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Coaching Lesson: Finishing Games with Boston College and Virginia Tech

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Being the better team isn't always enough.

Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Everyone knows that with sports, the better team doesn't always win. We have a term for that occurrence: an upset. The possibility that the better team might lose is one of the main reasons we all watch sports.

Upsets typically happen because the better team isn't the one that plays better on that day. There's never been a 15-seed in March Madness that is better than a 2-seed, but 15-seeds have outplayed 2-seeds and secured victories.

One of the dirty little secrets of sports though is that sometimes, outplaying your opponent isn't enough to win either. Sometimes, as the 2007 editions of Boston College and Virginia Tech perhaps best showed us, being clearly the better team for even 93% of a game may not be enough to win.

I know that 2007 was a while ago and that your memories of the season might be filled with other things—South Florida ranked No. 2! Kansas in the Orange Bowl!—so let's set the scene. This was back when VT was consistently winning ACC titles and Tom O'Brien had turned BC into a consistent winner. O'Brien had left before the '07 season to take the NC State job, but first-year coach Jeff Jagodzinski was on his way to an 11-3 finish. The teams met on a Thursday night in late October with BC unbeaten and VT having only lost to LSU.

This game was Sean Glennon's first start since being benched earlier in the season for the Hokies, as Tyrod Taylor was out injured in the game. That bit of information is important, because part of the way the game turned out might have been due to Frank Beamer being rather conservative with the quarterback he had replaced with a freshman just a month prior.

beamer

Or maybe playing it conservative is, you know, just Frank Beamer's way.

Anyhow, VT's defense dominated the game. Boston College's first 12 offensive drives included nine punts, two interceptions, and a turnover on downs. The turnover on downs was particularly bad for the Eagles, as they collected a fumble on the Hokies' 19 and proceeded to lose four yards across four plays and came up empty.

Virginia Tech's offense wasn't stellar either, but again, Beamer was playing things fairly conservatively with his defense was making mincemeat of the opponent and Glennon under center. Still, VT managed a 16 play, 91-yard touchdown drive in the first half, and a five play, 55-yard field goal drive in the third quarter gave the Hokies a two-score lead. When Tech downed a punt at BC's own 8-yard-line with 4:16 to go in the game, that should have been it.

It wasn't.

Boston College got more aggressive with its offense right as Virginia Tech switched to a prevent defense. Bad idea, Bud Foster. Matt Ryan completed five-of-eight passes—for 23, 22, 20, 16, and 16 yards—and ran for 11 yards on the drive. The last completion for 16 yards was good for a touchdown that cut the Hokie lead to three with just over two minutes to go. BC had only two timeouts left, though, so Tech should have been able to cut a chunk out of the clock without even getting a first down.

Problem is, to run the clock, you have to have the ball. The Eagles recovered an onside kick at their own 34, and at this point the conclusion was mostly foregone. The rattled Hokies allowed Ryan to gain chunks of yards through the air again, with Ryan eventually finding Andre Callendar in the back of the end zone for a 24-yard touchdown. Now the game was over, as BC was up four with 11 seconds to go. Glennon misfired on a pair of passes before BC ended a desperation lateral play to seal the game.

For nearly 56 minutes, Virginia Tech was easily the better team. Again, its offense didn't look stellar—VT gained 265 yards on 66 plays, good for 4.02 yards per play—but its defense made Boston College's offense look helpless. In BC's first dozen drives, it managed 136 yards on 55 plays, good for 2.47 yards per play. That should have been enough. But on the last two drives of the game, the Eagles gained 158 yards on 16 plays, good for 9.88 yards per play. Instead of being a classic Beamerball win, this game became one of the key building blocks for the legend of Matty Ice.

Not closing out this game was incredibly costly for the Hokies. They'd end up winning their division and getting their revenge on the Eagles 30-16 in the ACC Championship Game—as in, the one that game us the infamous blimp shot—but the damage was done. Had VT not collapsed at the end, they'd have finished the year with only one loss. The Hokies, and not LSU, would have played Ohio State for the national championship. That would have been the ugliest BCS title game ever, but Virginia Tech would have had an excellent shot to win it. Imagine how differently things could have been if Beamer and Tech had won that 2007 national championship.

As far as regular season games go, I can't think of a bigger example of how costly not closing out a game can be than this one.