CLEMSON, S.C. — If Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer could've signed off on his defense giving up 295 yards to the nation's 13th best offense prior to Saturday's game at No. 14 Clemson, he would've taken it and felt good about his team's chances of getting the upset.
His defense's effort wasn't what he would've thought would lead to a 38-17 loss.
Of course, Beamer wasn't banking on an offense that couldn't hold onto the ball in key situations, couldn't pick up a short fourth-down conversion when it needed to, couldn't connect for big plays or simply couldn't catch a break.
"I think in the end, it gets down to about four, five, six plays — a couple that we didn't make, and a couple that they got points off of or got field position off of," said Beamer, whose team committed four turnovers, leading to 21 Clemson points.
"Those plays get the momentum going and the whole game changes a little bit."
Tech (4-4 overall, 2-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) has a .500 or worse record in the month of October for the first time since 1992, which is also the last time Tech finished the season with a losing record (2-8-1).
Yet, it still has a strong chance to win the ACC's Coastal Division and get to the conference championship game if it can come back from an off week and win Nov. 1 at Miami.
Tech's defense held Clemson (6-1, 3-1) to 295 yards, nearly 231 yards under its per game average entering the weekend. On offense, Tech bumbled opportunities to get points, and had some calls go against it.
Tech jumped out to a rare early lead when quarterback Logan Thomas hit wide receiver Corey Fuller for a 29-yard touchdown to go up 7-0 with 10:28 left in the first quarter.
Tech, which finished with 406 yards, could've extended its lead in the first quarter, but running back Michael Holmes was stopped for no gain on fourth-and-1 from Clemson's 18-yard line with 3:02 left.
Clemson got rolling in the second quarter with some assistance from two Tech blunders. A Clemson punt was touched by Tech's Christian Reeves and recovered by Clemson's Tony Steward at Tech's 26.
Clemson finished its ensuing drive with a 1-yard touchdown run by quarterback Tajh Boyd, a Phoebus High graduate who completed 12 of 21 passes for 160 yards, a touchdown and an interception to go along with 27 yards rushing and two touchdowns, to go up 10-7 with 9:29 left in the half.
Thomas, who completed 15 of 28 passes for 207 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions to go along with 99 yards rushing and a touchdown, was intercepted by strong safety Jonathan Meeks later in the quarter. Meeks returned the interception 74 yards for a touchdown with 3:46 remaining to extend Clemson's lead to 17-7. He had two interceptions in the game.
"It wasn't that we couldn't score points, it was that we didn't score points," Thomas said.
As demoralizing as it was for Tech to outgain Clemson 248-137 and still trail 17-10 at halftime, the third quarter was even more tragic for Tech. On the second play of the quarter, Thomas barely overthrew open receiver Dyrell Roberts, a Smithfield High graduate who likely would've gone 71 yards for a game-tying touchdown.
With Tech still trailing 17-10 midway through the quarter, Thomas dropped back on a third-and-8 play from Tech's 29. Before he could dump a short pass off to wide-open running back J.C. Coleman in the right flat, Thomas was sacked by defensive tackle Josh Watson — even though no part of Thomas' body touched the ground.
"The momentum kind of changed for us right there," Thomas said. "Instead of having a big play, we were called down for a sack."
After a punt by Tech, Clemson capped its next possession with a 12-yard touchdown run by Andre Ellington (96 yards rushing) to put the Tigers up 24-10 with 4:30 left in the third quarter. Yet, the 7-play, 52-yard drive could've ended on its second play if replay officials would've seen that receiver Sammy Watkins fumbled at Tech's 41.
"Coach always preaches 'complete control' so you can't put a game in a refs hands or anything like that, but that was definitely a big call in the game," said Tech cornerback Antone Exum, who fell on the loose ball that wasn't ruled a fumble.
Trailing 31-17 in the fourth quarter, the final blow to Tech's chances came when receiver Marcus Davis attempted a wide receiver pass off a lateral from Thomas at Tech's 35. Davis' pass to the middle of the field was intercepted by cornerback Xavier Brewer with 6:55 left, leading to another Clemson touchdown.