- Heather Dinich, ESPN Staff Writer
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It wasn’t a players-only meeting.
It was, however, a player-driven meeting.
With their coaches in the room this past Thursday, Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas, center Andrew Miller, cornerback Antone Exum and even kicker Cody Journell took it upon themselves to speak up and address the struggles the team has faced in the first half of the season heading into the Duke game.
“They heard everything we had to say,” Thomas said of the coaching staff. “I think they kind of fed off of it.”
Apparently, everyone in the program did.
Virginia Tech finally woke up this past weekend and scored 41 unanswered points in the final three quarters of a 41-20 win against Duke for what was the biggest comeback in program history under coach Frank Beamer. It was a critical Coastal Division win that kept the Hokies’ hopes of defending the division title alive, and just the kind of confidence-booster the team needed heading into Saturday’s game at No. 19-ranked Clemson. Virginia Tech had a better team last year and still lost twice to Clemson -- once in the regular season and again in the ACC championship game. Saturday’s game will reveal if Virginia Tech truly turned the quarter in the second half of the Duke game -- and if it is capable of an even bigger comeback in the second half of the season.
“That’s one thing we’ve been talking about the last couple of weeks,” said true freshman running back J.C. Coleman, whose 183 rushing yards last week were the most by a true freshman under Beamer. “The ACC goal is still there. We can still go to the ACC championship. We’re just trying to come together as a team and finish and win out the rest of the season and come out on top, at the Orange Bowl. We can still win the ACC championship. We can still win the Orange Bowl.”
Problem is, a very talented Clemson team is standing in the way -- again.
Last year the Hokies were held to 13 total points against the Tigers in two games. Many of the same playmakers are still in the lineup for Clemson, while the Hokies had to replace eight starters on offense this year, including four on the offensive line. That group took an even bigger hit last weekend when Miller suffered a season-ending ankle injury against Duke.
The message in Blacksburg, though, has always been not to dwell on the past.
“I’m not even really thinking about what happened last year other than we just want to go down there and play the best game we can and hopefully steal one from their home turf because it’s a much-needed win if we can get one,” said Thomas. “To me I don’t think [last year’s losses to Clemson] matters, but to other people it matters a whole bunch. Some people will say revenge, but revenge isn’t in our hearts. I just want to go out there and play the best game I can and steal one from their place like they stole one from ours last year.”
Virginia Tech lost 23-3 in Blacksburg last year, scoring its second-fewest points in a home game since Frank Beamer took over the program in 1987. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said his team is expecting Virginia Tech’s best shot.
“This is a big game,” Swinney said. “They are pretty much in it from a conference standpoint, and so are we. There’s not a lot of room for error for either team from a conference standpoint. It’s a game that I don’t have any doubt we’re going to get their very best, and it’s going to take our very best to win."
Thomas said he’s confident the Hokies can pick up where they left off against Duke -- playing their most complete football to date.
“We definitely can keep it up,” he said. “We just have to be able to come out of the gates fast and keep that momentum going. We played pretty good the past 10 quarters offensively. Our confidence has been a big key for us. If we can keep our confidence up, keep things moving, keep things churning, we should be just fine.”
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