By David Teel
10:01 PM PST, December 28, 2012
The following is not sarcastic, disingenuous or farcical: Virginia Tech deserves some props for Friday’s 13-10 Russell Athletic Bowl victory over Rutgers.
Barbs, too. But in the spirit of the holidays, let’s start with the good.
For the third consecutive game, the Hokies were brilliant on defense. The Scarlet Knights averaged a paltry 2.5 yards on 79 plays (196 total yards) and failed to score a touchdown on offense.
Coordinator Bud Foster’s group was stout at every position. Linebackers Bruce Taylor, Jack Tyler and Alonzo Tweedy combined for 26 tackles and five stops for loss; lineman Luther Maddy had seven tackles, while defensive backs Detrick Bonner, Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum combined for six pass break-ups.
Tech overcame a 10-point, fourth-quarter deficit against a quality Rutgers defense in a driving rain. The Hokies also prevailed despite some rather curious officiating by a Big 12 crew headed by Scott Novak, who worked last season’s national championship game.
For you history buffs, Tech became the first ACC team to win three overtime games in a season – Cody Journell made a 22-yard field goal in OT, after which Rutgers’ Nick Borgese missed from 42. Moreover, the three overtime victories – Georgia Tech and Boston College were the others -- exceed the Hokies’ two from 1996, the year Division I-A college football adopted extra time, through 2011.
For you karma buffs, Exum was named the game’s MVP. His fourth-quarter interception and 32-yard return gave the Hokies possession at Rutgers’ 21, and three plays later Logan Thomas threw a touchdown pass to Corey Fuller.
When Tech arrived at the bowl site in Orlando, Fla., two days before Christmas, players received, as usual, gifts governed by the NCAA. Exum spent his $470 Best Buy gift card on three children he met from the Bahamas.
If only Exum were 100 pounds heavier, wore a red suit and piloted a sleigh.
Now, on to the grim, and not just ESPN's Maria Taylor calling Tech “Virginia State” during the trophy presentation.
The Hokies’ offense was abysmal, confirming yet again the need for wholesale coaching changes on that side of the ball.
Through three quarters, Tech had more yards in penalties (85) than in offense (80). The Hokies rushed for 3 yards on 32 attempts, their fewest since a minus-14 effort at Miami in 1994, and their 11 punts matched their most in Frank Beamer’s 26 seasons as head coach.
Bleak as they were, the numbers told only some of the story. Some of quarterback coach Mike O’Cain’s play calls were baffling, to those in the stands and to us watching at home.
Rutgers’ ability to stuff the run, especially on the perimeter, long since established, O’Cain was still calling short-side options late in the game. After Thomas completed consecutive passes of 32 yards to Dyrell Roberts and 25 to Fuller, moving Tech to the 13-yard-line, the Hokies ran Martin Scales on three straight snaps that netted 2, 3 and 0 yards.
The Hokies settled for Journell’s 25-yard field goal, cutting the deficit to 10-3.
Even Beamer got into the brain-cramping act. With less than three minutes remaining in regulation and the game knotted at 10, Tech faced fourth-and-5 from Rutgers’ 34. Given the weather, and that Journell’s career-long field goal is 42 yards, Beamer had two viable options: go for it, or punt.
Instead, he had Journell attempt a 51-yarder that wasn’t close. But the defense rescued the Hokies again when Taylor tackled Savon Huggins for a 4-yard loss, J.R. Collins hurried Gary Nova into an incompletion, and James Gayle stopped Huggins for a 3-yard gain.
The Scarlet Knights’ only touchdown came on the game’s second play, when Khaseem Greene recovered Tech’s botched snap in the end zone; their only points on offense, a 36-yard Borgese field goal, came after they gained possession at the Hokies’ 46 courtesy of a personal foul on a punt.
As too often the case, such defensive dominance contrasted sharply with Tech’s anemic offense, and that’s why staff changes are coming, in all likelihood well before the Jan. 15 deadline for Thomas and other underclassmen to declare for the NFL draft.
The very connected Pete Roussel of the website coachingsearch.com tweeted Friday evening that Hokies receivers coach Kevin Sherman is headed for Purdue to assist new big whistle Darrell Hazell. Sherman neither confirmed nor denied the report when asked after the game.
Other departures may follow, but Beamer needs only one to hire a new offensive coordinator. Bryan Stinespring has worked for Beamer since 1993, but under his direction the last 11 seasons, the offense has largely floundered.
If Sherman exits as expected, Stinespring could be reassigned, perhaps as recruiting coordinator. That's Stinespring's strength, not crafting game plans.
So in some ways, Friday night was perfect for the Hokies (7-6). The victory against the Big East co-champs (9-4) spared them a losing season, showcased their defense and verified what most already had concluded: An overhaul of the offense is desperately needed.
I can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at email@example.com. Follow me at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP
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