Virginia Tech overcame another slow start on Saturday, this time for a 41-20 victory over the Duke Blue Devils.
The Hokies (4-3, 2-1 ACC) fell behind 20-0 in the first quarter, before scoring 41 unanswered to end the game. The 20-point comeback was the largest during head coach Frank Beamer’s 26-year tenure.
“I just told our football team, that was a great win for our football program,” Beamer said. “The circumstances, coming off two losses and getting down 20 to zip, I appreciate our players and their poise, our coaches’ poise and no one panicked and things worked out for us.”
Tech’s offense struggled early on, picking up just 16 yards on their first three drives, the last one ending with a Logan Thomas interception, which Duke safety Jordon Byas returned 20 yards for a touchdown and a 20-0 Blue Devils lead less than 12 minutes into the game.
The ball went in and out of the hands of running back Tony Gregory, who was out in the flat.
“It’s tough when that happens,” Thomas said. “Things haven’t gone our way a lot this year, tipped ball picks. We’re used to some adversity. It’s going to happen, it’s just a matter of how you deal with it.”
Thomas and co. responded with a seven-play, 76-yard drive culminating in a 4-yard Martin Scales touchdown run. From there on out, it was all Hokies.
True freshman running back J.C. Coleman ran for a career-high 183 yards on just 13 carries, including two long touchdown runs of 45 and 86 yards. Coleman became Tech’s first 100-yard rusher since David Wilson did it against Virginia last season.
“Coach made me the starter this week and I just wanted to make sure that whenever they called my number that I was able to make plays,” Coleman said. “But everybody fought hard, the offense fought hard, the defense fought hard, the line gave me outstanding holes to run through. It was great.”
To this point in the season, none of Tech’s four running backs in contention for the starting job had done anything significant to separate themselves from the pack. It seemed like Coleman did just that today.
“We just need to get someone going and I thought J.C. got going,” Beamer said. “I thought J.C. was the guy today.”
After Coleman, Thomas (who ran for 50 yards on the day) and Tony Gregory had success running the football, it opened up the air attack.
“I don’t know if it was me, or just doing things, getting the ball on the outside, making them honor the receivers right off the jump right there,” Thomas said. “We were just able to open it up by getting the ball to the running backs and letting them take four or five yards at a time.”
Thomas finished 14-of-23 passing for 256 yards and two touchdowns — as well as an interception — on the day.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Hokies struggled in the first quarter, but settled down from there, holding the Blue Devils scoreless for the final 48 minutes of the game.
The defensive line played a big part in that, pressuring quarter Sean Renfree relentlessly. They finished with five sacks.
“Our d-line had a hell of day, getting off on the ball and making plays in the backfield — which we needed,” said mike linebacker Bruce Taylor. “We didn’t have as much in the previous five games.”
Defensive end James Gayle finished with 2.5 tackles for loss, as well as a sack.
“It was alright. There’s still a lot of stuff I need to work on,” Gayle said. “This was one of our stronger games as a defensive unit.”
Tech travels to Clemson next Saturday to take on the Tigers in a pivotal ACC matchup. Kickoff is set for noon.