CLEMSON, S.C.— As golf carts transported Virginia Tech assistant coaches from the press box to the locker room Saturday, Mike O'Cain stared straight ahead and gnawed on his finger nails. Colleague John Candelas sat inches nearby on the back of the cart, but O'Cain never spoke.
The man who calls the Hokies' plays on offense and coaches their quarterbacks had, and has, much to contemplate.
- Bio | E-mail | Recent columns
- ACC All Access: Virginia Tech's offensive shortcomings ensure its inability to grab momentum
- Teel Time: Virginia Tech defense at its best in loss to Clemson
- PICTURES: Clemson 38, Virginia Tech 17
- College Football
- Virginia Tech Hokies
See more topics »
Memorial Stadium, Clemson, S.C.
Facing one of college football's most potent attacks, Tech's defense bordered on brilliant. The Hokies limited the Tigers to 295 yards, 131 below their previous low and 231 below their average. They sacked Tajh Boyd five times.
That wasn't nearly good enough, because after a textbook, 58-yard touchdown drive to open the proceedings, Tech's offense floundered against an opponent that began the day ranked 97th nationally in total defense and 69th in scoring defense.
"We played better than 17 points," quarterback Logan Thomas said, citing the Hokies' 406 yards.
No they didn't.
Thomas threw two interceptions, one of which Jonathan Meeks returned 74 yards for a second-quarter touchdown and 17-7 lead. Thomas also overthrew a wide-open Dyrell Roberts on a third-quarter pass that could (should?) have produced a tying touchdown from 71 yards out.
And that wasn't all.
Leading 7-0 in the first quarter, Tech drove to a fourth-and-a-long-1 from Clemson's 18. Michael Holmes, an odd choice in any short-yardage situation, and especially since he'd gained just a yard on third-and-2, was stuffed.
The coup de grace came midway through the fourth quarter with the Hokies down 31-17. On a first-and-10 from his own 37, O'Cain called for a wide receiver pass by Marcus Davis, a play Tech had attempted in the first half, only to have Thomas' lateral to Davis fall out-of-bounds.
The second attempt smacked of desperation, and 14th-ranked Clemson wasn't fooled in the least. A defensive back pressured Davis, whose across-the-field rainbow was intercepted by Xavier Brewer.
Blame O'Cain for the call and Beamer for not vetoing.
"I don't want to say it's a hope-and-a-prayer," O'Cain said. "You're basing it on some things they've done, but they have to play it the way you think they're going to play it. Sometimes plays like that, they can be really big (or) they can be really bad. You've got to take those chances at times."
Not at that time, and not in this season, when the Hokies (4-4, 2-2 ACC) simply aren't talented enough to overcome many mistakes.
As Tech faithful know all too well, this isn't a matter of nit-picking specific calls, no matter how inexplicable. This is about the program's history of offensive struggles.
But even with the Hokies saddled with their worst eight-game record since 1992, and even with five extra days to prepare for a Nov. 1 Thursday-nighter at Miami, Beamer and O'Cain, at least publicly, insist now this isn't the time for reflection and/or change.
"It's not a matter of re-evaluating what we're doing," O'Cain said. "It's just a matter of doing what we're doing better."
Clemson (6-1, 3-1) sure seems to know precisely that Tech is doing. In three games in the last two seasons, the Tigers have rolled the Hokies 99-30, 62-7 after halftime.
Sure, Beamer and the staff can lament the punt that bounced off redshirt freshman Christian Reeves and set up a 26-yard Clemson touchdown drive. And they can roll their eyes at two dubious third-quarter whistles, the first a phantom sack of Thomas that cost Tech a first down, the second an apparent fumble on which replay officials ruled confirmed the on-field call that Clemson's Sammy Watkins was down.
"When the ball doesn't bounce your way, or a call doesn't go your way, it's just something you have to live with," Beamer said. "Keep working, and keep getting better, and that's what we plan to do."
Indeed. Moreover, such bad breaks don't mask the Hokies' issues on offense.
"We've just got to eliminate the mistakes and turnovers, and we'll be just fine," Thomas said.
No they won't. This season already has dipped below program standards.
As cornerback Antone Exum noted, the crazy thing is, Tech can still represent the weak Coastal Division in the ACC championship game for the sixth time in eight years. But even that wouldn't mollify frustrated fans.
Nor should it.