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Virginia Tech vs Duke: Saturday is just not a Fun Day Sometimes

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The Hokies lose a heart breaker to the Duke Blue Devils in quadruple overtime by a painful 2 point conversion. This was another winnable game, and the offense was outstanding. This time, the defense just couldn't seal the deal. Lost to think about for the last four games of the regular season.

Travon McMillian - one of the offensive bright spots
Travon McMillian - one of the offensive bright spots
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

I am really happy that the ESPNU announcers enjoyed watching the Blue Devil vs Hokie game.  Forgive me, however, if I don't completely share in their enthusiasm.  To lose a game that you should have won, on a Duke 2 point conversion in a quadruple overtime game is just flat out deflating.

A cool, cloudy, busy Homecoming weekend in Blacksburg turned into an exciting and ultimately heartbreaking game by early evening.  There were some high hopes and even though we were only favored by a roughly 3 point margin the Hokies were looking at the strong possibility of a victory.  An entire game and four overtime periods later, it would be that two point conversion that ended that situation.

The game started out with the hope gained by quarterback Michael Brewer being back on the field to lead the team.  nothing should be taken away from Brenden Motley.  He played capable football, and deserves to be thanked for his effort and sportsmanship.  This is, however, Michael Brewer's team, and it's obvious that the offense responds to his leadership.

The first quarter started off with a Tech kickoff to Duke, and the Blue Devils' Thomas Sirk engineered a 14 play touchdown drive that took 5:11 off the clock and put Duke on the board with a solid performance from its offense; 7-0 Duke.

The Blue Devils kicked off, and the old feeling that we were about to do the old run up the middle get in down and distance problems again, began to crop up.  Then something interesting happened.  Michael Brewer engineered a swift sure 78 yard touchdown drive to tie the game.  It featured a beautiful 36 yard strike to Bucky Hodges, and then capped it with a 16 yard TD pass to Hodges.  Hokies tied it up with a PAT from Joey Slye, and we were off to the races.

The races, because Duke promptly took the ball right down the field on a 6 play 75 yard drive for a touchdown which featured a 40 yard strike to the unfortunately named Erich Schneider (who also figures into the equally unfortunate end of this summary.)

There were whispers of a Big XII style no defense shootout happening on Worsham Field, but then Tech's next drive stalled out, and then Duke's failed.  Tech pushed down the field far enough that when the drive stalled, Joey Slye (who hates footballs, btw) kicked a solid 44-yard Field Goal for a 3 points (-4 in my book).

There the score remained for the rest of the first half.   Duke threatened once but their ace field goal kicker missed a 29 yard relative chip shot, and Tech remained four down.  Duke and Tech traded field position, punts, and one more touchdown each in the third quarter.   The score was 21 to 16, but the interesting part of the Tech scoring drive was its length.  It now holds the record for the longest scoring drive in the Beamer era, 95 yards, 21 plays that burned up 9:50 of clock.  It would be great to mention that Tech won the time of possession in the game; except that time of position doesn't win football games, points do.  Taking nearly 10 minutes to score a mere 6 points, and cap that off by going for a 2 point conversion and doing it very badly is only winning football IF you are in the lead, and the Hokies most definitely weren't in the lead.

The biggest story of the game isn't the fourth quarter, where Tech eventually tied the game with a touchdown and 2 point conversion.  The Hokies were assisted by a missed field goal near the end of regulation.   The first story of the game came from the mind-numbingly poor clock management that kept Tech from getting the football into reasonable field goal distance for Joey Slye.  Tech had one time out left, and received a terrible officiating decision to mark Cam Phillips forward progress stopped in bounds (it wasn't) and the clock didn't stop.  There was just over a minute left as Phillips seemed to trot in from the sideline, and there was no hurry to get the ball off.  No one noticed that the clock had not been stopped, and almost 50 seconds of precious time/yards were lost.  That was at least three plays, and had they been executed properly Joey would have gotten a decent shot at a game winning field goal at the end of regulation.

And that ended the football game.   That's because college over time, is not truly football.  It's a similar game, with similar rules of play, but so much is different about why you score, when you score, and how you make the points there is little strategic similarity to the actual game.

Virginia Tech lost in the 4th overtime.  It lost because of timid play calling.  It lost because the defense flat out ran out of gas, and could not get critical stops.  There were two opportunities to end the game by stopping Duke from scoring, and the defense just couldn't come up with one.

So ended the contest Duke 45 - Tech 43 where nearly half that point total was just overtime scores.  It was frustrating, disappointing, and ultimately heartbreaking.  Erich Schneider caught the last Touchdown pass of the game, and Sirk ran it in for the 2 point conversion.  So, we were defeated by what we could not stop, passes underneath the zone and a running quarterback.

This loss was not on the players.  Brewer was obviously in pain.  He took more than a few hits that looked like he was not coming back onto the field, and he did.  Bucky struggled with a serious case of route run blues and concrete gloves; but he kept fighting and found a way to make three touchdown catches two of which were in critical situations.  There was another sterling performance by Travon McMillian, he gained 142 yards and had 2 touchdowns.  Ford and Phillips show up big in the offensive stats.

The really nice thing about today's performance was that Michael Brewer made no major mistakes.  He kept his wits about him, got rid of the ball when he needed to, and did not throw interceptions.  He did have a few balls sail high, and had an intentional grounding call (This is a rule that needs to be fixed... Why is it a penalty?  Just call it a sack, put the ball where the QB was when he threw it, and be done with the whole thing.)

Here are the stats from Yahoo Sports.  Please see the link if you want the gore filled details.

Passing Leaders

Yds

TD

Int

M. Brewer

270

3

0

B. Motley

0

0

0

I. Ford

0

0

0

Rushing Leaders

Yds

TD

T. McMillian

142

2

S. Rogers

28

0

T. Edmunds

12

0

B. Motley

8

0

Receiving Leaders

Rec

Yds

TD

I. Ford

9

67

0

B. Hodges

5

101

3

R. Malleck

4

43

0

C. Phillips

3

23

0

The Team Comparisons are worth putting up:

Duke

Tech

First Downs

19

31

Passes for First

12

15

Rushes for First

7

15

Penalties for First

0

1

Third Down Efficiency

8-18

11-21

Fourth Down Efficiency

0-0

1-1

Total Yards

449

452

Total Plays

72

100

Avg Gain Per Play

6.2

4.5

Net Yards Rushing

179

182

Rushes

32

53

Yards Per Rush

5.6

3.4

Net Yards Passing

270

270

Comp-Att

19-40

24-47

Yards Per Pass

6.8

5.7

Times Sacked

3

0

Yds Lost To Sacks

-40

0

Interceptions

0

0

Punts

5

7

Punt Average

0.0

0.0

Penalties

7

5

Penalty Yards

22

35

Fumbles

0

0

Fumbles Lost

0

0

The second story of the game is the defense.  Virginia Tech's defense is not a complete balanced squad.  It seems to be running what amounts to a 4-0-7 formation most of the time, and it cannot muster enough body mass in the middle of the field to tackle big players.  They were repeatedly gashed by big first down runs by Thomas Sirk, and they could not stop passes underneath the zone.  Duke obliged us several times by receivers flat out dropping good passes; but the secondary was just not covering well under the zone, and we were getting cut up.  We did get some pressure on Sirk, and he was hit for a loss several times.  That's just not good enough, because when we needed the stop the defense just didn't have the gas and gear enough to keep Duke from scoring in the critical game on the line situations.   There are very good players on the defense.  They are working hard under difficult circumstances.  Unfortunately they have not been equipped with the tools and skills necessary to get those critical shutdowns.  That leads to the last story of this game.

The final story of this game is also the most difficult one to tell.  The coaching in this contest was, to be fair, totally inscrutable.  From using Brenden Motley to tank two plays and then send in Brewer to fix the mess, to mismanaging the clock at the end of the 2nd half; to the 'onside' kick, missed two point conversion; and poor play selection the coaches just did not operate the team with focus and purpose.  We ran Edmunds (who should be a linebacker, not a running back) when we should have been running McMillian.  We once again kept going one to many times to the hole with the same back.  We got cute when we needed to be consistent; and in the most frustrating times, the play calling went into absolute "Timid" mode.  During overtime when we should have been playing for touchdowns, we were settling for field goals, often on the first play.

There is room for a couple of real hat tips from the two positions that we didn't have in 2011 (our last great season).   AJ Hughes and Joey Slye are both to be commended for their work.  Hughes did get a couple of accidental touchbacks, and one longish punt that I would have like to have been a boomer, but  AJ's talent is a real weapon and a life saver when the team needs it.  Joey, hey, Joey just hates footballs and likes to cream them.  His accuracy has greatly improved.  He only missed one FG and that was the ridiculous 67 yard attempt that if people really think about it landed about 5 yards deep in the end zone.  It was wide right, but one day (maybe in Denver) he's going to hit one of those things in a game.

Next week the Hokies travel to Chestnut Hill to play Boston College.  BC's defense is one of the best in the ACC, but their offense is one of the most mediocre.  Knowing that was also Duke's rep might induce us to prepare a bit harder for this one coming up.

Go Hokies!!!

Sources:

http://sports.yahoo.com/ncaaf/duke-blue-devils-virginia-tech-hokies-201510240016/