Virginia Tech under Frank Beamer has been worse on third down, but never in a highwire victory. The Hokies have converted more fourth downs in his 27 seasons as coach, but never in a win.
Such were the historic numbers produced by Tech’s 29-21, triple-overtime conquest of Marshall on Saturday.
(A hat tip to Twitter follower Jay Oakley for the question that prompted this research project.)
Since the Hokies won, let’s start with the good: They converted 3-of-4 fourth downs, albeit one when punter A.J. Hughes scampered 12 yards after dropping a second-quarter snap.
After Hughes’ improvisation, Tech drove from its own 33 to Marshall’s 19, but Ethan Keyserling’s 36-yard field goal attempt doinked off the left upright.
The other fourth-down conversions transpired on the Hokies’ penultimate drive of regulation and spared them a dispiriting home defeat.
First, Logan Thomas completed an 11-yard pass to Joshua Stanford on fourth-and-9 from Marshall’s 12. Then, on fourth-and-goal from the 2, Thomas’ rainbow deflected off cornerback Darryl Roberts’ hand to Willie Byrn for the touchdown that forced overtime.
The game marked the first time since a 52-14 rout of Virginia in 2005 that Tech converted three fourth downs. Under Beamer, the Hokies have had 10 other games in which they made three fourth-down tries, but none was particularly close.
Those games were: 35-14 over Rutgers in 2002; 46-14 over Central Florida in 2001; 48-20 over West Virginia in 2000; 31-10 over UAB in 1999; 33-16 over Bowling Green, 55-28 over Maryland and a 48-34 loss to Boston College, all in 1993; a 43-23 loss to Miami in 1992; a 35-13 loss to Southern Mississippi in 1988, and a 57-38 defeat to Tulane in 1987.
Tech’s record for fourth-down conversions in the Beamer era is four (out of four), in a 32-25 loss at Virginia in 1989.
Now about those third downs Saturday versus Marshall. The Hokies converted a miserable 2-of-16, which prompted the aforementioned Oakley to ask: When was the last time Tech had more fourth-down than third-down makes in a game?
The answer is 2008, when the Hokies were 1-of-11 on third down and 2-for-2 on fourth in a 30-20 defeat at Florida State.
The last time Tech was worse on third down in a victory was 2010 against Central Michigan: 0-for-8 in a 45-21 rout. But that game was so lopsided the Hokies didn’t face many third downs.
Similarly, Tech went 0-for-8 in a 47-13 win over Connecticut in 2003. The Hokies were 0-for-12 in a 13-all tie with North Carolina State in 1992, making them undefeated (2-0-1) under Beamer when failing to convert a third down.
Guessing “go 0-for on third downs” won’t be among the “keys to victory” in ESPN’s telecast of Virginia Tech’s ACC opener Thursday night at Georgia Tech.
Indeed, absent improved efficiency on third downs, and every other down for that matter, the Hokies figure to lose.
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