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McFarling: Bronx bombing muddies the message for Hokies

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Pinstripe Bowl Football (copy)

Maryland's Antwaine Littleton II (left) scores a touchdown past Virginia Tech's Josh Fuga during the first half of the Pinstripe Bowl on Wednesday.

NEW YORK — Dressed in a sports coat and an open-collared shirt, new Virginia Tech coach Brent Pry was promising the nation a bright tomorrow for the Hokies.

“We’re going to play a great brand of defense,” Pry said on the ESPN telecast, as he was being interviewed early in the second quarter of Wednesday’s Pinstripe Bowl. “We’re going to be special on special teams, and we’re going to have a potent offense led by a dynamic quarterback. That’s the way Tech’s done it. I think anybody that recognizes what an outstanding place it is …”

Pry paused. He heard crowd noise rising. His eyes shifted toward his left, toward the action on the field.

No delicate transition existed.

“TAULIA TAGOVAILOA TO DARRYL JONES!” shouted ESPN play-by-play man Matt Barrie, as the Maryland receiver scooted into the end zone untouched. “And I’m not sure I want to talk about the timing of that one, but ’lia goes deep, 70 yards …”

Yes, Pry probably would prefer you didn’t talk about the timing of that one. Ditto Hokies fans everywhere. But if Pry had wanted to stipulate that he’d only do an interview when Virginia Tech was doing something well on the field, then Wednesday simply wasn’t the day to do an interview.

The Hokies came up here to try to win a game. No excuses, no asterisks, etc.

Given what we knew about their personnel, most of us assumed that wouldn’t happen. But an embarrassment like this wasn’t on anybody’s itinerary.

Getting decked 54-10 by Maryland — the most lopsided bowl loss in program history — served as a harsh reminder that Pry has a lot of work to do. It also served as a reminder of why he has the job in the first place.

Other than a few feel-good moments — the opening-night win over North Carolina in front of a juiced Lane Stadium crowd, the demolition of Duke on senior day, the J.C. Price-led upset at Virginia — this was a bad regular season. Bad enough to prompt a coaching change.

And when that regular season was over, just about every recognizable Hokies playmaker said “no thanks” to the Pinstripe Bowl, leaving it up to backups to try to will their way to some kind of resistance.

Didn’t happen. The Hokies fell behind by 18 points midway through the second quarter and got trounced 30-0 after halftime.

“It’s like plowing a snowhill,” Price said. “You’re plowing snow uphill. Eventually everything just caught up to us.

“It seemed like we were a step behind all night. Didn’t really have a major momentum swing play go our way. … Just wasn’t our night.”

Tech’s run-based offense was punchless. The defense often looked uninterested. The Hokies finished with only two assisted tackles — for the entire game! By comparison, they had 24 assisted tackles against UVa, 38 against Duke. That stat is a strong indicator of a gang-tackling mentality that the Hokies didn’t have.

The last play of consequence was a microcosm of the afternoon. It came with seven minutes left in the third quarter. The Hokies were down 27-10 — still in the game, but barely. Maryland faced a fourth and 4 from the Tech 32.

Tagovailoa took the snap. He couldn’t find a receiver, but he needn’t worry. The Hokies had zero pass rush. Finally, after several seconds of looking, the Maryland QB found a wide-open Jones, who juked a defender and cruised into the end zone.

Pry had an up-close view of it all. At least he wasn’t on TV for this one. But presumably he was taking notes, understanding just how much needs to be done to keep his promise of a bright tomorrow.

Contact sports columnist Aaron McFarling at 540-981-3423 or aaron.mcfarling@roanoke.com.

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