HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — The locker room seemed curiously quiet after a game whose outcome was never in doubt. But in many ways, Virginia Tech's 30-10 win at Marshall on Saturday fell short of satisfying the Hokies, as they realize how much better they must play in this week's ACC opener against Clemson.
One of the voices who everybody heard in the locker room belonged to inside linebacker Bruce Taylor. He addressed the team, hoping to convey the sense of urgency the 13th-ranked Hokies need to feel even after finishing 4-0 in the less-than-challenging non-conference part of their schedule.
"We've got a chance to do something special here," he recalled telling his teammates. "So if everybody is not coming out and doing their best and we end up getting beat by somebody when we should have won, you're going to look back at the season and know that if we would have done this or would have done that, we would be in a better position."
It was a preventative speech, Taylor said, and while he didn't bring up last season's 0-2 start and 11-game winning streak that followed, the regret and what-ifs of 2010 may still be somewhere in this team's consciousness. That group was left wondering, after the streak, what might have happened if it played so well from the get-go. These players remember that feeling. They don't want to relive it as they begin their chase of a fifth ACC championship in eight seasons in the league.
They face one of the ACC's most talented teams in their conference opener. Clemson on Saturday improved to 4-0 by beating Florida State 35-30. The Seminoles, who didn't have quarterback E.J. Manuel, were the preseason favorites to win the ACC. Tech head coach Frank Beamer said his players "understand what's coming to Blacksburg" this Saturday.
That's step one. The next part is harder: fixing the consistency issues — especially with offense and kicking — that left their locker room so quiet Saturday.
"When you do things well, if you can do them well one time, you can do them well every time," Beamer said.
Tech's defense remains solid, as it allowed 251 yards against Marshall. But the Thundering Herd picked on redshirt freshman cornerback Detrick Bonner during its only touchdown drive — a three-play, 71-yarder at the end of the first half. Bonner was in the game because All-American Jayron Hosley's foot "was a little bit messed up," Beamer said. No other details were available afterward.
Tech can ill afford an injury to Hosley. Its receiving group, once the deepest part of the team, also was thinned by injury. Top target Jarrett Boykin stayed home with a hamstring injury, but is expected to return for Clemson. Then Marcus Davis sprained his foot in the first half Saturday. X-rays were negative.
Even if Davis is fine — and he returned to the game briefly — Tech still has to finish possessions. In the first half, the Hokies scored touchdowns on three of their first four drives, and got a field goal on their fifth. In the second half, they got one touchdown. The results of their other drives: punt, missed field goal, punt, interception and lost fumble at Marshall's 14-yard line.
Tech's offense gained 444 yards and would have scored more than 30 points if not for the missed opportunities. Last week against Arkansas State, the offense gained 427 yards but scored 24 points. Quarterback Logan Thomas had two interceptions in that game and now has as many picks as touchdown passes — four.
Cody Journell also missed a field goal against Arkansas State is now 4-of-7 this season, though he hit a season-long 41-yarder Saturday. Beamer called the kicking game "disappointing," and that includes punter Scott Demler, who was replaced after two punts by wide receiver Danny Coale.
Coale's seven catches for 107 yards contributed to Tech's once-again gaudy yardage number, but ...
"We can't score points," Coale said, chiming in before the question was finished. "It's kind of frustrating. We need to take care of the ball better and we need to capitalize on those opportunities we have, because as play gets better here, we can't miss those opportunities."
• Read Darryl Slater's Virginia Tech blog at vteffect.com