Takeaways from Hokies' Saturday night loss at Miami

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By Jimmy Robertson

BLACKSBURG – The Virginia Tech football program saw its hopes of a second straight Coastal Division crown dashed Saturday evening following an ugly 28-10 loss to Miami down in South Florida.

Tech simply committed too many turnovers, missed on a couple of opportunities and made a few costly mistakes on defense, and thus, the Hokies fell to 7-2 overall, 3-2 in ACC play. Tech also dropped four spots in both The Associated Press poll and the USA Today coaches poll to No. 17, while the unbeaten ’Canes moved to 8-0, 6-0 in league play and to No. 7 in the AP poll (No. 6 in the coaches poll).

It turned out to be a nightmarish 24 hours for the Hokies. In addition to losing the game, they twice tried to land in Roanoke on the return trip home, but were unable to do so because of a thick fog blanketing the area. They wound up being diverted to Raleigh, North Carolina, where they sat until daylight in hopes of getting a better weather window. Alas, another attempt to land in Roanoke failed, and the travel party found itself at the Tri-Cities Airport in Bristol, Tennessee, where it bused the remainder of the way and arrived in Blacksburg a little after 3 p.m.

Now, a tired squad needs to prepare for a Georgia Tech group fighting for bowl eligibility. The Hokies travel to Atlanta next Saturday to face the Yellow Jackets, who need to win two of their final three games to become bowl eligible – a slate that includes the Hokies, Duke and Georgia.

First, though, what happened Saturday night in beautiful Hard Rock Stadium? For a little more detail, here are the takeaways:

Too many big plays for Miami – As stated in the “Things to Watch” posted Saturday morning, Miami came into the game with 55 plays of 20 yards or more. The ’Canes thrive on big plays, and Tech’s defense needed to limit those.

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Miami finished with six plays of 20 yards or more. Included among those were a 64-yard touchdown run, a 43-yard touchdown pass, a 42-yard pass, a 36-yard run, a 24-yard pass and a 20-yard pass. Those accounted for 229 of Miami’s 429 yards of offense.

Interestingly, Miami ran only 58 plays and gained 200 yards on its 52 other plays (3.85 yards per play), but those six were the difference in the game.

“That was the thing that we knew that they relied upon going into this game, and we couldn’t allow them to have success running the football, which they did – which was disappointing,” Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster said afterward. “Then No. 2, we knew they were going to take some shots down the field. They did. We had some opportunities. We had a couple of picks as well, but you have to give Miami a lot of credit. They played their best football game tonight. We weren’t as sharp for whatever reason – we missed tackles, we didn’t fit our gaps like we had the previous few weeks, and that was disappointing.”

Too few big plays for Tech – The Hokies actually ran 17 more plays than Miami and held the ball for nearly six more minutes than the ’Canes, but Tech’s offense has struggled to make big plays consistently of late. The Hokies had just three plays of 20 yards or more against Miami.

The opportunities were there. Miami plays a lot of man-to-man coverage, but as head coach Justin Fuente put things afterward, the Hokies’ receivers didn’t win enough off one-on-one matchups, and also, at times, poor protection didn’t allow for enough time for the play to develop.

This is where Tech really misses Isaiah Ford and Bucky Hodges. Those two possessed the size, speed and ball skills to be a constant threat down the field. Cam Phillips gives this year’s team that ability to an extent, but finding a couple of more with those skills remains a work in progress.

Third-quarter possession changed the game – Tech found itself in perfect position to change the complexion of the game in the third quarter. A Reggie Floyd interception led to a Josh Jackson touchdown run that cut the lead to 14-10, and then a Greg Stroman interception gave the Hokies the ball at their own 45.

Travon McMillian’s 15-yard run put the Hokies in Miami territory at the 40. Tech got to the 32, but rather than attempt a 49-yard field goal, Fuente elected to go for it on fourth-and-2.

Unfortunately, Tech center Eric Gallo either didn’t hear Josh Jackson or heard him too late. The snap hit Sean Savoy, who was coming in motion, and that threw off the timing of the play. Jackson recovered the errant ball, but Tech lost seven yards on the play, giving the ball to Miami on downs.

Two plays later, sandwiched around a questionable personal foul penalty on Floyd, Miami scored on a touchdown pass to take a 21-10 lead. Things went downhill from there for the maroon and orange.

It’s easy to see why Fuente went for it on fourth down there. Tech had the momentum, and a touchdown there gives it the lead, while also putting Miami on its heels. Even if the drive later ends in a field goal, it continues the momentum. There was a lot to like about the call – just not the execution.

Phillips nearing record – Lost in all the storylines following the game was Phillips’ 107-yard performance. He now needs just 106 yards to break Ford’s record for career receiving yardage (2,967 yards).

In a way, it’s amazing that he stands even within striking distance. He came into the season with just two 100-yard receiving games, and Saturday night’s performance marked his fourth this season. Yet he consistently, almost quietly, catches balls and racks up yards.

Hokie Nation should enjoy watching Phillips chase the record over the next game or two. Barring injury, he could wind up with the career record for both catches and yards – making him arguably the best receiver in school history.

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