Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Virginia Tech season football opener against Boise State: Outcome was not shocking or unexpected

LANDOVER, Md. -- The temptation is to say this was shocking. But it wasn't shocking. None of it.

Disappointing for Virginia Tech? Yes. Frustrating for the Hokies? Again.

But not shocking.

The Hokies look like the team we thought they'd be: Strong on offense, iffy on defense and untested in the kicking game. And against a top-five team such as Boise State -- who came in here and played a physical brand of football belying their reputation -- the Tech errors took their toll.

Even the way it ended, with Kellen Moore finding Austin Pettis wide open in the back of the end zone with 1:09 remaining for the final touchdown, was reminiscent of something we've seen before.

It was Matt Ryan-esque.

The early 17-0 deficit? Kansas in the Orange Bowl.

Virginia Tech's problem used to be the end of the season. Now it's the beginning. Specifically, in this 33-30 loss to Boise State on Monday, it was an opening-quarter performance that resembled a Division I-AA team facing one of college football's big boys.

And then it was a leaky defense on Boise's final drive of the game.

In between, we saw moments of brilliance from Tyrod Taylor and Ryan Williams, a big receiving game from Jarrett Boykin and occasional glimpses at Tech's defensive potential.

Tech's biggest gaffes came early, though. The Hokies committed penalties. They bit on play fakes. They had a punt blocked. Their running game in the first half averaged 1.9 yards per carry, when you take sacks into account.

But it was funny, in a way. Maybe the tailgate spirits just hadn't worn off yet, but there was no major panic from the pro-Tech crowd of more than 85,000 when the Hokies fell behind 17-0 a little more than 14 minutes in. Fans still danced during timeouts, waved their arms for the cameras, seemed to be enjoying themselves.

Perhaps that's because Tech's identity has changed. We'll have to wait until December to know whether that's a good thing or not, but everything that used to be a given -- that Tech would never rally from down 17, for example -- no longer is. The Hokies were never out of this one, despite their first-quarter futility.

Still, the flip side is this: All the concerns about Tech's retooled defense were warranted, and the special teams continue to harm as much as help. As a result, momentum could swing wildly all year when the Hokies match up with strong teams.

Leads might dissolve in 38 seconds -- like what happened Monday night.

"When it's all said and done," coach Frank Beamer said. "We were one first down away from winning that football game."

True. But they could not get it. Leading by four and facing third-and-long with the clock approaching 2 minutes, the Hokies went for the kill. Quarterback Taylor fired up a deep pass down the right sideline for Boykin, who couldn't quite get to it.

With no timeouts left, Boise took over at its own 44 and needed only five plays to score. Another big penalty -- this one a late hit by Bruce Taylor, who seemed unsure whether Pettis had stepped out of bounds -- aided the march.

That set up the final throw, which left most at FedEx Field silent but hardly shocked.

For the Hokies to make something out of this season, a few more preseason assumptions will have to be proven right. Tech's defense will need to get better each week. The kicking game will need to improve under the bright lights and perform better than it did on Monday.

Don't be shocked if that happens, either.

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