Maybe if Virginia Tech’s offense could’ve avoided just one of its three turnovers Saturday in the first half, or if just one of the series of misfortunes that plagued Tech in the third quarter didn’t happen, momentum could’ve swung Tech’s way in its 38-17 loss at Clemson.

Tech (4-4 overall, 2-2 ACC) didn’t get any breaks, but beyond the inability to avoid bad calls, Tech’s offense did its fair share of botching chances to get the Hokies a little closer. For the third time this season, Tech found out what happens when you finish minus-three in turnover margin.

Tech, which had a total of four turnovers in the game, has been on the losing end of games when it finished minus-three in turnovers – falling at Pittsburgh and at Clemson. Tech has also been on the winning side when it managed to finish plus-three in turnover margin - last weekend against Duke.

“(Clemson) is a good team, so mistakes and missed opportunities will cost you, but we definitely thought we were going to win the game,” Tech cornerback Antone Exum said. “That’s not how it went down.”

Even when Clemson (6-1, 3-1) tried to give Tech a shot at grabbing momentum back, the Hokies couldn’t take it. Clemson had eight non-scoring drives, all of which ended with either an interception, or a punt after going three plays and out or failing to gain positive yards on the drive.

Clemson ran just 29 plays on those eight non-scoring drives, and posted only 44 yards. On Tech’s possessions immediately after each of those non-scoring drives, it produced just 14 points, and seven of those came in the fourth quarter to cut Clemson’s lead from 21 to 14.

Most damaging in the failure-to-swing-momentum department may have been running back Michael Holmes’ inability to pick up a first down on fourth-and-1 from Clemson’s 18-yard line in the first quarter.

Tech was already up 7-0 at that point. If the Hokies put it in the end zone on that drive, they would’ve put the Tigers behind by double digits for only the second time all season (the only time this season was in September in the fourth quarter of Clemson’s 49-37 loss to Florida State).

“We had a chance there to get up by a couple of touchdowns, and that makes it a different game,” Tech coach Frank Beamer said.

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Now, Beamer is left with an off-week to question what went wrong with his offense. Yet, after the game, he seemed more inclined to stick with the idea that the game boiled down to just “four, five or six plays” that didn’t go Tech’s way. That’s not exactly what the statistics said at the end of the game.

Though it’s true Tech was the victim of a few poor decisions by the referee and the replay booth official in the third quarter, Tech didn’t give itself much chance stay in the game in the second half.

Tech gained just 60 yards of its 406 yards in the third quarter (an average of 3.2 yards per play in the quarter). Frankly, Tech’s 406 yards seem totally uninspiring when you consider they came against a Clemson defense that was surrendering 445.5 yards per game (97th in the nation) entering the weekend.

In a game where time of possession should’ve been strongly in Tech’s favor given the pace of Clemson’s offense, Tech failed to hold the ball for more than two minutes and 45 seconds on any of its second-half drives. Tech finished with a mere one minute, 26-second advantage on Clemson on time of possession in the second half, which is almost like losing the category to a team with a quick strike offense like the Tigers.

Five of Clemson’s last nine drives started in Tech territory, and the Tigers scored 21 points on those five drives where they took over on the Hokies’ side of the field. On the other hand, Tech didn’t have a single drive start in Clemson territory the entire game.

It obviously could’ve been worse for Tech if not for a sturdy effort from its defense. Clemson gained 12 yards or less on each of its four non-scoring drives in the second half. Tech held Clemson to season lows in both passing (160 yards) and rushing (135 yards).

Andre Ellington gained 96 yards on 19 carries for Clemson, but Phoebus High graduate Tajh Boyd created very little in the running game at quarterback. Boyd had carries for 10 and 17 yards, but he had 18 other carries that went for no yards total, and he was sacked a season-high five times.

“We knew coming into the game they were going to try to pound us with the run,” said Tech defensive end James Gayle, a Bethel High graduate who finished with four tackles, including a sack. “I feel like we did a great job stopping the run.”

As hard as it may be to imagine, Tech will still sit in the drivers’ seat in the ACC’s Coastal Division standings if it comes back from the off week and wins Nov. 1 in Miami – a feat that seems entirely do-able.

If Tech does make it to Charlotte for the ACC title game, it’ll be interesting to see how Beamer perceives the season. At this point, Tech must play in the ACC title game and win all of its remaining games (including a BCS game after winning the ACC championship) to extend its nation-leading streak of 10-win seasons to nine.

Would Beamer somehow construe the season a success if Tech merely reaches the conference title game out of a weak Coastal Division made weaker by the ineligibility of North Carolina? Or would he look within the program and determine that an overhaul in offensive philosophy is needed?

“We’re pretty level-headed,” said quarterback Logan Thomas, who now has 10 interceptions on the season – as many as he had in 14 games last season and putting him on pace to have more interceptions in a season than any Tech quarterback in the last 40 years. “We’re not too down on ourselves, and obviously we’re not too up on ourselves. We’re excited that we still have a chance to play for an ACC championship, but at the same time we know we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

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