When a football team loses to a hated rival 38-17, as the Hokies did to Clemson on Saturday, it’s normally time to panic.
Instead, I feel a strange sense of calm about the whole situation. Part of it is undoubtedly the context of the season; had this loss been the team’s first defeat instead of its fourth, my attitude would be wildly different.
Rather than focus on the negatives, I instead see the positives. Sure, the offense was disappointing after a hot start. And yes, the defense did allow 38 points, but that’s not all there was to this game.
The defense in particular deserves a lot of credit. Allowing nearly 40 points may look bad, but when you consider that seven came on an interception return, the referees suddenly forgot how football was played, and that Clemson regularly started with the ball near midfield due to poor punting and offensive execution, those 38 points don’t look so ugly.
My focus is instead on how well they played early on, coming out with a passion, and forcing two sacks on the Tigers’ first drive and forcing an interception on the next one. Although the defensive line’s play declined as the game went on, it was still encouraging to see that last week’s stellar performance against Duke wasn’t exactly a fluke.
Even the secondary seemed to carry over their improvements. Antone Exum in particular looked solid, even though he was frequently charged with covering the explosive Sammy Watkins. Watkins finished with 84 yards receiving, which isn’t great, but is certainly less damaging than what he did to the team last season.
The offense is another story. Logan Thomas again had his moments, particularly in the running game as he led the team with nearly one hundred years and a touchdown, but showed his same poor mechanics that led to the costly turnovers.
The running game took two steps back after taking a giant leap forward last week, but it’s not entirely the players’ fault. For once, they at least gave J.C. Coleman a chance to find a rhythm, but he didn’t do much with his 12 carries. Tony Gregory and Martin Scales both looked effective in limited action, but once again, their use was frustratingly inconsistent.
Scales’ role is one of the most frustrating things about this team for me. After opening the game with a touchdown, and then getting the ball back after Tajh Boyd threw an interception, the Hokies had a real chance to take control of the game. Rather than risk a long field goal, Frank Beamer made the right call in going for it on 4th and 1 on Clemson’s 18-yard line.
However, things went horribly wrong when Mike O’Cain/Bryan Stinespring managed to pick both the wrong play and the wrong player for the situation when they called a slow developing shotgun run for Michael Holmes to try and pick up the first.
Why on earth do they not run an I-form play with the gigantic Scales, a runner that averaged 6.8 yards per carry on the day? Or even the familiar “Thomas up the middle” play that so effective last year.
It was just more of the same for this year: incompetent coaches undermine decent personnel.
And that’s why I can’t be so angry about this loss. It certainly would’ve been nice to get a win here, but not essential for the team’s bowl hopes, and it provides mounting evidence of the team’s larger problems.
I only hope that Coach Beamer can focus on the good things to build on for next year, while noting the problems that have dragged this team down this season.