It has been some time since I published one of these posts chronicling our biggest "DERP" moments as a football program, but I assure you, I didn't forget to continue this series. I only wish I had. Especially now having seen that several of the 2011-12 games will have to be added to this series, my motivation to publish such a post has been zero. The last time I published one of these posts we were shelled at home by Clemson. But as the Hokies begin a new season today, I will have to continue to believe (incorrectly) that these types of losses will cease to happen and stop the painful procrastination that prevents me from publishing these posts (but apparently inspire my alliterative side).
As Hokie fans we've come to expect certain things out of our teams: Dominating D, Beamerball, a conservative in-game philosophy, sub-par offenses and last but certainly the most memorable...the COULD HAVE BEENS! The earth-shattering, mind-numbing, life-altering losses. They define our existence just as much as our wins.
I've compiled a list of the games we wish we had back and ranked them based on the criteria of how much it hurt, how much it meant, and last but not least WHO it was we lost to and how. This is the second part of the series Games We Wish We Had Back. Come join me in reliving some of the worst moments in Tech football history...just don't forget to bring the tissues (or hard liquor).
20. 2005 Auburn: Auburn 16-13 VT- This loss is a first in this series for several reasons: 1. It is the first non-conference loss to appear on this list, and 2. It is the first post-season loss to appear on this list. The Hokies' 2004 season ended on a sour note in the wee days of 2005 when the undefeated and deserving of a title game shot-Tigers beat the Hokies by a narrow margin in the Sugar Bowl. It may seem silly now, but rewind back to 2004-05 and Auburn's Carnell "Cadillac" Williams, Ronnie Brown and Jason Campbell represented the scariest offensive backfield in all of college football. By a stark comparison, the rag-tag (by BCS standards) 2004 Hokies team was fueled by desire, willpower and the mantra "Team United." It appeared to be the ultimate mismatch.
Unfortunately all the superlatives I handed out to the 2004 Tech team met their match in a vastly more talented (or at least battle-tested, more experienced talent) Auburn team and the Tech showing up for bowls and messing their pants curse. The Hokies first four possessions resulted in turnovers or punts. Conversely, Auburn scored on three of their four first half possessions (albeit all field goals) and took a 9-0 lead into the break.
The game-changing play came on a 4th and goal from the Auburn 1-yard line when Beamer opted to go for it down 6-0 instead of kicking the field goal (Sound familiar?). See, what did I tell you about his "going for it sense." It's like he's blindfolded and playing darts. There's no rhyme or reason and when he ultimately fails by going for it at the wrong times, he reinforces his conservative play-calling philosophy by subconsciously citing those phony results. But that's an argument for a later time. The point is, despite using our only passing play-call in the red zone, a play-action fullback leak into the flats, the play worked...well, except for the whole catching the ball thing. Jesse Allen Wilford'd the ball wide open in the end zone and the Hokies turned it over on downs.
Tech's bad luck in bowl games continued to haunt them in the second half when Auburn took the kickoff and marched the ball down our throat on the way to their only touchdown of the game to extend their lead to 16-0 and put the game on the brink of a blowout. The Hokies came storming back (but not without one more setback), intercepting Jason Campbell and taking it down to the Auburn 6-yard line where Brandon Pace missed one of his only field goals of his Tech career.
The fourth quarter saw the Hokies make a mad dash for the win, but despite two Bryan Randall passing touchdowns (and a missed 2-point conversion on the first) Auburn was able to milk the clock and play keep away just long enough. Looking at the box score however, I came away impressed with several things. 1. The Hokies gained more yards, averaged more yards per play and had more chances than did the Tigers. 2. Tech's defense effectively limited the vaunted Auburn run game to just over half their average at 110 yards and a measly 2.6 yards per carry (the Tigers averaged 190 yards per game on the ground coming into the game) and 3. We hung with a team that should've been playing for the championship. But, ultimately it was another adjective-laden (see the tease before the jump for a word bank of such adjectives) loss.
The Hokies had every chance to beat a superior team and after their 2002 domination of LSU, swiftly and incontrovertibly put to bed the notion that the SEC is light years better than Virginia Tech. But as is often the case, if you don't win, it doesn't matter how close you were, the only thing people remember is the result: a loss. This will remain one of the biggest missed opportunities for Tech as it was a statement game and for the numerous missed opportunities Tech had in this game. While this loss hurt because of the missed opportunities and mistakes, the Who/How was not as bad. That Auburn team was GREAT.
Hurt Factor: 6
Impact Factor: 7
Combined Suck Factor: 18
19. 2009 UNC: UNC 20-17 VT- This game will forever be remembered in my mind as the Stinespring game. Anyone searching for the incontrovertible argument against Stiney as the offensive coordinator, look no further. The crowd was pumped and the Hokies were rolling early on. Ryan Williams ran for 25 yards on the first play from scrimmage and then Taylor completed a 20-yarder to Jarrett Boykin on the second play. However, Boykin put the ball on the turf trying to extend the play. The Tarheels recovered and that was the ballgame.
For those of you pulling a Hubert J. Farnsworth right about now (Whaaaa!?), please know that although 59 minutes and change remained, it was Brian Stinespring who decided at that point that we would lose with the game that he called after that play. It was as if because we turned the ball over so soon that it was a result of us doing the wrong thing offensively. But in fact the opposite was true. It was an individual who made a mistake, and as a result, Stiney did what I accused Beamer of above: taking the result of the fumble and reinforcing the notion that it wouldn't have occurred if we were had not been passing the ball.
While Taylor ended up throwing 23 passes, that includes all of the throwaways Tyrod was forced into and the no intermediate route plays that have made Stiney infamous. That was a big reason Taylor completed a paltry 11 passes. And in all reality, even though 23 doesn't sound like a bad number, especially for the pre-2010 Hokies, when the supreme struggle to run the ball in that game is taken into account (2.9 ypc.), that probably wasn't enough. The Tarheels REALLY keyed in on Ryan Williams, as they should have, and limited his effectiveness if not his production.
Defensively we were shaky. That may in fact be an understatement. The inept shell of a coach Butch Davis was allowed to get into a groove and capitalized off of the easy observation: Tech absolutely could not stop the ground game of UNC, especially up the middle. The 'Heels scored on four of their last six possessions, and once he saw that the Hokies' offense wasn't going to challenge him, Butch looked like a different coach than I have ever seen him before: a REAL coach. All the pressure was off and he was able and eager to tinker until he found the weakness and then rode it into the ground and some. He then parlayed that into allowing T.J. Yates time to make efficient, intermediate passes that the Hokies invite other teams to throw with their big cushions so they aren't beaten in man coverage. In effect he made us make superstars out of T.J. Yates and Shaun Draughn by capitalizing off our defensive mistakes. If ever there were a Butch Davis highlight reel, this would be it (well, for something HE did, not something one of his players did at the U).
Taylor got happy feet often in this game and the Hokies absolutely refused to challenge UNC on offense. Many people remember the Ryan Williams fumble at the end of the game, but I ABSOLUTELY, 100% WITH ALL MY BEING DO NOT BLAME HIM FOR LOSING US THAT GAME! Yes it set up the winning field goal, but Stinespring's ineptitude in this game did us in. It's hard to blame a guy who suffered HIS FIRST FUMBLE OF THE YEAR AT RUNNING BACK and who totaled almost HALF of our embarrassing 256 yards despite being teed off on by an incredibly athletic defense from the start.
This game hurt for two reasons.: 1. it was UNC, a team we're better than and a coach in Butch Davis who thinks twiddling his thumbs and forgetting his players' names is the key to success (not kidding, and in the NFL no less where there are only 53 players on a team), and 2. This game ended up effectively knocking us out of contention for the ACC Championship game. That is why this game had such an impact. As for the Who/How factor, it was a game that team was too good to lose and the way we laid down offensively after a minor mistake which was the result of trying too hard to do a good thing was unbearable to watch...for anyone. Games like that don't do us justice on the national stage. But back to the mistake: In basketball when a player turns the ball over the coach gives him the settle down sign an sends him on his way. In this case, Stiney took the ball out of the players' hands and said "If you even think there's the slightest chance that anything at all bad happens as the result of trying to make a play, then don't even consider it. Period."
Hurt Factor: 5
Impact Factor: 6
Combined Suck Factor: 18
18. 2002 Syracuse: Syracuse 50-42 VT- Carter Warley. A kick that elevated only 11 feet!? Seriously!? This was that game. First, I have to give the a shout out to a woman I know who pretty much single-handedly ran the Carter Warley for Heisman campaign (in jest obviously).
This was a record setting game for the Hokies in many ways. Bryan Randall set records, Ernest Wilford set records and unfortunately I'm sure a LOT of Orangemen set records. There were certainly some oddities from this one. 1. Bryan Randall, the quarterback that we watched struggle all year and put up only pedestrian numbers as the coaches really didn't give him much of a chance to win/lose us games (as they shouldn't have with a young quarterback), threw for 504 yards and FIVE touchdowns...and we lost (he also threw three picks). 2. Ernest Wilford had 279 yards receiving and 4 TD's as a beneficiary of Randall's Wilford-vision. 3. We gave up 604 yards of total offense! Then, both on the last play of the fourth quarter and once in overtime, Carter Warley missed field goals for the win. Also, when you score 42 points and don't win, chances are your team has some problems.
Those problems were highlighted by never-was Troy Nunes throwing for 403 yards and the Orangemen's tailback tandem of somewhat talented backs Walter Reyes and Damien Rhodes rushing for FIVE, count them, FIVE touchdowns! This is one of those early 2000's games where no matter what was going on that was good, there was something overshadowing the good that told you the Hokies were going to blow this game. The Hokies defense making Syracuse's offense look like the Under Armour All-American team was the aforementioned ominous sign.
The hurt? Well, it hurt from the standpoint that two weeks after starting 8-0 and climbing as high as #3 in the nation, the Hokies sat at 8-2 and fell to #13 (before ultimately falling further the next week after losing to WVU at home en route to a 3-4 Big East record). The impact on the other hand was pretty minimal. It wasn't like the Big East was getting an at-large BCS team, especially when many people were clamoring for the Big East to lose their automatic bid, and that's WHEN Tech and Miami were in the fold! The Who/How? The way we lost and the team we lost to was just unbearable.
Hurt Factor: 6
Impact Factor: 4
Combined Suck Factor: 18
17. 2009 GT: GT 28-23 VT- The 2009 Tech team was one of their best. While the defense was retooling, it still was very talented (including Cody Grimm and Jason Worilds), and on offense the Hokies had the evolving Tyrod Taylor, Ryan Williams, arguably their most talented back ever and Jarrett Boykin, Danny Coale and Dyrell Roberts making up their receiving core.
Many analysts in the pre-season had tabbed us to play in the national championship game and the fans were abuzz at those seemingly realistic possibilities. After we lost to eventual national champion Alabama those possibilities were unlikely, but by the time we stormed into Atlanta to play Georgia Tech, we were playing ourselves back into the conversation. Especially considering the madness that always seems to happen near the top of the rankings over the last several seasons. But, the Hokies showed up and effectively laid an egg against the Yellow Jackets. This remains the only game I have ever witnessed where the winning team only completed one pass. That may be the only instance of this since the addition of the forward pass to the game.
Looking at the box score, there isn't a lot that stands out. We had 334 total yards, just 26 fewer than the Jackets, and all in all a pretty decent total for a Bryan Stinespring offense at the time. Tyrod did have two picks, but one was a hail mary lob at the half that wasn't really even an interception as it hit the ground first, however, the refs figured no harm no foul as there was no time on the clock and the player was down. But the Jackets ran up a total of 309 yards on the ground against the Hokies (believe it or not they had even more in 2010, but the Hokies won), among the highest against a Bud Foster defense. Of course this was the infamous chop-block game in which the Virginia Tech coaching staff was FUMING after the game for all the no-calls on questionable blocks. In fact they sent many examples of plays they wanted the ACC to look at to the league office.
To make matters worse, I can remember on several occasions punting in Georgia Tech territory, even from inside the the 35-yard line (which of course ended up going for a touchback, so we netted 15 total yards on that one). That just can't happen in a game where possessions are so important, as Georgia Tech bleeds a clock more than any other team. To that end, GT's time of possession was 38:22 to the real Tech's 21:38. That is also one of the lowest totals under Beamer, whose teams usually rely on and dominate that statistic.
The hurt factor is obvious: This sent Georgia Tech to the ACC Championship to represent the Coastal Division in our stead. The impact factor is listed above when talking about tabling our national title or BCS aspirations. The Who/How is disappointing just because of the way our coaches handled the game situations. It's also unfortunate that they ran rampant over the Hokies on the ground because I felt the team prepared very well for the game, using the week off to simulate the speed of GT's triple-option by using Antone Exum as a scout team QB and starting every snap with the ball already in his hands. Ultimately though, the Jackets would have to forfeit their ACC Championship because of violations.
Hurt Factor: 6
Impact Factor: 7
Combined Suck Factor: 19
16. 2009 Alabama: Alabama 34-24 VT- This was another big game and big opportunity gone awry. It also doesn't help that it was an SEC team, furthering the notion that the SEC eats Virginia Tech for breakfast and that we can't even dream about competing with "God's conference" and yada, yada, yada. We've heard it all before, and it's not entirely false that we'd struggle, but it's an extremist view and certainly not 100% factual.
Some people might scoff about this game's inclusion on this list, but considering that we had been paraded by the ESPN guard as their national championship pick, that we led this game for the entire third quarter and parts of the second and first quarters as well and the way we faltered on both sides of the ball down the stretch, particularly on offense, its place is cemented on this list.
First off, the Hokies offense put up a pathetic 155 yards and allowed five sacks, three I believe in succession on the Hokies last possession (a la the Orange Bowl against Stanford). By comparison Alabama racked up 498 yards. Ryan Williams also fumbled a punt deep in Tech territory. He made up for it with the rest of his work that game (which showed us he was destined to be a superstar, and not in the Molly Shannon way), but that's a costly mistake you can't give to a team as dangerous as 2009 Alabama.
I can remember Kirk Herbstreit saying something prophetic in the late third/early fourth quarter with the Hokies up 17-16. It went something like this, "I want to say you just hope the Hokies can get something going on this possession and maybe get back into this game, but then you look at the scoreboard and realize they're leading!" That was the kind of game it was for Tech and it foretold the eventual outcome. We made Greg McElroy look amazing in his first collegiate start, Kam Chancellor had about the worst coverage of a post route I have EVER seen and the Hokie offense managed to invent a blander version of Vanilla.
The hurt factor was another embarrassing offensive performance on national TV, the fact that we led for the majority of this game but were unable to do anything offensively to win it and that it was the second consecutive year of 0-1 starts. In the end, this game's only impact was that it was another chance gone by to beat a big team and to win a big game. With this win we still wouldn't have won a national championship most likely and it wouldn't have affected our conference schedule. The Who/How is ALL about the how. The who as we all know went on to win it all, and they were a supremely talented team. But, we caught them at the right time, as they were still somewhat green at important positions early and still couldn't capitalize.
Hurt Factor: 6
Impact Factor: 6
Combined Suck Factor: 19
So there we are, 10 down and 15 to go. I like to think going back and re-living these losses is cathartic and helps in the healing process, but it is a constant reminder of sleepless nights and could-have-beens. I guess the moral of this story is: Don't watch Tech football kids, it will only make you drink massive amounts of alcohol and cry profusely. Stay tuned to Gobbler Country for more embarrassing Virginia Tech sports moments as this series continues. Also, if you missed part 1 of this series, you can find it here.