- Ivan Maisel, ESPN Senior Writer
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BLACKSBURG, Va. -- The winning streaks gone, the Sugar Bowl slipping through their grasp, the Miami Hurricanes tried to find the pony in their manure-filled performance at Virginia Tech Saturday night.
"There is going to be a one-loss team in it," Miami coach Larry Coker said, referring to the BCS Championship Game. "It may as well be us."
Unlike Coker's first loss, in the Fiesta Bowl nine months ago, there will be no controversy about the 31-7 beating that the No. 2 'Canes (7-1) took from the No. 11 Hokies. This Miami team didn't fall victim to a judgment call, save for the poor judgment that quarterback Brock Berlin showed in throwing two costly interceptions.
This was not the Miami that beat Florida State, 22-14, three weeks ago. This was the Miami team that the experts expected to show up in Tallahassee: inexperienced, vulnerable, looking nothing like the Hurricanes who had won their previous 39 regular-season games, and their last 18 on the road.
The loss opened the door to the Sugar Bowl for other one-loss teams. No. 3 USC might consider throwing a bouquet across the continent. Then again, the 'Canes would probably drop it. You knew it wouldn't be Miami's night in the second quarter when reserve tight end Kevin Everett eased downfield on a fake field goal. Everett had no Hokie within 20 yards of him at the goal line as holder Matt Carter's pass came down. The ball passed through Everett's hands briefly on its way to the Lane Stadium grass. The touchdown would have tied the game and forced the game's momentum to make a U-turn.
On Friday morning, Virginia Tech quarterback coach Kevin Rogers, asked about the Hokies' 28-7 loss at West Virginia on Oct. 22, said, "It was totally unexpected. If you had said that before the game, I would have told you that you were crazy."
Ditto for this game. Whatever contagion afflicted Virginia Tech in that game invaded the Miami locker room Saturday night. The Hokie coaches were at a loss to explain it. As the crowd of 65,115 roared, and the grounds crew pulled down the goalposts, running backs coach Billy Hite said, "How can you be so (colorful adjective) bad one week and play like that the next?"
Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, who had to deal with the aftermath of his sideline slap upside the helmet of receiver Ernest Wilford, said, "When things have been so rough for 10 days, to get one like this makes it so much better."
Miami blew through Temple, 52-14, in its last game two weeks ago, and Coker wondered aloud whether the offense lost its rhythm during the hiatus. But he added that the Virginia Tech defense and its punter, Vinnie Burns, who consistently pinned Miami inside its own 20, kept the pressure on the Hurricane offense to perform, and it did not.
Don't forget, Miami sustained only one long scoring drive in its victory over Florida State. "It has happened so many times," center Joel Rodriguez said. "You hurt yourself. It's been the same story all along: a turnover here, a missed block there, penalties here."
No, Everett is not the long goat of this loss. Berlin played as if as he were coached by Steve Spurrier, which is to say, this was the Berlin who didn't play well enough to keep the starting job at Florida two years ago. Under pressure all night long, Berlin tried to throw backing up, or running away. Two off-balance passes across the field in the third quarter hung up in the air long enough to be picked off.
Cornerback Eric Green returned the first one 51 yards for a touchdown to make it 17-0, and rover Michael Crawford returned the second one 44 yards to the Miami 10. Two plays later, Kevin Jones scored from two yards out to extend the lead to 24-0 with 4:35 left in the quarter.
The Hokies' offense had gone eight quarters without an offensive touchdown. That may be a cause for concern when the delirium on this campus subsides, say, some time Wednesday.
As Virginia Tech's lead grew, coach Frank Beamer's game plan played it safer. If he became any more conservative, the White House would have claimed credit for the win. Virginia Tech didn't complete a pass in the first half, and didn't attempt another one until 12:30 had elapsed in the second. Freshman Marcus Vick completed the first one, to fullback Doug Easlick, for a loss of two yards. Two plays later, Vick threw downfield, where Ernest Wilford caught it without breaking stride near the 10 and ran in for a 51-yard touchdown to make it 31-0.
Miami avoided its first shutout in six seasons with a late score. That didn't salvage much pride.
"A lot of people wanted to see us lose," defensive tackle Vince Wilfork said. "We lost. Whatever happens from here happens. A lot of teams are looking at the same thing we're looking at. Who's it going to be?"
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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2hSharon Katz, ESPN Stats & Information