By HANK KURZ Jr., AP Sports Writer
BLACKSBURG, Va. —
Virginia Tech’s goals for the season have withered greatly. What started as hopes of contending for the national championship or at least the ACC title have been reduced to merely qualifying for a bowl game.
The Hokies (4-5, 2-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) need to win two of their last three to become bowl eligible for the 20th season in a row. and with No. 8 Florida State coming to town Thursday night, coach Frank Beamer is putting the focus on “team” and not looking back or pointing fingers, but getting better.
Virginia Tech has struggled in all three phases of the game at times this season, rarely seeing its offense produce points, its defense make stops and its special teams excel all in the same game.
In the Hokies’ 30-12 loss to Miami on Thursday night, the offense controlled the ball for 35 minutes, but couldn’t score. Special teams breakdowns set the Hurricanes up for two short touchdown drives.
“We win as a football team. If it doesn’t go over well, it’s as a football team,” Beamer said when asked if the reliable defense needs to do more to prop up the other units. “We have had some great opportunities and have had a lot of yards we just didn’t capitalize on points down at Miami. We are a football team in every sense.
“Defense, offense and special teams work together to win and if it is not going well, we stay as a team.”
The loss at Miami eliminated the Hokies from extending their string of eight consecutive 10-win seasons — the longest in the nation — and now Beamer is calling on his team to play for pride and a bowl berth.
The Seminoles (8-1, 5-1), though, will likely be the best opponent the Hokies face all season,
Florida State leads the nation in total defense, allowing just 227 yards per game, and is ranked third in scoring at 44.78 points per game.
The Seminoles are also well-rested, having had last weekend off.
Quarterback E.J. Manuel, a Virginia Beach native who never gave the school in Blacksburg much thought during his recruitment process, expects a charged atmosphere at Lane Stadium, and an inspired opponent.
“We would be fools to think that we are not going to get their best game of the year,” he said. “They may have played not as good as they usually played in years past, but I don’t think we are going to see the same team that we see on film the last couple of weeks. We are going to see a great team, extreme energy, guys flying around getting to the ball fast. That’s what I have been telling my teammates.”
The loss to Miami took some time to get over, wide receiver Corey Fuller said.
“Everybody just had their head down, like, ‘Wow. We can’t believe it,”’ he said. “But now it’s like, OK, we still need to make a bowl game and we still need to play for our pride. We don’t want to just throw in the towel and be like, OK, we give up. So we’re still playing for our pride and for a bowl game.
“And we feel like we can bounce back.”
So does Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher, who sounded a lot like Beamer when he said that with a few bounces going differently here or there, a lot of things might be different for the Hokies, and a lot of other teams.
“They haven’t had a good break here or there. They’ve played some good teams and guys have made plays or haven’t been there at the right time and that’s the difference,” the third-year head coach said.
Hokies cornerback Kyle Fuller, like Beamer, has seen what the Hokies can be when they play the way they can, and holds out hope that they can put it all together, maybe even on Thursday night.
“Second half of the Duke game,” he said of the Hokies’ 41-20 victory in a game they trailed 20-2 after 12 minutes. “I feel like there were plenty of parts in the Miami game that we played Virginia Tech football. Like I said, we just weren’t able to finish and get it done. But we’ve definitely had spurts.
“We have the talent on this team to do that, and we just have to do it.”