To quote the adorable child in the AT&T commercial, Virginia Tech football faithful have "infinity times infinity" reasons to be frustrated, concerned and/or confused after Saturday's home loss to Duke.
Logan Thomas channeling Koji Uehara. Short-yardage failures that finally came back to haunt. Cody Journell's continued misses. All this after a bye week, for heaven's sake.
The mistakes spelled a 13-10 defeat that marked the fewest points scored against Duke by an ACC opponent at home since 1989, the fewest versus the Blue Devils by a ranked conference opponent since 1959.
Yes, the Hokies were ranked 16th by the Associated Press media poll and 14th in the Bowl Championship Series standings prior to the Duke loss. They enter Saturday's game at Boston College outside the top 25 in each.
But amid all the negativity — Tech averages an ACC-worst 21.5 points per game, on pace for its most anemic season since 18.5 in 1989 — let's look at the macro side.
The Hokies are 6-2, and considering last season's 7-6 disappointment, and Frank Beamer's subsequent overhaul of his offensive staff, no reasonable fan — granted, that's an oxymoron — could have expected better at this stage.
Losing the opener to two-time reigning national champion Alabama in Atlanta was a given, and sure enough, the Crimson Tide won comfortably, 35-10. That said, in a precursor, Tech's defense was outstanding as three of Alabama's five scores came on returns — punt, interception and kickoff.
The Hokies' next five Bowl Subdivision opponents were East Carolina, Marshall, Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Pittsburgh. Again, with suspect offensive linemen, running backs and receivers, plus a new offensive coordinator in Scot Loeffler, no rational Virginia Tech follower could have presumed a sweep of those games.
Yet that's precisely what the Hokies did, occasionally with efficient offense, always with smothering defense. They were fortunate to survive ECU and Marshall in consecutive weeks, the latter in triple-overtime, and they parlayed those victories into a 3-0 ACC start that fueled expectations of an 8-1 record and possible top-10 ranking headed to a Nov. 9 road clash against Miami.
And with the Hokies at 6-1 — they also defeated Championship Subdivision featherweight Western Carolina during their winning streak — prior to their games versus Duke and Boston College, 8-1 absolutely was a reasonable notion. Tech was 9-0 against the Blue Devils since joining the ACC and won at BC last season.
But Thomas threw a career-high four interceptions Saturday. After three consecutive turnover-free games for the Hokies, the law of averages said they were due for some giveaways. But four picks? Against an opponent that had only five in its first seven games?
Thomas read defenses poorly, and his touch on short passes was non-existent as he fired fastballs at receivers just a few yards away. Hello deflections, hello interceptions.
But he wasn't the only issue. The Hokies failed to score on a second-and-goal from the 1 and did not convert a fourth-and-1 from Duke's 37; the once-clutch Journell missed two field goals in a game for the second time this season, badly hooking a 40-yarder that would have created a 13-all tie with 6:02 remaining.
In so doing, the Hokies squandered another top-shelf defensive performance — Tech limited the Devils to 91 yards rushing and 107 passing, both season-lows. The Hokies intercepted four passes, the first time they'd recorded that many in defeat since 1992, when they picked off Rutgers six times in a 50-49 setback.
But aside from a possible blows to confidence and ego, what are the costs of losing to Duke?
Tech fell from the polls, but that's pocket change. The Hokies' Bowl Championship Series at-large hopes vanished, but even at 10-2 with a loss to Florida State in the ACC title game, that would have been a longshot.
We won't know until bids are extended in early December, but perhaps the steepest price will be the caliber of non-major bowl — opponent and location — in which Tech plays.
The ACC's Coastal Division title and a berth in the conference's championship game remain very much in play. If the Hokies close the regular season with victories over Boston College, Miami, Maryland and Virginia, they'll play in Charlotte, N.C., on Dec. 7, most likely against Florida State.
Tech figures to be an underdog at Coastal rival Miami (7-0, 3-0 ACC), but there's no telling what kind of shape the Hurricanes will be in after their prime-time game at FSU on Saturday. Hokies who habitually complain about the ACC schedule should thank conference HQ for saddling Miami with back-to-back games against Florida State and Virginia Tech.
So don't let losing to much-improved Duke scar you, Hokies fans. Your team is good and positioned to win its division.
How good hinges on if players and coaches learned from Saturday.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun