- - Saturday, October 8, 2011

BLACKSBURG, Va. — Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer stood in front of his players in the locker room after last Saturday’s 23-3 loss to Clemson. The room was somber, as the Hokies just lost by their second-largest margin at home in Beamer’s 25 seasons. But Beamer, ever the optimist, attempted to inject some hope.

“We’ll get them in the ACC championship game,” he told his players, referring to Clemson. “You write it down. We’ll get them in the ACC championship game.”

If the Hokies (4-1, 0-1 ACC) want to win the Coastal Division and face Clemson on Dec. 3 in Charlotte, N.C., they will need their offense to perform better in Saturday’s home game against Coastal rival Miami. A loss could severely damage the Hokies’ chances of defending their ACC title, and would be the first time under Beamer that they have started 0-2 in league play. (The Clemson loss was just Beamer’s second 0-1 league start.)

Perhaps nothing underscores Tech’s offensive shortcomings more than junior tailback David Wilson’s recent fumbling. Even Wilson, the Hokies’ best offensive player, with six yards per carry, is not immune from the offense’s problems.

Entering this season, Wilson touched the ball 226 times in his career — 172 on rushing carries, 39 on kickoff returns and 15 on catches. He fumbled just twice, but lost neither fumble — once on a rush, once on kickoff return, with both happening last season.

By the time he took a handoff in this season’s second game, at East Carolina, he had gone the first 201 carries of his career without losing a fumble. Wilson ended his streak on that third-quarter carry. Two weeks later, at Marshall, he lost another fumble. The next week, against Clemson, he lost his third fumble of the year in a span of 78 carries.

The Hokies have eight turnovers this season, including two in each of the past four games. They had 13 turnovers in 14 games last season, when their offense averaged 33.9 points (their most since 2003) and 402.3 yards (their most since 2000, Michael Vick’s final year).

To make matters worse for the Hokies, all but one of Wilson’s three fumbles and first-year starting quarterback Logan Thomas’ five interceptions have happened when Tech was threatening to get at least a field goal attempt.

Against Clemson, Thomas’ pick ended the Hokies’ first drive at Clemson’s 41-yard line. Wilson’s fumble ended their second drive at Clemson’s 48. The Hokies also reached Clemson’s 32, but punted; reached the 2, but settled for a field goal; and had first and 10 at the 18, but advanced just six yards before failing to convert on fourth down. And Tech punted on drives that reached the Clemson 35 and 45.

The problems were familiar. In the three games before Clemson, Tech scored zero points on eight possessions that ended at the opposing 6, 13, 14, 20, 23, 31, 35 and 37. The outcomes: three interceptions, two lost fumbles, two missed field goals, a punt and a surely a lot of head-shaking by Tech’s offensive coaches.

Wilson’s attitude toward his fumbles reflects the mood of Tech’s offense. He isn’t panicking about the fumbles — the first two of which stopped drives at the 14 and 23 — because he said he is carrying the ball high and tight, as he should. But he isn’t dismissing them, either.

“You get one and you’re like, ‘All right,’” he said. “You get two and you’re like, ‘Dang.’ Then the third one, it’s like, ‘All right, I’m doing something wrong.’ But it’s just the defense, they just get in the perfect position. It’s not like they just come in and muscle it out of my arms. It’s always like a helmet right on the ball or I’m running this way and somebody’s fist gets in it. But you do start to take caution now.”

• Read Darryl Slater’s Virginia Tech blog at vteffect.com