September 6, 2009
Virginia Tech was the ACC's last hope Saturday. But the Hokies' anemic offense – sound familiar? -- finally caused their demise against No. 5 Alabama.
The result: A 34-24 season-opening loss at the earplugs-recommended Georgia Dome and the most humiliating day for ACC football since its 2004 expansion.
Thanks to defense and special teams, the seventh-ranked Hokies led 17-16 entering the fourth quarter, but the scoreboard was a mirage. Tech's defense was visibly fatigued, the offense incapable of offering respite with points and/or time-of-possession.
So the Crimson Tide's fourth-quarter domination was as predictable as Virginia faithful calling for coach Al Groh's job after the Cavaliers' collapse Saturday against William and Mary.
That was only part of the ACC's putrid opening week.
It began Thursday with North Carolina State's loss to South Carolina and continued Saturday as Wake Forest fell to Baylor, Duke to Richmond. Each of those defeats, by the way, at home.
In fact, unless Maryland staged a dramatic, late-night, West Coast rally at California, the ACC did not win a single non-conference game against a fellow Football Bowl Subdivision opponent (0-4).
Other chances await ACC teams to rehabilitate the conference's sagging football image. Virginia Tech hosts Nebraska in two weeks, Miami welcomes Oklahoma next month, and come Thanksgiving weekend, Florida State wades into the Swamp against reigning national champ Florida, while Georgia Tech faces Georgia.
But Saturday night was a prime opportunity for Virginia Tech and the ACC.
The Hokies' 17 first-half points defied statistical probability. They gained a meager 68 yards, minus-5 rushing, and owned the ball for only 12:25.
Ah, the magic of special teams, defense and yellow flags.
Dyrell Roberts' 98-yard kickoff return produced a touchdown, Antoine Hopkins' interception set up a field goal, and Alabama penalties gift-wrapped a touchdown.
Roberts, a Smithfield high graduate, flashed similar potential last season as a true freshman, returning kickoffs for 54 yards against Florida State and 55 against Maryland.
Also last season, Virginia Tech benefitted from some ghastly opponents' penalties. But nothing as compressed or egregious as what transpired late in the first half Saturday.
First, Tyrone King's personal foul on a kickoff gave the Hokies possession at their own 49. Three plays later, on third-and-10, late flags from the Southeastern Conference officiating crew ticketed Marquis Johnson for pass interference and an automatic first down.
The worst came after Tyrod Taylor's errant option pitch on first-and-goal from the 5 cost Tech 14 yards. Back in the secondary, Tide linebacker Rolando McClain was whistled for a personal foul and unsportsmanlike conduct.
So instead of second-and-goal at the 19, the Hokies had first-and-goal at the 5. Tailback Ryan Williams scored his first college touchdown three plays later to give Tech a 17-16 halftime lead.
The most striking thing about Tech's first-half attack, other than the dreadful results, was the lack of called runs for Taylor. Clearly coaches are skittish about exposing Taylor because they have no faith in their backup quarterbacks.
Conversely, the Hokies' defense was in midseason form. Breakdowns here and there? Yes, but tackling was fierce and sure.
Linebacker Jake Johnson and cornerback Stephan Virgil were especially effective against the run. Ends Nekos Brown and Jason Worilds rattled Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy, making his first college start.
The biggest defensive play came late in the third quarter by outside linebacker Cody Grimm, who stripped Roy Upchurch from behind at Tech's 15, causing a fumble that Virgil recovered to snuff an Alabama scoring chance.
But you had to wonder, when would the Hokies' defense buckle from exhaustion? It seemed inevitable, unless the offense could eat some fourth-quarter clock.
And this is where Tech most missed tailback Darren Evans, out for the season with a knee injury. He reveled in the figurative fistfights of fourth quarters.
Saturday's fourth quarter was a knockout as Alabama ran and passed (Kam Chancellor's pass coverage was stunningly poor) at will – McElroy was far superior to the more experienced Taylor at quarterback, though he's blessed with more talented teammates.
So the streak endures.
Not once has Virginia Tech bested a top-five opponent away from Lane Stadium. Not on the road. Not on neutral turf. Not with the best teams of Frank Beamer's hall of fame tenure as head coach.
Until that futility ends, talk of the Hokies' national title chances is rather hollow.
David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at email@example.com For more from Teel read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime
Copyright © 2014, Newport News, Va., Daily Press