BLACKSBURG — When the ACC released its 2013 football schedule in February, many Virginia Tech fans complained that the Hokies would play little-regarded Maryland rather than impeccably pedigreed Florida State.
Turns out Tech couldn't even beat the Terps. At home. As a two-touchdown favorite on senior day. With Maryland's secondary and receiving corps depleted by injuries.
"There's enough blame to go around," Hokies receiver Willie Byrn said after Saturday's 27-24 overtime defeat, "offense, defense, special teams."
Suspect time management from coach Frank Beamer also contributed to Tech's third setback in its last four games, one that could cost the Hokies the ACC's Coastal Division and a chance to play Florida State in the conference championship game.
But at this point, do any Hokies faithful want a piece of the undefeated Seminoles?
A week ago, the answer might have been yes. On a wet field in an opposing stadium, Tech lit up Miami for 549 yards and six touchdowns in a 42-24 victory.
Saturday, the Hokies (7-4, 4-3 ACC) reverted to form with 264 yards. Of their 16 drives in regulation, two netted more than 35 yards. Tech did not commit a turnover, but Maryland's six sacks of Logan Thomas, three by end Andre Monroe, did similar damage.
The Terps "were pretty much right on to everything we were about to do," Thomas said.
"It's frustrating any time you lose," Byrn said, "but especially after we felt like we grew leaps and bounds last week."
Compounding the offense's issues: Tech allowed a 63-yard punt return by William Likely, a tying touchdown Beamer blamed on the line-drive kicked by A.J. Hughes; the defense yielded 184 yards rushing, 122 to quarterback C.J. Brown, who ran for two scores, including the game-winner from 3 yards out.
On "pass plays, he didn't even really look to pass the ball," Tech linebacker Jack Tyler said. "He just kind of found a lane and (ran) half the time."
But after Brown's 16-yard touchdown pass to Nigel King early in the third quarter gave Maryland (6-4, 2-4) a 21-7 lead, the Hokies' rediscovered their defensive form. Tech forced five consecutive punts, and during that stretch Thomas threw scoring passes to D.J. Coles and Byrn to tie the game at 21.
Here's where Beamer missed a chance to help the offense.
With the fourth-quarter clock just inside of two minutes, Maryland had a first down at Tech's 49. But rather than use any of his three timeouts, Beamer let the clock run, leaving the offense just 18 seconds after the Terps' punt.
Why not show some faith that the defense will make a stop? Why not give your offense a minute-plus and a chance to avoid overtime?
"If I could predict how the thing's going to turn out," Beamer said. "Am I giving them more time to make plays? That's a tough situation right there. You'd like to call a timeout. But they may use that to help their cause, too."
Beamer's decision was hardly the reason the Hokies lost, but it was among their many missed opportunities.
The one that most disturbed Beamer: Poised to double a 7-0 lead, Tech had a second-and-1 from Maryland's 15. But center David Wang did not snap the ball on the called count, causing a false start penalty.
The Hokies did not make a first down, and freshman Eric Kristensen's first career field-goal attempt — starter Cody Journell was dismissed from the program Wednesday — grazed off the left upright from 34 yards.
"We had some early opportunities," Beamer said, "and the longer they hung around, the better they got. … I thought we would come out a sharper football team than we did today."
That shortcoming falls on the coaches.
The defeat was Tech's first on senior day since 2003 and one that gets to marinate for two weeks before the regular-season finale at Virginia. The Hokies still could back-door into the ACC title game through a three-, four- or five-way tie, but that's a secondary calculation for a team that lost to Duke and Maryland in its final two home games.
Paramount is winning and showing that last week in south Florida wasn't a complete fluke.
"Against Miami, everything's clicking and everything's perfect," Byrn said. "Everyone was playing so well. I guess today's just another lesson, that if one or two things don't go our way, we've to learn how to overcome."