MIAMI -- Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer wasn’t about to apologize.
Not for his team’s effort in a 40-12 loss to Stanford in the Discover Orange Bowl. Not for letting the ACC down -- again -- on the national stage. And not for his program’s inability to beat top-five competition more than once in the past 27 tries.
“I don’t apologize for the effort we played with,” Beamer said. “I feel bad for our football team and for our fans and for the ACC that we didn’t play better, that we didn’t function better. But I mean, the same kids that I loved before this game, I love them after. They’ve given a lot.”
He’s right, they have, and it was enough for an unprecedented turnaround in the FBS -- from 0-2 to the Orange Bowl. But Virginia Tech fans don’t want to hear that. They want to celebrate after December. Four ACC titles since joining the conference is a remarkable accomplishment, and one Beamer and his staff should be commended for. Beamer has done wonders from the program, but with that success comes a responsibility. Virginia Tech has become the face of the ACC; its best hope for the best this sport has to offer. With three trips in the past four years to the biggest game the ACC has been associated with during that span, all they’ve got to show for it is a win over Cincinnati.
Because of how far they came and where they started, most within the program, including Beamer, will still consider this season a success. And it was a good season, but it could have been great.
Virginia Tech wide receiver Danny Coale is tired of hearing about how the program has come up short in the big games, and tired of answering questions about it, but he’s too polite not to.
“I think we take it as a great privilege to represent the ACC, but in a game like this, there’s a few big plays that are going to be the deciding factor, and tonight they had the big plays that went their way and we didn’t make enough of them to make it a game,” he said. “That’s not an ACC thing, it’s a Virginia Tech thing. We didn’t play well enough.”
Not even close.
It wasn’t just that Virginia Tech lost, it was how the Hokies lost: convincingly. This team built a reputation this season on its comebacks -- not just from half to half, but from an 0-2 start to an 11-game winning streak and an ACC title. There wasn’t even a hint of a comeback, though, in the second half against Stanford. The Hokies were outscored 27-0, were manhandled up front, couldn’t run the ball, couldn’t protect their quarterback, and couldn’t stop Stanford.
Yes, Stanford and quarterback Andrew Luck are that good. But that’s part of the problem. Virginia Tech was the best team the ACC had to offer this year, and it wasn’t even close to being good enough to beat Stanford in the second half. In order for Virginia Tech, or anyone in the ACC for that matter, to start beating those top-five teams, it helps to be a top-five team -- or at least play like one when it matters most.
For all of the improvements quarterback Tyrod Taylor has made, and for all of the good he’s done for his team on and off the field, in the two losses to top-five teams this year, Virginia Tech faced quarterbacks who were even better in Luck and Kellen Moore. Stanford’s offensive line was better. The defense was smothering. Aside from a few special teams gaffes, Stanford beat the Hokies in every aspect of the game, including heart.
Running back Ryan Williams said in the second half, his team gave up.
“That’s not like Virginia Tech, at all,” he said. “I think we just lost it in our hearts to go out there and play. They wanted it more than we did.”
So did Virginia Tech fans. So did the rest of the ACC.