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Orange squeezed: Virginia Tech loss shakes up ACC Coastal race

AP Photo/Mike Groll

It’s amazing how one week college football can make you feel like everything is going to be just fine, then shake up your worldview with a gut punch the next.

Just ask Virginia Tech, which after a program-reaffirming pounding of defending ACC Coastal Division champion North Carolina, went to Syracuse and invited the rest of the Coastal to make their claim on this year’s title with a shocking 31-17 loss to the Orange.

Suddenly the talk of the Hokies rolling to a division title or making a major bowl game seem wildly premature. Even labeling No. 17 Virginia Tech a top-25 team seems questionable given its performance Saturday, and in light of the way Alabama destroyed the Tennessee team that handed Tech its other loss.

Perhaps most alarming, if you pull for the Hokies, is that Saturday’s loss can’t be written off as any kind of fluke.

Syracuse didn’t win because of a lucky bounce or two. It wasn’t a ridiculous number of turnovers that turned the tide or improbable special teams play. Virginia Tech quarterback Jerod Evans was fine, throwing for 307 yards with two touchdowns and an interception and rushing for 61 yards.
First-year Hokies coach Justin Fuente didn’t think his team came out particularly flat.

“I thought we had good emotion,” Fuente told reporters after the game.

“They scored on a double move on the first drive. We didn’t get much going on offense, but I didn’t think it was a lack of emotion or readiness. I’m telling you that we obviously weren’t ready to play. We didn’t play very well, but I didn’t sense a lack of emotion.”

Syracuse was simply better. The Orange got up early, responded to a Virginia Tech rally and embarrassed the Bud Foster defense that heard so many accolades after the rain-soaked victory in Chapel Hill.

The Hokies have had trouble with dual-threat quarterbacks, and Saturday was no exception. SU’s Eric Dungey lit them up through the air and on the ground. Dungey accounted for 417 of Syracuse’s 516 yards. After Virginia Tech tied the game at 17-all early in the fourth quarter, Dungey led the Orange on a 17-play, 75-yard drive to put his team back in front for good.

The Hokies are now 4-2 and 2-1 in the ACC, so it’s hardly a situation where all is lost in Blacksburg, but this was a game — whether they will admit it or not — just about everyone associated with the Hokies was counting as a win. Now, instead of a comfortable lead in the division, just about every team in the Coastal not named Duke or Georgia Tech can feel it has a shot of winning it.

Virginia Tech won’t have much time to consider what went wrong. The Hokies host Miami on Thursday in a game in which both teams will be desperate to get back on track with Miami going down against North Carolina on Saturday.

The Hokies suddenly face a situation where each intra-Coastal game feels like a must-win. It may not actually be that dire, since the division looks set up for a competitive back-and-forth race.

However, it’s certainly a much different feeling than the one around Blacksburg at this time last week.

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