NEW ORLEANS -- This wasn’t the ACC’s only chance to make a statement.
This was the ACC’s 14th chance, to be exact.
Following Virginia Tech’s 23-20 overtime loss to Michigan on Tuesday night in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, the ACC dropped to 2-12 in its BCS games. That’s 14 years of developing a reputation, over a decade of results that won’t be erased with one Discover Orange Bowl win, or any other statement nonconference game for that matter. Clemson is up next on the BCS stage, but no matter what the Tigers do on Wednesday night against West Virginia, it won’t change the perception of the ACC overnight, nor will it ease the frustration of Virginia Tech’s narrow loss to an unimpressive Michigan team.
For those within Virginia Tech’s locker room following the loss, this was obviously a heartbreaker. It wasn’t a lack of effort; it was a lack of execution. You could see the devastation on receiver Danny Coale’s face when his would-be touchdown reception in overtime was reviewed and called an incomplete pass. You could hear the frustration when running back David Wilson unabashedly singled-out the officiating as the difference in the game. Twice. And you could tell by the look on coach Frank Beamer’s face as he made the long walk to the interview podium after the game that he knew they didn’t get it done and he was going to have to answer for it. Again.
Beamer dropped to 1-5 in BCS games. The ACC dropped another notch with him.
Beamer’s program has been the one tasked with representing the ACC the most often, and while getting to a BCS bowl is an accomplishment in itself, it’s no longer enough to satisfy fans or quiet critics.
“I think everybody in Virginia Tech football put a lot into this ballgame, I can tell you,” Beamer said. “And we wanted to get a win for the ACC and wanted to get a win for Virginia Tech. We haven’t done as well as we want to in these BCS games.”
This one might sting even more than last year’s embarrassing loss to Stanford in the Orange Bowl because it was oh-so-painfully close. Buried in the big picture was a great story about a third-string kicker, Justin Myer, who made the first four field goals of his career and sent the game into overtime before his fifth and most important attempt went wide right, his lone miss of the game. No shame in that performance. There was no shame in the terrific job Bud Foster’s defense did on quarterback Denard Robinson, who had a forgettable performance and was bailed out by receiver Junior Hemingway and the Wolverine's defense. Michigan was held to 184 total yards and just 56 rushing yards.
For a majority of the game, Virginia Tech looked like the better team. It had the better quarterback. It had the better defense. But it didn’t have an answer for the nation’s No. 5 red zone defense.
While there were some calls that could be questioned by the officials (aren’t there always?) it wouldn’t have come down to that had Virginia Tech scored more than one touchdown in six trips.
The Hokies’ performance against Michigan was a microcosm of the ACC’s story in BCS bowls: missed opportunities. It all started in the first quarter, on Virginia Tech’s first offensive possession, and you could almost hear the exasperation throughout ACC country on Twitter.
On first and goal from Michigan’s 4-yard line, Wilson ran for a loss of 22 yards. Uh oh …
On fourth-and-1 from Michigan’s 4-yard line, Logan Thomas was held for no gain. Here we go again …
Michigan recovered a fumble on a kickoff that led to a field goal and a 10-6 lead. Not again …
Thomas intercepted in the third quarter, a play that led to a Michigan touchdown. Again?!
After making the first four field goals of his career, Myer missed what could have been the game-winning 37-yard attempt. Sigh, typical ACC.
It took longer than four quarters for Virginia Tech and the ACC to fall into this hole, and even with two teams in BCS bowls for the first time in league history, it’s going to take more than that to dig out of it.