant from one of those huge ramps used at the X Games. It was that bad. Duke scored on their fifth play from scrimmage on a 62-yard touchdown pass from Sean Renfree to Jamison Crowder. On the play, the Hokies blitzed, nobody got through, Renfree sat back, took his time, and lobbed a perfect ball to Crowder who had beaten Kyle Fuller on the play in man coverage. Fuller might've had a shot to keep it to a 30-or so yard gain, but instead tried to break it up and went for the ball while off-balance, falling to the ground and allowing Crowder to walk into the end zone.
After a 3-and-out by the Hokies on their first possession (if you could call it that), they punted it back over to the Dookies, who with the help of over 30 yards in Virginia Tech penalties gifted to them, put together a 6-play drive that ended in a 40-yard field goal to put them up 10-0. After a 5-play drive (again, if you want to call it that) and all of 14 yards, the Hokies punted it back to Duke with a 20-yard shank job by punter A.J. Hughes. Duke proceeded to burn Antone Exum on the first play, as Conner Vernon caught a 39-yard pass that took him down to the 19-yard line. From there the Blue Devils' drive stalled out and they kicked a 28-yard field goal to go up 13-0.
Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse, then the Hokies took their shoot themselves in the foot-antics to a new level, when Logan Thomas hit Tony Gregory in the flat on a swing pass on the second play of the next drive and Gregory went into bobble-mode, bobbling the ball for a good five yards before running right into the path of Duke defender Jordan Byas, who made such a clean pick of the ball from Gregory's hands that even the cameraman was fooled as he accelerated away from the play and into the end zone to give Duke a commanding 20-0 advantage, and what seemed like an insurmountable lead given the Hokies' offensive ineptitude and that Beamer had never overcome more than a 17-point advantage while at Tech. But after a slow start on the next drive, the Hokies kicked it into gear.
Facing a 2nd-and-2 at the Duke 44, Logan Thomas connected with Marcus Davis on a deep ball to the Duke 4-yard line, setting up a Martin Scales touchdown that, GET THIS, didn't get called back due to a penalty, and put the Hokies on the board after an excruciating quarter. The 20 points in the quarter were the second-most the Hokies have ever allowed under Beamer.
After a 3-and-out in which Tech linebacker Bruce Taylor hit Duke quarterback Sean Renfree hard as he was on his way to the ground and caused him to leave the game, the Hokies took over and had their greatest sustained success with a 7-play drive that ended in an incomplete pass to Corey Fuller in the end zone on a 4th down play from the Duke 32.
On Duke's next possession, new quarterback Anthony Boone marched the Blue Devils down the field with eyes on scoring a decisive touchdown to finally put the Hokies away early. But Michael Cole was able to intercept a poor pass by Boone and returned it to the Virginia Tech 20-yard line. After an 11-play drive that went 60-yards, the Hokies settled on a 37-yard Cody Journell field goal to make it 20-10.
Boone once again led the Blue Devils down the field on a 9-play 46-yard drive that appeared to have them poised to build their lead before halftime. But after being victimized this season and for the most part of today's game, Detrick Bonner found himself in the right place in the right time, as the ACC's all-time leading-receiver (receptions-wise), Conner Vernon, tipped a ball into the air. Bonner picked it off and ran down the field 39 yards to the Duke 42-yard line. On the very first play, the Hokies took advantage of a Duke mistake in coverage, throwing for a 42-yard touchdown to Marcus Davis to cut the Duke lead to 3, putting the score at 20-17 entering the half.
The Hokies came out of the half on a tear, running a 4-play 78-yard drive that ended on a J.C. Coleman 45-yard touchdown rush to the outside that put them ahead for the first time and for good, 24-20. After a 3-and-out for Duke, the Hokies got the ran off a 9-play drive that went 83 yards, culminating on a 47-yard touchdown pass from Logan Thomas to Marcus Davis to make it 31-20 in favor of the Hokies. Unfortunately, the Hokies lost two starters on that drive, Andrew Miller and Marcus Davis. Miller it was later announced suffered a fractured ankle, and will undergo an evaluation tomorrow to try to determine how long he will be out. Davis appeared to have injured his shoulder on the touchdown catch, but was said to have been okay, although he did not re-enter the game. The thinking may have been "why put him back in if we don't have to?"
INJURY UPDATE: Marcus Davis is fine after being shaken up on the touchdown catch.— VT Football (@VT_Football) October 13, 2012
On the ensuing Duke possession, the Hokies defensive line began getting pressure (a theme of the second half) consistently for the first time all season, registering 4 sacks on the day. After Duke suffered another 3-and-out, the Hokies took over, slowly and methodically working themselves into field goal range, where Journell hit a 41-yarder to make it 34-20.
After the two teams each had 3-and-outs, Duke had a sustained drive, kept alive by the fifteen-thousandth pass interference call on Antone Exum this year, on 4th down, which was once again late and pretty ticky-tack. Duke almost scored on a 7-yard touchdown pass to Jamison Crowder, who was just inches out of the back of the end zone, but after review, the play stood as called, an incomplete pass. Duke failed to convert on 4th down, and gave the Hokies the ball on the 14.
Hokies take over with 9:32 left and leading 34-20. Question now is can Coleman break the 100-yard mark? Needs 10 to do it— Jimmy Robertson (@jrobIHS) October 13, 2012
#Hokies longest streak w/o a 100-yd. rusher under coach Frank Beamer is 10 games, a streak that has taken place twice.— Norm Wood (@normwood) October 13, 2012
Needing just 10 yards to be the Hokies first 100-yard rusher on the year and to prevent tying the record for most consecutive games without a 100-yard rusher under Frank Beamer at 10, Coleman took the first carry to the right sight, rocketed around the corner and was gone like THAT, 86 yards to provide the final margin, 41-20 Virginia Tech.
Duke had two more possessions, but they were marred by Virginia Tech sacks and both ended in lost fumbles, so the result was never in doubt.
So, to recap, were there positives in this game? Well, one, it was a win, so absolutely. The Hokies avoided dipping below .500 for the first time since 1992, they improved their conference record to 2-1 and improved their chances of getting to a bowl game with murderer's row coming up in the coming weeks. Though a 10-win season is still possible, it is unlikely. But as many of the Hokie fans/writers on Twitter were saying, this had the feel of a turning point for the Hokies, much like the game against ECU in 2010, or as was probably the most popular comparison given that the Hokies came back from 20 down, like the N.C. State game that same year when the Hokies came back from 17 down in Raleigh to set Frank Beamer's previous comeback high. What is certainly still in play is the Hokies' bowl streak, and heck, as many have pointed out, the Hokies could win the Coastal and play spoiler to either FSU or Clemson in the ACC Championship Game. Also, the offense showed up today in a big way, despite the early sputtering, and from the first quarter on, the defense was the best it has been all year. Whether the defensive line was simply taking advantage of Duke's fatigue/inferior talent or they were really playing like they were "pitching a fit" as Defensive Line Coach Charley Wiles begged of them this week, it's encouraging to see SOMETHING, ANYTHING out of a group that was lauded as the best in school history in the pre-season.
What has to stop? Well obviously, the slow starts. We can't spot every team 20 points and expect to win the game. The missed tackles. I don't care how many drills you run during the week, good, sound football players make tackles and don't whiff with arm tackles. If the Tech defense is made up of these players, they will fix it. If not, then these issues will continue. The offensive AND defensive play-calling must improve as well. No more running 5-10 wide receiver screens and running end arounds into the ground on offense, and less nickel and playing no deep help man coverage on defense, stacking 11 in the box and daring a team to pass on us...something they'd be stupid not to do.
But again, it's a win, and we'll take it. J.C. Coleman might have solidified himself as the guy, and I think the passing game took a step forward today. Without several drops, a glare that caused Davis to lose the ball on a guaranteed touchdown and one SURE-FIRE pass interference that went uncalled, Thomas' 14-23 would have looked a lot better. His interception was absolutely no fault of his own, and his 256 yards and 2 TD's were encouraging as well. Not many overthrown balls, and in fact some of the deep balls were a little underthrown. Still, it wasn't the Apocalypse Logan Thomas that we have seen at times in the last couple of weeks. Also, Thomas was featured in the run game and broke off several big runs.
Coleman had the most rushing yards under Beamer for a freshman:
The Hokies also had their best offensive day since 2010:
Virginia Tech's 519 yards are the most sincegaining 605 in a 52-21 win against Wake Forest in 2010. #Hokies— Andy Bitter (@AndyBitterVT) October 13, 2012
And of course it was encouraging to see the Hokies refuse to lay down after being down by a big margin, something we've seen several times already this year.
Don't forget to check out SB Nation's game review, or SB Nation DC's recap. The Hokies face Clemson next week, and Gobbler Country will have all the coverage you need leading up to, during and after the game. So make sure you're checking in regularly.