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When you hold Clemson’s high-powered offense to a total of 295 yards you would think that would be enough to win the game, right?
Going strictly by the box score in Saturday’s 38-17 loss to Clemson, the Virginia Tech Hokies outplayed the 13th ranked Tigers in Death Valley. On offense, the Hokies finished with 406 total yards but the defense was the real story on Saturday.
While Clemson scored 38 points against the Hokies, their most impressive drive of the day was the one that ended with a field goal. Turnovers were what doomed the Hokies on this day.
The defense set the tone early by sacking quarterback Tajh Boyd twice in the first three plays to force a punt. The Hokies quickly drove the field for an easy touchdown pass from Logan Thomas to Corey Fuller.
That was about it for the Hokies on offense.
Clemson’s longest drive of the day was 73 yards and that went for a field goal. Their longest touchdown drive was 52 yards on a drive that shouldn’t have went that far. Cornerback Antone Exum had stripped Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins of the ball and it was not ruled a fumble. After the officials took a look at the play on instant replay, they inexplicably did not overturn the call.
You can’t really blame the officials when the offense cannot seem to get out of their own way but football is the ultimate game of momentum. That play gave the Tigers a first down and led to their third touchdown, all because of mistakes by the Hokies or the officials.
Bud Foster has now gotten seven straight quarters of terrific play by the defense. Going into the Duke game, the Hokies had only eight sacks. After five sacks against the Blue Devils, the Hokies had five more against the Tigers.
Sophomore defensive tackle Luther Maddy seems to finally be over an ankle injury that plagued him throughout September. Maddy has two sacks in each of the past two games. His play has seemed to inspire defensive end James Gayle who has been a consistent presence in the opposition’s backfield the last two weeks.
Exum has really bounced back after rough games against Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. No one ever questioned Exum’s ability but there was some concern he’d lose confidence after being consistently targeted by the opponent’s quarterback.
No doubt the biggest beneficiary of the reinvigorated pass rush has been Exum and fellow junior cornerback Kyle Fuller. The two corners had their toughest matchup of the season on Saturday and held their own against Clemson’s talented receiving duo of Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins.
Watkins finished with eight catches for 84 yards but was never a factor down the field. Hopkins did have a 37-yard touchdown reception but otherwise was held in check by Fuller. Hopkins had 3 catches for 68 yards.
Hokie fans have a right to be frustrated with this team. We are not used to four losses in a season, much less with four games still to go. But, there is hope, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
Maybe prognosticators were a year off on declaring this defense one of the best in school history. After taking their lumps early, this group could be special if the underclassmen return.
Gayle, Fuller and Exum could all have a future in the NFL. All three are juniors. Senior linebacker Bruce Taylor will be the only significant loss for the Hokies after this season. And the team is well stocked at the position.
Look, this isn’t being written to take the focus off of what has been a lousy season. However, Virginia Tech football has risen to a point where they deserve the benefit of the doubt for a disappointing season.
Now, there are four games left and the Coastal Division is still theirs for taking. As unbelievable as it may sound, this team still has a shot at a BCS bowl. With Miami and Florida State still ahead on the schedule, beating them will go a long way in determining the Hokies’ postseason fate.
Going to Boston College will not be easy for this bunch either. As far as Virginia goes, every Hokie would have to slip on a banana peel for them to lose to the Cavaliers. I think.
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