September 11, 2010
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James Madison 21, Virginia Tech 16. Congratulations, James Madison, on arguably the biggest win in school history. For everyone else – Virginia Tech, the ACC in general on a rough day for the conference, and Boise State by proxy – welcome to catastrophe.
Virginia Tech has made its living for a long, long time now on the "Lunch Pail" and "Beamer Ball" reputations, as an unspectacular but disciplined team that shows up every week, leans on defense and special teams, makes the most of its opportunities and doesn't do anything to get itself beat on offense. That formula hasn't meant much in big games over the years, but it has bought the Hokies three ACC championships and six straight top-20 finishes since 2004. It's why they're consistently regarded as the best team in the conference, year-in and year-out.
That wasn't the face they showed in Monday night's gaffe-filled loss to Boise State, and it most certainly wasn't the face they showed today in the undisputed upset of the early season. It's not like James Madison handed Tech its head or anything – the Dukes were outgained by 125 yards and didn't force a single Hokie punt. But they didn't turn it over, either, compared to three giveaways by Virginia Tech. And they took advantage of their few opportunities by closing out a pair of sustained drives in the second half with two touchdowns, thanks in no small part to penalties on the Hokie defense that extended both drives.
Every single one of Tech's offensive drives crossed into JMU territory, but following a 94-yard touchdown march to open the game, none of them ended in the end zone. The special teams got into the act by roughing JMU's punter in a last-gasp attempt at a block – their second straight game with a roughing the punter penalty – slamming the door on a miracle comeback. Every "Beamer Ball" stereotype was turned on its head, none of them in more dramatic fashion than the final score.
It's probably not too early to declare this the upset of the entire season in college football – the Dukes become the second I-AA/FCS team in history to knock off a ranked team, joining Appalachian State's epic stunner at Michigan in 2007 – and if the Hokies still have some life with the entire ACC schedule in front of them, it's not a stretch to say they look like a truly awful team right now. All things considered, a sloppy letdown at the hands of a I-AA patsy in the home opener must stand as the single worst loss of Beamer's 23-year tenure. Wherever they go from here, that stain isn't going away.
It's not going to go away for Boise State, either, which was counting on the Labor Day triumph over the Hokies to stand as the crown jewel in its case to play in the BCS title game if the Broncos run the table on another 12-0 season. A last-minute, three-point escape over a clearly overrated team that couldn't put away James Madison isn't going to cut it.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.