With just under 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter, Virginia Tech associate head coach and running backs coach Billy Hite gathered his players around him and offered a reminder. "We're a better football team," Hite said. "So get yourself ready to go. Offense, we've got to get going on this next drive."
The Hokies didn't. Dyrell Roberts dropped a crucial pass from Tyrod Taylor on fourth-and-nine, and it seemed a game that had played out in frustratingly familiar fashion had come to a close. The Hokies had played an effective brand of bend-but-not-break defense, holding the Huskers to 15 points gained on five field goals. They'd shown some flash on special teams (including a 76-yard kickoff return by Roberts to open the game), but little on offense. In the third quarter, they'd gained just one yard. Despite all the hype about Nebraska finally fielding a defense that would make the old Blackshirts proud, this was more about the Hokies' offensive ineptitude than the Huskers' defensive prowess.
But then something funny happened. The Hokies flipped the script. They got the ball back, and Taylor and Co. got one last crack at that crucial final drive. Taylor, who had disappointed throughout the game not only by failing to pass with success, but also by failing to utilize his rushing skills (he finished with -22 yards on the ground), bought time with his feet as the seconds ticked away, then heaved a desperation bomb downfield to Danny Coale, who took it the three. Before that play, the Hokies had notched just 57 yards in the second half; they racked up 81 on that throw. A sack moved the Hokies back, but Taylor showed great patience and vision on the next play, rolling out left and buying time with his feet while waving his receivers back to the right, then connecting with Roberts for the winning TD.
When asked about Taylor and the winning drive after the game, head coach Frank Beamer said, "great players have a way of making great plays, and he's a great player." The Hokies don't usually do drama, but maybe they needed some to remind themselves and the rest of the country they're still in the picture. During the game's first 58 minutes, the Hokies didn't look like they deserved their No. 13 ranking. But great players have a way of making great plays, and great teams have a way of winning great games.
It remains to be seen if the Hokies really are a great team. This win, though, was a big step toward proving they deserve to be in the discussion. Emerging at the top of the inconsistent enigma that is the ACC is one thing; gutting out wins against ranked teams from other conferences is quite another. When the Hokies lost the opener to Alabama, it brought not only their strength, but the strength of the entire conference, into question. It's still not clear if the Nebraska's really back, as so many analysts proclaimed this preseason, but the Huskers showed some spice on offense (they notched 343 net yards to Tech's 277) and played a tough, physical brand of defense (particularly standout tackle Ndamukong Suh, who applied consistent pressure to Taylor).
Bottom line: Virginia Tech beat a good team. Today, the Hokies believed they were the better squad, and that knowledge -- plus some good blocking, quick feet and little bit of luck -- was enough. We'll see if it is next week against Miami.