Things went sideways for Virginia Tech in Lane Stadium Saturday night. What could have been a competitive game against Clemson turned into a demoralizing 31-17 loss. The last thing they want to do, though, is let the Tigers beat them twice.
When the coaches went through the film, they focused on those plays that failed because of Hokie mistakes, rather than outstanding plays from Clemson.
"Certainly there were things in all three phases of the game that we wish we had done differently or handled differently or played differently," head coach Justin Fuente said. "I think when we met yesterday, we tried to highlight the things that had nothing to do with Clemson. They made enough plays on their own and we knew that going in and there were several examples of us not doing things well that had everything to do with us and nothing to do with them. That was probably the most disappointing thing overall, because we knew they were going to make plays. You know, there are mistakes and forced mistakes and they’re going to force you into mistakes and make plays."
It probably doesn't come as a surprise to regular observers of this team that many of the problems started up front. That wasn't the only area VT screwed up on offense, though, and offense wasn't the only phase of the team that struggled.
"We didn’t block on the backside of 17 [quarterback Josh Jackson], we didn’t fan when they were in an odd front, we didn’t catch the ball before turning to run up field," he listed. "I mean there is a litany of things in there and again it’s shared. Because those are the three things I mentioned, it doesn’t mean that it belongs to one group or one side of the ball or one person. That’s on all of us and obviously me as the head coach to give us the best chance to win with what we got. In order for us to do that we can’t make those simple mistakes.
“I would have to say that we should have played better at every single position. I mean at quarterback, offensive line, defensive line, linebacker, defensive back, and punter. Greg Stroman at punt returner was probably as good as you could get. Other than that I would give our team a very average grade."
A "very average grade" isn't going to cut it against the defending national champs - who just so happen to the be the No. 2 team in the land, as well. Each mistake in this game was punished, and when Clemson punishes you, they have the weapons to make the form of that punishment a touchdown.
However, there's no going back and undoing those mistakes. The key is to learn from them, and to avoid them in the future. Even if upcoming opponents won't have the ability to bury the Hokies with a mistake here and a mistake there, the goal is to not have to count on that. Indeed, the lessons learned from Saturday's game could be relevant if VT manages to earn a rematch with Clemson in the ACC Championship Game.
"When you’re faced with adversity and outcomes that you don’t particularly want or didn’t aspire to, you have two options," Fuente said. "You can react and go the wrong way or you can respond to the situation and hopefully we’ll have a great week of preparation and do a good job responding.
"We had a good workout Sunday. I think our kids understand the challenges in front of them. None of them are happy about what happened. My message was 'don’t even walk in here feeling sorry for yourself. Nobody’s going to feel sorry for us and it’s up to us to change the situation we’re in.' I think they heard that and I’m looking forward to seeing them the rest of the week."
With Boston College up next, Virginia Tech will have to maintain focus when the quality of opposition isn't to the same standard. That can be a challenge of its own, but if the team can respond the way Fuente is preaching, it should be one they can conquer.