Even as Virginia Tech's players patted each other on the back after Saturday's 44-7 win against Duke, the last in a three-game sequence of overmatched opponents, it didn't take long for conversation to switch to the pressing matter of the all-important stretch run.
Tech (6-2 overall, 4-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) made quick work of Duke, which crossed midfield just once in its first eight drives while the Hokies scored on eight of their first nine drives – two of which were set up by a 61-yard punt return and an interception by cornerback Jayron Hosley.
Tech's 491 yards didn't quite match the 605 yards it posted last weekend in a 31-point victory against Wake Forest, but Tech's defense stifled Duke, holding the Blue Devils to just 208 yards. Now, No. 23 Tech moves on to a bye week before its Nov. 4 game against Georgia Tech, a Thursday night matchup in Blacksburg.
After defeating Central Michigan, Wake Forest and Duke by a combined score of 141-49 in the last three weeks, Virginia Tech figures to get more of a challenge in its next three games against conference foes – Georgia Tech, at North Carolina and at Miami.
"We have some tough games coming up," said Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor, a Hampton High graduate who completed 13 of 17 passes against Duke for 280 yards and three touchdowns while running for 47 yards. "The two games away are going to be very tough going into that type of crowd. We have the talent and the team to excel (in front of) those types of crowds."
The beauty of the situation for Tech? Win those three games and it will lock up the ACC's Coastal Division title and a spot in the conference championship game before it finishes the regular season slate against rival Virginia. Georgia Tech and the loser of Saturday's UNC-Miami game already have two ACC losses.
"We do control our own destiny right now," said Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, whose defense forced Duke to go three-and-out on six drives. "I think any time you're in that position, and you don't have to rely on someone else with four games to go in the season, it's a good position to be in."
Tech has bounced back from an 0-2 start in style. The current six-game winning streak matches the longest streak Tech has had since it won its last six regular season games in the 2006 season.
"We've always known this is the meat of our schedule right here going through conference games," said Tech free safety Antone Exum regarding the upcoming stretch. "Now, we've got Georgia Tech, Miami and North Carolina left. If we get through those games, then we'll go to Charlotte (for the ACC championship game). If we don't, then we won't. This is pretty black-and-white."
Against Duke (1-6, 0-4), Tech surpassed the 40-point mark for the fourth consecutive game a little past midway through the third quarter. Running back Ryan Williams had a hand in the act, returning to action for the first time in 4 1/2 games after dealing with what he revealed after the game was a slightly torn right hamstring. He had six carries for 10 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown in the first quarter that put Tech up 14-0.
Taylor led three separate drives where he was perfect throwing the ball. All three of the drives ended with touchdown passes.
On Tech's opening drive, he completed his two pass attempts, including a 14-yard pass to tight end Andre Smith for a touchdown. With Tech leading 27-0 in the third quarter, Taylor connected on all three of his pass attempts on another drive, capped by a 43-yard touchdown to Smithfield High graduate Dyrell Roberts.
Finally, on Tech's next drive, Taylor made good on another two pass attempts, hitting running back David Wilson on a 65-yard touchdown pass to put Tech up 41-7 with 5:08 left in the third quarter.
Wilson, who lined up at receiver on the play, had the ball knocked out of his hands by cornerback Ross Cockrell before crossing the goal line, but Wilson recovered it before it went out the back of the end zone.
"We left some people open in coverage that were busted assignments," Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. "When you do that against a team like Virginia Tech, as many weapons as their offense has and certainly it starts with Tyrod Taylor. You give him opportunities, he's going to make the most of them. I don't see a quarterback playing better in the country. Period. He might be the best dual threat quarterback in the country. He might be the best quarterback in the country. He made some that were just unbelievable."