Virginia Tech's memorable turnaround continues
When Virginia Tech faithful look back on the Hokies' fourth ACC title in seven years, and third in the past four seasons, the first player who comes to mind will undoubtedly be quarterback Tyrod Taylor. As I wrote about in my game story, he was masterful Saturday night in Charlotte, and as a result, was named the ACC championship game MVP by a unanimous vote.
But there was more to this game than Taylor, though he was spectacular throughout. Perhaps the biggest second-half development was on defense, where the Hokies again had a remarkable second-half turnaround. Virginia Tech allowed just 137 yards after halftime -- and just two rushing yards -- without two of its starting linebackers.
After tipping a pass that set up Jeron Gouveia-Winslow's 24-yard interception return for a touchdown in the first quarter, sophomore Bruce Taylor left the game for good with a shoulder stinger. Later in the second quarter, starting linebacker Lyndell Gibson was then forced to the sideline with the exact same injury.
That meant redshirt freshman Jack Tyler, a walk-on from Oakton, and redshirt freshman Tariq Edwards played significant minutes all night. And it was Tyler, especially, who rose to the occasion. He finished with seven solo tackles, more than all but one Virginia Tech defender.
“The entire game, we kept going up to each other on the sidelines like, ‘We’re it right now. There’s no one behind us, there’s no one in front of us, we’re it right now,'" Tyler said. "It’s kind of a cool feeling knowing that because me and [Edwards], we’ve always been a tandem. We usually go in together, during practice we’re always together. We’re very comfortable with each other. Obviously not great circumstances, but it was great being in there.”
*Speaking of Gouveia-Winslow's interception, it was the just the jump start the Hokies needed. It was especially rewarding after the up-and-down season the Stone Bridge grad has had this year. But even as he lost playing time to younger players, he continued to keep a positive attitude and he gained some redemption when the game hung in the balance Saturday.
"I couldn’t believe it, the ball just plopped in my hands and I started running and took it to the house," Gouveia-Winslow said. "It was a great feeling to spark it off. I’m just overwhelmed right now.”
*One of the big story lines of the night was Florida State Coach Jimbo Fisher's decision to hold senior quarterback Christian Ponder out of this game after he had his elbow drained earlier this week. Instead the Seminoles went with sophomore E.J. Manuel, who acquitted himself quite well. He finished 23 of 31 for 288 yards and a touchdown, but he also had two interceptions.
After the game, Manuel said he found out on Friday that he would be getting the start. Fisher also explained his decision in his postgame news conference.
"They drained some fluid off his elbow and it wasn't fluid, it was blood. And when you start draining blood, you've got to be a little careful. It wasn't -- I wasn't going to jeopardize his future for one football game, and it just needed rest. It was still sore and he was having a hard time later in the week."
*Don't want to forget about junior wideout Danny Coale, who had a career-high 143 receiving yards. You may have noticed he seemed to be open all night, especially on that 45-yard touchdown catch on third and 13 to start the second half and the 46-yard reception on third and nine in the fourth quarter.
Well both those catches were identical to Coale's 43-yard touchdown reception that ultimately was the game-winning score in Virginia Tech's win over Miami a couple weeks ago.
“We’ve always tried to make third down our down," Coale said. "We’ve been better at it as the season’s gone on, but to win a game like this, you’ve got to be near perfect."
Remember when Coale dropped a few easy passes and finished with zero catches against Central Michigan all the way back on October 9? Including that game, Coale had 8 catches for 155 yards and no touchdowns six weeks. In the seven games since, he's got 22 catches for 475 yards and three touchdowns. No doubt, Coale's been playing his best football with the stakes at their highest.
*You may have noticed freshman cornerback Kyle Fuller had a rough first half starting in place of senior Rashad Carmichael, who was apparently still feeling the effects of the high ankle sprain that kept him out of last week's game against Virginia.
Well during halftime, after Fuller was beaten a couple of times by Florida State wide receiver Willie Haulstead, Carmichael pleaded with coaches to let him play. If there was ever a moment that described this game, it was Carmichael's gutsy showing in the second half.
It has seemed all season, no matter the circumstances, that these Hokies never fold up shop.
"I asked the trainers, 'Could he go?' and they went and checked with him and he wanted to go," Coach Frank Beamer explained. "It's kind of the attitude of our whole football team that I'm going to do whatever I can to help us win."
That's all I have for now. With Connecticut winning the Big East, it means Virginia Tech's opponent in next month's Orange Bowl likely will be either the Huskies or Stanford. We'll find that out for sure Sunday night. Until then, adios from Charlotte.