"I wasn't thrilled with how the Hokies closed out the game. Lots of lax coverage and sloppy tackling. Could it be exhaustion? Sure. I know my ass didn't play 60 minutes in the sun, running and hitting people as hard as I possibly could. But it almost seemed like after the Edmunds touchdown they got the feeling of "we have this wrapped up."
So before you take this as me saying, I'm better than Player A, or I could do better, this is not that. If I meant that, I would write that. What I am saying is, I know the game of football. I played it, I studied it, I get paid to write about it and one day I will coach it. And it's that knowledge that I'm applying here.
First off, I want to congratulate the entire team on a win and everything they've done to get to 5-1, including one damn fine half of football to start the game today. Certainly we should all be happy with the big picture and what it's taken to get here. Any fan who is unhappy with the record alone at this point, especially given what happened last year, can walk the (metaphorical) plank unless you can somehow come up with a good reason why we should've beaten Alabama. I can't and won't try to.
But I also want to be honest about the second half, and that means being as critical as I've been of this team this year. One thing the Hokies have done over the last half decade is let teams hang around. You don't see the 40-point margins anymore, and the times the Hokies even put 40 on the board are few and far between. Tech has gotten too conservative for their own good. When it comes to putting a team away, as good as this defense has been, it HAS TO BE DONE! Leave no doubt before you take your foot off the gas pedal (Need I remind us all of what happened in 2007 against Boston College?). But today, as in many previous cases, the Hokies didn't just take their foot off the pedal. Unacceptable offensive issues not withstanding, they completely missed the pedal with their foot, and seemed unconcerned in doing so.
The relative "offensive explosion" we witnessed in the first half (scoring three touchdowns against FBS teams will earn the Hokies that distinction these days) did nothing but give the Hokies some breathing room in the second half. After all, there is one thing this North Carolina football team can do: score. A week ago against East Carolina, they allowed 55 points, but also scored 31 of their own. So the laxness the Hokies were showing from the outset of the second half, not just the mental miscues, but the pace, play-calling and body language exhibited was unacceptable.
So why am I saying this after a win? Well, 1. ALWAYS sweat the small stuff. As Frank Beamer's motto goes (or one of his many mottos), take care of the small things and the big things will take care of themselves. And 2. it almost came back to bite the Hokies. Just like in the previous three games, once that malaise set in, it became a ballgame, one that if not for a masterful interception for Kyle Fuller and a muffed punt by a UNC freshman that set the Hokies up on the North Carolina doorstep, most likely would have left the Hokies with a loss on Homecoming. Yet it didn't seem that close. The Hokies were dominating at half, having racked up 277 total yards, including an efficient 230 through the air from Thomas (which would've been considerably more without costly drops), and allowed the Tar Heels only 145 yards of their own.
In the second half, that all turned around. The Tar Heels gained 232 yards to the Hokies 67 (before kneeling twice for a loss of three yards on their last possession to run out the clock), making Tech the ONLY FBS team not to rack up 400+ yards on the Tar Heels so far this season. Tech had at least three plays where the snap was fumbled or arrived at Logan Thomas' feet, and all three resulted in possession killers. The offensive line had absolutely ZERO push in the run game, making it impossible to have any kind of consistent threat on the ground. Furthermore, Tech's play-calling was highly suspect, twice running unsuccessfully on 3rd down instead of passing (which had worked all day), including a dubious one on 3rd and 23 that at the very least, cost the Hokies a potential shot at a field goal, all while the game was still up for grabs. This is the kind of stuff NO team can afford to do, but particularly Virginia Tech given their slim margin for error offensively.
Defensively, the Tar Heels gained yard after extra yard, as Tech defenders who had swarmed to the ball in the first half, on several occasions in the second, jogged to the play and stood around watching as their teammates still hadn't completed their tackles. Not to contradict Jack Tyler just to do so, but THAT is the very definition of complacency. First half, second half, overtime, what have you, those are mistakes that cannot be made and accountability has to be demanded there. Even if Bud Foster was calling up a zone defense that could be described as a soft prevent for the majority of the second half, players can't rest on their laurels against a team that can score this quickly and with an offense on their side that shoots themselves in the foot on approximately half of their possessions.
Did it end up affecting the outcome? No, not this time at least. But to become the kind of football team the Hokies want to be (or at least the one that I hope they want to be), they can't keep playing with their food. They have to put the teams away personal ethics be damned. The Beamer quotes about how this is still a young football team and the consistency isn't there as a result are stale (like they are every year). This is a team that returns 8 starters defensively, and 9 when you consider Tariq Edwards is a holdover from 2011. This is a team with a senior quarterback who has re-written every school passing record save one, which he will do (provided he is not injured) in several weeks. This is a team that has played six competitive games this year. If we shouldn't expect consistency now, when the hell should we expect it!? At some point, a team better than North Carolina is going to beat the Hokies because they're used to playing games like this.
One of my common complaints about why the Hokies have started slowly and lost more games in recent years is that they have put themselves in positions in games where they have prevented playing the backups, stunting their development. Couldn't Mark Leal (in particular) and every other backup on the team have used some time out there today? When is that going to happen if not for blowouts? How do they improve without game action!? That is something that every other consistent top-25 team is doing and why they don't suffer mind-numbingly terrible starts to their seasons. It's also something that the Hokies used to do, and until they do again, all the talk about the national championship trophy case is absolute bananas. After all, you don't get crowned national champion for being the nicest to your opponent all season long.