- Heather Dinich, ESPN Staff Writer
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It might help him to watch the game film of the first three and a half quarters.
It was a snoozefest. Nyquil in uniform. Until the final 7:46 of regulation, when the Hokies scored 10 points to tie the game at 17 and force the first overtime game in Lane Stadium history. It was a thrilling, historic, dramatic finish that went off like an alarm and reminded many of us why we love college football.
You never know what you’re going to get -- and that just might be the story of the Hokies this fall.
There were signs that Virginia Tech can again play its way to the ACC championship game -- and historically, the winner of this game has gone on to do just that in each of the past seven seasons. But more often than not Monday night, the offense was sluggish, Thomas' throws were off, and the youth and inexperience around him was exposed. The defense, though, lived up to the billing, particularly on the interior defensive line, which was disciplined and effective against the Jackets’ spread option offense. It was only the first game of the season -- a big one as far as the conference standings go -- but this team’s identity will likely grow with the offense this year.
“They say when you’re ripe, you rot,” said linebacker Jack Tyler. “We like to say that we’re green, we still have room to grow.”
And a schedule that will allow them to do it.
The Hokies’ most difficult game of the month is behind them. Three of the next four games are in Lane Stadium, the lone exception being a trip to Pittsburgh to face a team that just lost to Youngstown State. With upcoming nonconference games against Austin Peay, Pittsburgh, Bowling Green and Cincinnati, Virginia Tech could be a deceiving 5-0 heading into an important Coastal Division game against North Carolina on Oct. 6.
Odds are 47 first-half rushing yards aren’t going to continue to cut it. To be fair, a 22-yard loss contributed to that after freshman punter A.J. Hughes let a bad snap sail through his hands. The errant play set up Georgia Tech’s first touchdown that tied the game at 7. For a long, long time.
“We’re not as good of a football team as we need to be right now, but I think we’ve got the potential to be a really good football team,” coach Frank Beamer said. “That’s our challenge is to keep growing, keep getting better, day by day.”
Nobody in the program shied away from the fact that there’s room for improvement.
Thomas’ performance wasn’t exactly first-round-esque. He completed 21 of 38 passes for 230 yards and two touchdowns. He had a couple of overthrown balls, and the offense never quite got into a rhythm, but his receivers weren’t flawless, either. He took all of the blame, though.
“The offensive line played great, the receivers played great and the running backs played great,” Thomas said. “I would say I was the one holding us back.”
Some growing pains were to be expected. Virginia Tech had to replace four starters on the offensive line, a first-round draft pick in running back David Wilson, and the top two pass catchers in school history. This offense got a makeover, and it showed. The same five linemen started every offensive snap against Georgia Tech. Six players made their first career starts, including offensive tackle Nick Becton, offensive tackle Vinston Painter, guard David Wang and tailback Michael Holmes.
“It’s the first game, we had a bunch of young guys who hadn’t played a lot,” linebacker Bruce Taylor said. “In the fourth quarter we showed some promise, that’s something to look forward to for next week. The offense looked a lot better in that fourth quarter. ... We can only build from here and it will look better from here.”