BLACKSBURG – On the Sunday after Virginia Tech's 38-10 loss to Clemson in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game, Hokies offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring had his itinerary for an impending recruiting trip prepared and ready to go.
That was before coach Frank Beamer essentially told Stinespring and his assistant coaches to rip up those plans for recruiting visits. Beamer deemed it more important to remain in Blacksburg for a few days and review film from the game with players.
"We watched the film all day Sunday – a couple of times," Stinespring said.
"We didn't get things done that we needed to get done in that type of game, things that we're accustomed to doing."
While the shock over Tech receiving a bid to play in the Sugar Bowl against No. 13 Michigan (10-2) has worn off for the players and coaches, at least a little of the hangover from the conference championship game loss is still present.
Oh, and that Sugar Bowl announcement did indeed elicit genuine amazement from No. 17 Tech's players and coaches. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster fell asleep in a chair and missed the Bowl Championship Series selection show. He discovered Tech's bowl destination from his wife when he awoke. Wide receiver Danny Coale and free safety Eddie Whitley told their parents after the ACC championship game to get ready to head to Atlanta for the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Losing by 28 points in a conference title game to a team you've already lost to by 20 points during the regular season has that kind of expectation-lowering effect.
"We didn't just lose in the ACC championship," Coale said. "We got beat pretty bad. That's pretty embarrassing. That's not how you want your last one to be."
Against Michigan, which has won four of its last five games, Tech quarterback Logan Thomas will be facing the nation's 16th rated passing defense (188.5 yards per game) and 18th rated total defense (317.6 yards per game). Those numbers represent the stingiest statistical averages by a defense Thomas will have faced all season.
Yet, it's apparent he's still stinging from the Clemson loss, too.
"I said after the ACC championship game I was more upset about that loss than I was the first Clemson loss because the seniors don't deserve to be embarrassed like that," said Thomas, who completed 22 of 44 passes for 274 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions in the ACC championship game. "We're not that much worse than a Clemson team."
After Tech's 23-3 loss to Clemson on Oct. 1, Hokies quarterbacks coach and offensive play-caller Mike O'Cain beat himself up about not calling enough plays to put Thomas in a position to succeed. After the ACC championship game, O'Cain pointed to Tech's second drive of the second half as a huge turning point.
O'Cain stopped short of saying a penalty should've been called on the first play of the drive, which started at Tech's 20-yard line with the Hokies trailing 17-10, but his impressions of the play were clear.
Thomas scrambled out of the pocket and was brought down after a 1-yard gain via the back of his jersey and shoulder pads by defensive end Andre Branch, who avoided being called for a "horse collar" 15-yard personal foul penalty on the play. Two plays later, wide receiver Jarrett Boykin was called for offensive pass interference, negating what would've been a 24-yard catch.
After the non-call on Branch, and the penalty on Boykin, Tech was looking at third-and-19 from its own 11 as opposed to potentially having first-and-10 at around Clemson's 40.
"Now, we're punting from the (17)," O'Cain said. "We punt it to (Clemson's 44). (One play) later, they're in the end zone. Now, it's a 14-point game. You boil it down to three, or really, two plays – one call and one non-call – and it changes momentum."
As much as that one drive pains O'Cain, he isn't living in the past. Michigan awaits.
Tech, which is aiming to improve its 2-5 record in BCS caliber games and win 12 games in a season for the first time, started its Michigan-specific practice work Saturday. O'Cain called Michigan's 4-3 defense a combination of a lot of different defenses Tech has seen this season.
Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges was Auburn's offensive coordinator when Tech lost 16-13 to Auburn in the Sugar Bowl that concluded the 2004 season. Foster said Borges runs a more decide or read option-oriented attack, with mobile quarterback Denard Robinson leading the offense, than Borges did in his pro style days at Auburn.
Whitley, who said he's already receiving texts from a friend that read nothing but "Denard, Denard, Denard," called the Sugar Bowl "a statement game." Thomas wants it to be just another game, but he realizes it's not going to be perceived that way.
"We have so many motivating factors for the (Sugar Bowl)," Thomas said. "I don't think any of us want to look at it like that. I think we all look at as it's another week. It's time to prepare the same way, but people on the outside are going to see there's many motivating factors for us."