MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. - There was no escaping the magnitude of Thursday night's tilt at Miami. Coming off a bye, Virginia Tech coaches and players said they all knew what meaning the game would have for the winner and loser.
Unfortunately for the Hokies, they didn't follow through with their aspirations to keep their ACC championship hopes alive. For the first time since 1992, they sit below .500 as the Hurricanes struggled to pull away before eventually doing so late with a 30-12 win.
"I don't fault our effort," coach Frank Beamer said. "I do fault our execution. For whatever reason, we're having trouble putting it together. When you play a team game, everybody's got to be together. We're a little bit off here and a little bit off there and the end result is you don't do things to win a football game."
Virginia Tech again couldn't put a complete game together, letting mistakes again get the best of them.
The Hokies looked good to start on offense, driving to the Miami 20. But an interception by junior quarterback Logan Thomas quickly ended the scoring chance. Thomas had senior fullback Joey Phillips open on a wheel route, but didn't lob the ball enough and was picked off by Miami junior cornerback Ladarius Gunter.
The Hurricanes went three and out, but forced the same of Virginia Tech on their ensuing drive. The Hokies again showed Beamer Ball is a thing of the past, as freshman A.J. Hughes had his punt blocked by freshman linebacker Gabriel Terry and returned to the Virginia Tech 16 after a scramble for the ball.
Two plays later, Miami junior quarterback Stephen Morris found junior Allen Hurns in the end zone for a 16-yard touchdown pass and a 7-0 lead.
The Hokies responded with a 22-yard field goal by junior Cody Journell with 2:14 left in the first quarter, but watched as freshman Duke Johnson returned the resulting kickoff 81 yards to the Virginia Tech 19 yard-line. Again, two plays later, the Hurricanes capitalized with a 16-yard touchdown pass from Morris to senior running back Mike James.
Despite the early hole, a recurring theme this season, the Hokies quickly responded. Thomas ran a draw play up a wide open middle of the field and went untouched, 73 yards for a touchdown, the longest run of his career.
But big plays by Miami and missed tackles and coverage by Virginia Tech resulted in a pair of field goals by the Hurricanes, from 22 and 31 yards. The Hokies drove 57 yards in 10 plays and 3:28, but were held out of the end zone on five plays inside the 10 yard-line and settled for a 20-yard field goal by Journell as time expired in the first half to make the score 20-12.
Neither team could get anything going on the scoreboard in the third quarter, but Virginia Tech looked like it had something going to start the fourth quarter. Faced with fourth down and two at the Miami 39 yard-line, Thomas overthrew Phillips, who was wide open in the left flat.
The Hurricanes were simply biding their time, toying with the Hokies. Following a wide receiver-option pass down to the Virginia Tech seven yard-line, freshman running back Duke Johnson punched in a touchdown from seven yards, just crossing the goal line with 7:38 left in the game to put Miami up 27-12.
The Hurricanes connected on a 37-yard field goal with 2:54 left in the game for the final tally.
In their final two chances of the night, Thomas threw incomplete on fourth down and long, followed by an interception by Thomas with 2:26 to play.
"I've always said there's a thin line between being okay and not okay," Beamer said. "I think sometimes you just assume you should win 10 games and that should happen. But it just doesn't happen."
Virginia Tech, now 4-5 overall and 2-3 in the ACC, has another Thursday date a week from today, back home against Florida State.