There comes a point in every poor season when mistakes stop being outliers and become who you are as a team. For Virginia Tech that may well have happened in Thursday night's 21-16 loss to Pittsburgh.
The Hokies were once again plagued by a slow start on offense, turnovers and a rash of penalties that derailed the few solid drives Tech put together on offense.
Tech managed just seven yards in the first quarter and the second wasn't much better. The first half drives culminated as follows: punt, punt, punt, punt, field goal, fumble, field goal.
The fumble by J.C. Coleman gave Pitt the ball deep in Hokie territory to set up the Panthers' second touchdown.
The Hokies didn't reach the end zone until just under five minutes remained in the fourth quarter. Tech managed to reach the red zone several times throughout the game, but settled for three Joey Slye field goals.
Then there are the penalties.
Tech was flagged eight times for 45 yards against Pitt and once again, many of the flags came on the offensive side before the snap.
In one crucial sequence at the end of the first half, Tech drove down and had a third-and-goal at Pitt's 3 before taking a costly delay of game penalty that wiped out a Michael Brewer touchdown pass. Tech then had a false start backing them up to the 13 before settling for a field goal.
Brewer, offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler and Frank Beamer all claim the play clocks were showing different times and that contributed to the delay.
David Teel of the Daily Press reported Friday that ACC rules officials said the delay penalty was correct and the stadium's clock operator says play clocks showing different times is mechanically impossible.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-cards="hidden" lang="en"><p>Blog: <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ACC?src=hash">#ACC</a> supervisor of officials says costly delay flag against <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Hokies?src=hash">#Hokies</a> last night was correct. <a href="http://t.co/W7q8fSnE2b">http://t.co/W7q8fSnE2b</a></p>— David Teel (@DavidTeelatDP) <a href="https://twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP/status/523186075187957760">October 17, 2014</a></blockquote>
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Possessed play clocks aside, the Hokies have had false starts, formation issues, delays and substitution errors all season. It's not the clock, it's the team.
This is an undisciplined team. You could blame it on youth, but veterans are making mistakes too. Through seven games the Hokies have been whistled for 65 penalties. You can't win football games drawing nearly 10 flags every time out.
It speaks of poor coaching, and a lack of focus from players.
I really like receivers coach Aaron Moorehead and new o-line coach Stacy Searels. I want to like Scot Loeffler—and I know his rebuilding effort on offense was and remains a major project—but his play calling is wildly inconsistent.
The Pitt game was one of the few times it made sense to mix in jet sweeps to receivers and I can only remember one early. Deon Newsome gained five yards which seems useless, but that represents nearly 20% of Tech's 26 rushing yards.
Injuries are clearly a factor, but something has to change to salvage anything positive from this season. There weren't any holes for a healthy Marshawn Williams to run through Thursday so it's more than who the tailback is.
The line needs to be more aggressive. If that means shaking up personnel or starting a small fire in the meeting room it has to happen. This whole offense is crumbling around the line play. Miami's stout defensive front is licking their chops.
Frank Beamer created this mess by allowing poor coaches to remain on his staff for far too long. Recruiting lagged and this is the result. But the players here now need a spark and that has to come from the man at the top.
Let's hope it comes soon.