It’s mid-October, the Hokies are usually Bowl eligible by now.
This season is different. The Hokies have played seven games in 2012, and the only thing separating them from a losing record is the largest comeback in Frank Beamer’s tenure.
Slow starts are nothing new to those who follow the maroon and orange, but the first 12 minutes against Duke were as bad as it gets.
With 3:12 left on the clock in the first quarter, the Hokies found themselves down 20-0. Tech had given up more penalty yards than they had gained offensively. The offense had given up six points, while scoring zero. They had run eight plays in 12 minutes.
To the leaders of the team, all this meant was they had three quarters to turn it around.
“One thing that coach has been preaching all week is that once a play is over, it’s over. There is no sense in getting down on yourself or moping about it,” said senior linebacker Bruce Taylor. “It’s easier said than done, but our guys did great.”
Earlier in the week at a team meeting, quarterback Logan Thomas spoke to the team about the importance of not giving up.
“If things don’t go right at first, just hang in there and keep playing,” Beamer said, referring to Thomas’ speech.
Naturally, panic has taken over Blacksburg in the past few weeks. The fan base, which over the years has become content watching its team falter early only to respond strongly, is scarred.
Sure, the Duke game (at least the final three quarters) offered reassurance of what kind of team the Hokies can have, but therein lies the problem. The fans know how talented this team can be, they have seen glimpses of it throughout the season, so they want to know why this team is struggling to beat mediocre opponents?
To summarize an answer that could fill an encyclopedia: it’s inconsistency.
Saturday’s game against Duke was just a microcosm for how this season has been.
In the first quarter, the Duke offense was marching at will against Tech. The D-line was unable to establish pressure, the defensive backs were getting beat downfield, and the squad as a whole was missing tackles.
The offense was not any better. They were unable to get a ground game going, and they became predictable in their play calling. The Lane Stadium crowd finally let out a cheer for the first time late in the quarter, probably in sarcastic nature, after a Tech first down, the only thing for which the fans were able to cheer. The revamped offense struggled to find its identity, and things went from bad to worse to unbearable, then — just like that — something changed.
The offense was able to run the ball effectively, setting up big passes downfield. Defensive pressure wreaked havoc on the Duke offense for the remainder of the game, resulting in minus-two yards of offense for the Blue Devils in the third quarter. The crowd was back in full support of the team, giving the D a standing ovation after a three-and-out, one that included two sacks and a forced fumble.
As the team goes, so do the fans.
The next three games are the Hokies’ toughest of the season. The answer to one question will determine the remainder of the season for the team — which team will show up?
To beat Clemson, Miami and Florida State, the first two of which take place on the road, will require a total team effort for all 60 minutes of play.
Though its record may lead some to believe otherwise, Duke is a very average football team. The early 20-point deficit could have easily been greater, and it was not inconceivable to see the Hokies coming back against the Blue Devils. It will be nearly impossible to do so in their upcoming games if they fall behind so early and by such a margin.
“It’s going to be fun. These are the games that I look forward to,” Taylor said. “You’re only the best if you can beat the best. These next three games are probably the best three opponents we have and if we come out with wins against those three we will be sitting pretty nicely.”
The Hokies sit at 4-3. Their toughest three games and their biggest rival sit ahead of them. Their bowl-streak is on the line. They can still make the ACC Championship game. Heck, if they play near perfect football, their ten-win season streak may be salvaged — by no means is the season anywhere near over.