Brad Fauber: Hokies’ bowl streak in jeopardy

By Brad Fauber

Virginia Tech’s football program and its fans are in somewhat unfamiliar territory.

With only four games left in the regular season, the Hokies are at a critical stage in the year. Sitting at .500 entering November for the second time in three seasons, Virginia Tech is 4-4 (1-3 in the ACC) and is at a serious risk of failing to qualify for a bowl game for the first time in 22 seasons. The Hokies’ bowl streak is the second longest such streak in college football and it could be snapped this season.

The current situation is not entirely new to the Hokies. Virginia Tech was 4-6 with two games remaining during the 2012 regular season and needed to win its final two games to qualify for the postseason. The Hokies did that, beating Boston College and Virginia to end the regular season before topping Rutgers in a bowl game to avoid their first losing season since 1992.

But this year’s Virginia Tech team is bad. Really bad. So bad, in fact, that a closing stretch that includes games against Boston College, Wake Forest and Virginia now appears much more daunting than Hokies fans would like to admit.

Virginia Tech was embarrassed in back-to-back weeks on national television in its last two games, looking horrendously inept on offense in a 21-16 loss to Pittsburgh on Oct. 16 and doubly so against Miami last Thursday in a 30-6 loss. Tech’s defense compounded the ugliness last week by failing to stop Hurricanes running back Duke Johnson, who rumbled for 249 yards on 29 carries.

I’m still left wondering how this team beat Ohio State back in September.

It’s now apparent that this Virginia Tech team was not very good to begin with, and it didn’t help that the Hokies have suffered a series of injuries this season to some key players. Running backs Shai McKenzie and Trey Edmunds, defensive tackle Luther Maddy, cornerback Brandon Facyson and linebacker Chase Williams are among those injured Hokies, and several of those players are done for the season.

But injuries aside, the offense is still very inconsistent, with much of the criticism falling on the shoulders of first-year quarterback Michael Brewer. The junior, who was praised for his gutsy performance against Ohio State, has quite simply been on a downhill slide since that win, as has the rest of the Hokies’ offense.

Brewer has completed 175 of 285 passes (61.4 percent) for 1,754 yards and 11 touchdowns this season, but he has also thrown 11 interceptions and has produced a fair share of throws that make you wonder just where the pass was intended to go or what exactly he was thinking when he released the ball.

It’s unfair to lay the blame for Virginia Tech’s offensive ineptitude squarely on Brewer — and I certainly don’t — but inconsistency from the offense’s most important position will always have a trickle-down effect. And with freshmen littering the skill positions on Virginia Tech’s offense, inconsistency at quarterback is the one thing the unit can’t afford. We’re all seeing the result.

The Hokies don’t have long to turn things around. They need to win two of their final four games to become bowl eligible, and today’s home game against Boston College is a must-win at this point, especially with a road game at No. 24 Duke coming up in two weeks.

I’m cautiously picking Virginia Tech to squeeze out a win today, mainly because I’d like to think that the Hokies will respond with their backs firmly up against the wall. But I am by no means very confident in that pick.

If Tech loses this afternoon, the Hokies are in a real bind. I don’t see them getting past Duke on the road, and although I think Tech will handle Wake Forest, it will still have to close out the season against a Virginia team that is very, very hungry for a win over its in-state rival and would love nothing more than to end the Hokies’ bowl streak.

That’s a nightmare scenario for Hokies fans.

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com