- - Sunday, October 27, 2013

BLACKSBURG, Va. — Virginia Tech outgained Duke by nearly 200 yards, held the ball nearly 20 minutes longer, picked off four passes and did not permit a single third-down conversion.

And lost. How odd. Let’s try this again.

Virginia Tech coughed up four interceptions in varied and comical fashion, converted just 4 of 18 third down attempts and missed a pair of field goals.

And could not possibly have won. Perhaps that best explains how Virginia Tech finally got burned in a humiliating 13-10 loss after playing with fire all season.

The Hokies made mistakes on Saturday that they had avoided for much of the season. Coach Frank Beamer didn’t have many answers after the game and said he and the coaching staff will be spending a lot of time in the film room figuring out what went wrong.

“We’ll go back and look at the video and I think we’ll see some opportunities that we didn’t take advantage of,” Beamer said.

What happened on those third downs?

“We’ll look back and see that we could have made a lot more plays, I think,” Beamer said.

What went wrong for Logan Thomas, who had gone a career-best 116 attempts without throwing an interception before tossing four against Duke?

“We’ll look at the video and see what exactly took place,” Beamer said. “It was a tough one there.”

Virginia Tech had been surviving this season with an offense that did just barely enough to win games served up by its lights-out defense. In doing so, the Hokies avoided turnovers and took advantage of the many occasions when the defense spotted the offense good field position.

Duke came into the game averaging more than 35 points and 450 yards per game. The Blue Devils were held to 13 points and a mere 199 yards and were 0 of 11 on third down. Two of their scoring drives covered 22 and 35 yards and resulted in field goals in excess of 50 yards. It was the first time this season that a BCS-conference team converted two such field goals.

“We played hard for four quarters but sometimes maybe the best team doesn’t win,” Hokies defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. “I think today was one of those days.”

In truth, Duke managed just one sustained scoring drive, covering 63 yards on six plays. But even then, 25 yards and two first downs came on pass interference and holding penalties against the Hokies defense.

When Anthony Boone scrambled for a nine-yard touchdown, it gave Duke a 13-0 lead, which had the feeling of being insurmountable, given Thomas’ relapse into poor decision-making and errant throws.

Thomas’ interceptions came in several different forms. One was a 10-yard overthrow, one was a poor decision throwing into double-coverage in the end zone and two were balls batted in the air.

“Well, we didn’t do our most important job,” Hokies offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler said. “We didn’t take care of the football. … Any time you don’t take care of the football, you don’t win the game.”

It was an unfortunate turn of events, considering freshman cornerback Kendall Fuller was having the game of his life. He accounted for three of Duke’s four interceptions while playing his brother Kyle’s position on one week of practice. Kyle Fuller missed Saturday’s game with a hamstring injury.

Senior captain Jack Tyler spent the postgame blaming himself and his defensive teammates for giving up the third-quarter touchdown. It was the kind of thing one would expect from a diplomat attempting to maintain harmony by not casting blame on the other side of the ball.

“If we don’t let them score, we win that game,” Tyler said. “That’s the part that’s really getting at me.”

Noble words, but Loeffler knows his offense — which was bailed out by the defense in wins at East Carolina and Georgia Tech — finally paid the price for its tightrope act.

“There’s a fine line between winning and losing and we’ve been walking that line,” he said. “Today, our kids learned how important the details are.”

The loss dropped Virginia Tech to 6-2 overall and 3-1 in ACC play. If there is a silver lining, it is this: Though it will be remembered as the Hokies’ first loss to Duke in 32 years, they remain in control of their Coastal Division destiny by winning their remaining games, including a trip to Miami on Nov. 9.

“Really, we have everything we want in front of us still,” Tyler said. “We can still go to the ACC championship. We can still achieve those goals. We’re just going to have to play a lot better, get a lot better, work harder and do the little things right.”

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