Saturday, November 03, 2012

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Hokies more than just four or five plays away;

This week's Q&A-Mac is brought to you by Virginia Tech football: Still only "four or five plays away!"

Q: Oh, no. Frank Beamer didn't go there again, did he? After losing 30-12 on Thursday night at Miami?

A: He went there. The exact quote: "It hurts because we're so close. You take away four or five plays, and all of a sudden that gets the game going the other way." Of all the familiar postgame talking points - decrying the "execution," a lack of clarity in the running game, etc. - the "four or five plays" thing is the most disappointing.

Q: Agreed. Couldn't any losing team say that they're four or five plays away? I mean, isn't that how football goes?

A: Yes. Repeating this mantra serves no substantive purpose. Think about it: The Hokies lost by 18 points at Pittsburgh, 14 points at North Carolina, 21 points at Clemson and now 18 to Miami. The only loss you could realistically say they were very close to avoiding was Cincinnati, a three-point Tech defeat that came down to the final minute.

Q: So why does Beamer keep saying they're close?

A: Habit. He's treating these losses the same way he treated losses in the past: as aberrations, as learning opportunities that can be springboards to improvement. The problem is the issues are bigger than that here. I'll buy they were a play or two away against Michigan in last year's Sugar Bowl or against Boise State in 2010, but I watched that Pitt game this year. It wasn't a contest.

Q: So what's Beamer supposed to do? Abandon all optimism, throw up his hands and say, "We stink"?

A: Of course not. Well, maybe a little of that last part. Just own it. Admit the team's a lot farther away from where it needs to be than four or five plays. Don't act like fans can't see the games.

Q: So which commonwealth team has been more disappointing this year: Tech or UVa?

A: The impulse is to say the Hokies, just because more was expected of them. But closer inspection tips the scales to Virginia. The Cavaliers, losers of six straight, are the only ACC team without a conference win.

Not only that, they're the only team in the country that has not covered a Vegas point spread this year. If you're going to lose, at least keep it close enough to financially reward those who do still believe in you.

Q: Any chance UVa wins at N.C. State today?

A: Slight, but possible. Statistically, UVa's pass defense hasn't been as bad as many expected this year. That's the key against Wolfpack quarterback Mike Glennon, who threw for four touchdowns in the first half against North Carolina last week.

Have to get some pressure on him and hope for a few turnovers.

Q: Any good news for a UVa offense averaging only 16.8 points in conference play?

A: N.C. State's passing defense is ranked 108th in the nation. If Phillip Sims were going to have a breakout game, this would be the kind of matchup where it could happen.

Q: With three races left in the NASCAR season, the Sprint Cup championship looks to be a two-man fight. Who are you taking: Brad Keselowski or Jimmie Johnson?

A: Johnson, easily. Best closer this side of Craig Kimbrel.

Q: Comment of the week on the blog?

A: Let's go with Other John, with some sobering thoughts on the Hokies: "They are 2-7 in their last nine games against BCS-level opposition. Let that sink in, 2-7. The two wins are against Duke and Georgia Tech, and there is a good chance that neither one of them finishes better than 6-6 on the season.

"Yes, VT really is that bad this year. Finally, all of the things long-time observers have been raising red flags over have all sort of come together in a bit of a perfect storm. And the results are mighty ugly."

Q: But ... four or five plays away, right?

A: Right.

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