- - Saturday, October 29, 2011

DURHAM, N.C. — Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller was not always the excellent open-field tackler he is now. He admitted after Saturday’s 14-10 win at Duke that what everyone just saw took hours of practice, and that great tacklers make themselves great.

The acquired skill does, however, require a certain degree of natural intelligence, speed, vision and strength and Fuller displayed them all when making the tackle that essentially sealed the Hokies‘ ACC-record 11th consecutive road win and kept them alone atop the league’s Coastal Division heading into their off week, and the important game that follows it.

Duke trailed 14-10 when it lined up for fourth down and 2 at Tech’s 15-yard line with 4:45 left in the game. The Blue Devils had started this drive at Tech’s 34 — a prime opportunity for a touchdown.

Fuller crept toward the line. Quarterback Sean Renfree took the snap and rolled right. Renfree was expecting tailback Juwan Thompson to scoot out of the backfield for a pass. Fuller knew this, and popped Thompson on the right side of the line. Thompson fell. Fuller bounced back after the hit, to about the 10-yard line.

Renfree, seeing no open receivers, tucked the ball. He would need to run for a first down. Defensive end James Gayle chased. As Renfree tried to turn the corner, Fuller sprinted toward him. Fuller glanced to his left. He knew Renfree wasn’t close to the first-down marker. Renfree lowered his shoulder to plow over Fuller, but Fuller went lower and took out Renfree’s legs for a 3-yard loss.

The Blue Devils had one more chance with 1:43 left, but that drive petered out at their 40. So Fuller’s tackle was really the game-clincher. It’s no wonder Tech coach Frank Beamer said Fuller “gets people on the ground in the open field better than just about anybody I’ve ever seen.”

“I guess it’s starting to show that all the work I’ve put in is helping,” said Fuller, a sophomore first-year starter.

He and the 15th-ranked Hokies (8-1, 4-1 ACC) are certainly not finished products, as they prepare for a Coastal Division trip Nov. 10 to Georgia Tech. The offense was sloppy Saturday. They got to Duke’s 15 and 30 in the first half, then threw interceptions to the 2 and the end zone. They kept Duke alive in the second half, when they punted on their first five drives, the longest of which consumed nine plays and 34 yards.

The Hokies gained 433 yards — the first time they have gained 400-plus yards in four straight games since 1999, the year they played for the national championship. But they had just 132 yards in the second half, 65 of which came on their final possession before Duke’s last-ditch drive.

The scoreless second half followed three games in which Tech played well after halftime, scoring 17, 17 and 24 points to finish off wins by three, 21 and 16 points over Miami, Wake Forest and Boston College, respectively.

“Every week’s not going to be just magnificent,” said Beamer. “And this week certainly wasn’t magnificent for us. But sometimes when you can get through a game when it wasn’t so good and get a win, that’s big in the big picture.”

Fuller’s tackle underscored the resilience of Tech’s defense, which allowed 326 yards. After the Blue Devils (3-5, 1-3) cut Tech’s lead to 14-10 on a field goal with 7:31 left in the third quarter, their next four drives ended in Tech territory — at the 48, 11, 40 and 18. The results: punt, missed field goal, punt and a turnover on downs, after Fuller’s tackle. The drives covered 23, 54, 15 and 16 yards.

“I think we’re going to have to connect from all three aspects — special teams, offense and defense — to get to the next level,” said Gayle.

Tailback David Wilson, who ran for 148 yards (his second-most of the season), knew many observers expected the Hokies to crush Duke, but doesn’t think it is necessarily a bad thing that they didn’t.

“If we would’ve came up here and blown them out and then we have a bye week,” he said, “I have to feel that some of my teammates would get relaxed, like, ‘Ah, man, we’re tearing people up.’ But now that we came close to a team that we thought was going to have lower competition, so to speak, going into a bye week and then coming to Georgia Tech, we know we’re going to be working hard this week.”

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

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