Before kickoff, I had absolutely no expectations for Virginia Tech to beat Oklahoma State. Few did. Count Vegas out among the bunch. The Pokes closed as 6-point favorites. Pundits both national and local favored the Cowboys too. Most damning, a bevy of Hokies Twitter shied away from pointing and laughing at the 49-7 whooping Navy laid on Virginia earlier in the day thanks to the strong conviction the Hokies would take their licks later in the day. (Obviously, that did not deter my efforts.)
The skepticism was valid. Point blank, Tech would have to put up points to compete with Oklahoma State and its elite offense. And the Hokies' counterparts on offense stumbled down the stretch with enough ineptitude over four games to make any interested party clad in maroon and orange weary of the matchup. And before you say it, it would've been foolhardy to lean on the Lunch Pail Defense's ability to completely shut down an offense averaging 45.0 points per game (No. 3 nationally). (Sidebar: Bud Foster's unit wasn't flawless, but it undoubtedly provided an opportunity for Tech to win the game.)
The outlook was bleak, against the odds, but obvious and digestible. And then Tech played their butts off. Deshawn McClease was a bolt of lightning out of the backfield. Trevon Hill and Ricky Walker were disruptive. Chase Mummau went incognito and converted a dang fake punt.
Hope is the devil.
A previously unwinnable game was ripe for the taking, but ultimately remained out of reach due to both poor game management decisions and execution on critical downs.
The fumble on the 1st-and-goal inside zone read resulted in a 10-point swing and it was a momentum killer.
It was equal parts a perplexing play call and poor execution. By game thirteen, riding the mesh should be second nature for Josh Jackson. And yet, it seemed to be an unnecessary risk to introduce any possibility (the mesh and read) for something to go awry, especially given Tech more than held its own in the trenches running the ball. Run power and be done with it.
The same could be said for the early fourth quarter 4th-and-8.
A botched snap scuttled any chance for success, but Justin Fuente deliberately passed on a 28-yard field goal attempt. Ten points — 3 plus the aforementioned 7 — look dang good after a 9-point loss.
All it took was four quarters of football to flip expectations; transition from coming to terms with a loss before kickoff to a sinking feeling the Hokies let a marquee win, which has arguably eluded Tech since its 2014 win in the 'Shoe, slip through its fingers.
Ironically, there's a fine duality at play too. The loss, because of how it happened, is certainly disappointing, but at the same time the program is on an encouraging trajectory. The Hokies proved they belonged on the same field as Oklahoma State and left something on the table. Football has levels of feels. Focus in on the loss for a punch in the gut. As Walker eloquently put it post-game, "This one hurts man." However, widen the lens for a more encouraging outlook.
Year three of the Fuente era is underway. Fuente's out of the money the house comped when he took over a program that was struggling for bowl eligibility — the juice on two year's time is costly — and frankly that's exciting.
It's time to see how well Fuente and Brad Cornelsen's offense executes with more than just a couple of capable wide receivers. The quarterback whisper has a loaded room and that'll be the loudest position battle, again, of a long offseason. Foster remains an irreplaceable asset on the balance sheet. Tech has 19 wins and two seasons of momentum to sell on the recruiting trail with the hopes of more 4- and 5-stars buyers (program difference makers).
Early returns do not always predict future results, but nevertheless they are very encouraging. And even though there have been tastes of success along the way, year three is earliest anyone with reasonable expectations for the program would expect Fuente's rebuild to bear fruit. And now it's upon us.