Virginia Tech Falls to Cincinnati 35-31

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Virginia Tech lost the lead late to Cincinnati. (Photo by Ivan Morozov)

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — The Military Bowl unfolded for Virginia Tech much like the entirety of its 2018 football season. The Hokies battled through injuries and adversity, showed much resolve in putting themselves in position to finish strong, only to come away disappointed in the end.

Tech had a shot at breaking open the game in the fourth quarter before failing to convert a prime scoring opportunity.  It was one of many missed chances for a depleted Tech team in a 35-31 loss to Cincinnati in front of an announced crowd of 32,832 rain-soaked fans Monday at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

“I’m awfully proud of this group. They stood tall when other people ran. They were selfless when other people were selfish. They’ve been through a lot and worked their tails off to get us to this point,” Tech coach Justin Fuente said. 

“They have a lot to be proud of. I think they played their tails off out there. It certainly wasn’t a situation because we weren’t prepared or didn’t want to play or anything like that. I apologized to them for us not finding a way to send the seniors off the right way. I also let them know the guys that are coming back did a fantastic job of sticking together through tough times, but if we go through another 365 days of what we went through in the past 365 days, it’s going to be really difficult. We have to find a way to move forward as a program and do things quite a bit better.”

Tech salvaged its season with wins over Virginia (to continue its 15-year win streak) and Marshall to become bowl eligible for the 26th consecutive season, but it couldn’t cap it all off with one last victory to secure a winning season.

The Hokies (6-7) finished with a losing record for the first time since 1992, the year before the bowl streak began under Frank Beamer.  The Bearcats finished 11-2.

“I’d say it’s all three of those things – It stings, it’s angry and it’s disappointing,” Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. “It’s been a long time, and I’m really proud of the consistency that we [have had] and how we have played over the years. Obviously, we’re not satisfied. Even if we were 7-6, we wouldn’t be satisfied. We’d feel happy because we won the game, but we wouldn’t be satisfied. We’ve been pleased to finish the way we did, and I’m still pleased with how we finished. 

“I think we have a young group of men that some of them have to…they need to realize what it takes to perform and play at this level and in all aspects and to be consistently good in all aspects. And that’s really what we’re going to roll up our sleeves and work towards.”

It was a season characterized by attrition for the Hokies, particularly on the injury front. It was much of the same in the final game of the season, as Tech suffered a rash of injuries in a contest that came down to the wire. 

That group included Tech’s best defensive player, senior tackle Ricky Walker (missed the second half with hamstring injury), tailbacks Steven Peoples and Deshawn McClease and cornerback Jovonn Quillen (who started in place of Caleb Farley). All of them were sidelined at the end. 

Starting quarterback Ryan Willis (219 passing yards, three total touchdowns) played the entire second half with an injury to his non-throwing shoulder. 

“I mean, we’ve been going through that all year. Everybody has been hurt, a lot of people have been hurt, kicked off the team,” Hokies wide receiver Eric Kumah said. “We’ve been going through that all year, so it’s nothing new for this team.”

Willis’ attempt to lead the Hokies to a comeback victory in the closing minutes was thwarted by Cincinnati’s defense. Two plays after having an interception negated by a defensive pass interference penalty, Willis was picked off by Bearcats safety James Wiggins to seal the outcome. 

It was the second costly turnover of the game for Willis, who fumbled earlier in the fourth quarter at the Cincinnati 3-yard line. 

The Hokies gained favorable field position following an interception and return by linebacker Dylan Rivers to the Cincinnati 12-yard line. Facing fourth-and-1 with a 31-28 lead, Fuente elected to go for it. Willis lost the ball and Tech came away empty handed.

“It was a little power play-action and the two nose tackles, they submarined Chung at center and I got stumbled up on my back and I went back to throw and the ball just slipped out of my hands,” Willis said. “It was soaked. It happens. I’ll be better.”

The Hokies clung to that lead late in the fourth quarter when the Bearcats marched down the field to little resistance in scoring the go-ahead points. Cincinnati broke runs of 31, 3, 10 and 12 yards to set up an 8-yard scoring run by sophomore tailback Michael Warren II with 2:16 remaining. It was the seventh and final lead change of the game, which was a Military Bowl record.

Warren finished with a career-high 166 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries. 

“The kids played hard. We gave up a couple of plays. That’s the nature of the game these days, and a group that’s fought their tail off. We were shorthanded tonight. You lose Ricky Walker early. We just needed his discipline and toughness inside there at the end,” Foster said. 

“It was disappointing to make a play, and we don’t finish on either side. We didn’t respond on either side of the ball, and that’s disappointing. At the end we had an opportunity to go up two scores and we didn’t, and we didn’t respond defensively, and that’s kind of how we’ve been this year, kind of up and down that way. We had an opportunity to finish, and we didn’t do it on our side of the ball.” 

Turnovers have been the culprit in all of Tech’s losses this year. The Hokies went 0-6 this year when losing the turnover battle. 

While Cincinnati capitalized on Tech’s mistakes, the Hokies couldn’t make the Bearcats pay for their gaffes. Cincinnati recovered all three of its fumbles, including one in the end zone for a touchdown in the second quarter.

“The first fumble was just sitting there for like five seconds. We definitely should have had that. And I just feel like we’ve got to take advantage of those plays,” defensive end Emmanuel Belmar said. “I feel like throughout the whole season, we missed those types of opportunities.”

Tech gained 443 total yards and rushed for 224 yards on 45 attempts (5.0 per carry average). But the Hokies defense, without Walker for the entire second half, couldn’t slow down the prolific Cincinnati attack. 

“We definitely missed our bell cow (Walker). He’s a leader of the D-line, the leader of our defense, and the leader of our team,” Belmar said. “We wished we had him out there, but unfortunately due to injury we didn’t have him.”

Despite losing starting quarterback Desmond Ridder to an ankle injury in the first quarter, the Bearcats still piled up 462 total yards. Backup quarterback Hayden Moore rushed for 64 yards and a touchdown. 

Tech also dealt with injuries to critical offensive playmakers, including Peoples and McClease. Peoples scored a touchdown in the second quarter before being sidelined. McClease finished with 102 yards on 13 carries before leaving with an injury.

With Peoples and McClease hurt, Jalen Holston filled in with 40 yards on 10 carries.

Even in a loss, the Hokies coaches were proud of the fight they saw in their players.

“I have seen a lot of growth, but at the same time it’s been inch by inch rather than leaps and bounds. As coaches, you always want to be better sooner than later,” Foster said. “But the one thing this group of kids did is they fought hard to get us to this position. When everybody was counting us out and writing us off, we persevered and hung in there. We won two games against two really good football teams (Virginia and Marshall) and had an opportunity to play a good football team today and had an opportunity to win the game, but came up a little bit short.” 

“We just didn’t have enough firepower in the end this year as far as leadership, as far as experience ahead of guys,” Foster added. “We kind of had to throw them to the wolves so to speak. I saw improvement, and I hope the group that we have, this will create an edge in our work and our preparation this offseason. I hope we’ll train agitated and train with a purpose.”

Virginia Tech – Cincinnati Box Score

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28 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. 2018 Start of season I realized Devon Hunter won’t be as good as I thought,
    2018 End of season, I realize that J. Fuente isn’t a very good coach, unfortunately

    – ODU – terrible coaching job
    – BC – Winnable game, poor coahing
    – Cincy – game was handed to you – End of first half – awful, Second half – pretty bad.

    Any coach that can’t see that the explosiveness and big play ability of a QB like Willis is so much more important than the plodding 3 and out ability of a slow, average arm QB like JJ is not really understanding how the game works today. All of the top teams are explosive. Take the explosive QB and coach him to be consistent. You will never get the plodding QB to be explosive.

    I’ll still support the Hokies, but I’m realistic about our team and our coach – very limited.

  2. CJF “…. It certainly wasn’t a situation because we weren’t prepared ….”

    I 100% disagree with this statement. All the mental errors, penalties on offense and defense hitting the wrong gaps, that’s 100% lake of proper preparation. Missing tackles over and over is lack of skill IMO, but you cannot say this team was prepared. If they were prepared and that’s what we’re gonna see for years to come that’s bad news.

    1. Also, I thought we’d have less injuries this year bc everyone was talking preseason on how Amazing our S&C program is. So that doesn’t make sense…

  3. How about three kickoffs out of bounds giving CU field position on the 35. That must have been some sort of record. This was a total team loss. (This includes the coaching staff)

  4. The was PI on the last play that wasn’t called.The defender had receiver completely wrapped up without turning his head as the ball was approaching and it was close enough to be catchable.Could have been a game changer.But

  5. Another opposing player had a career rushing day (Warren 166 yds). Hokie D was out of position and very poor tackling – the story of the season. Worried because neither of those issues improved much by the end of the season. Lack of talent?

    1. Definitely worried as well. That QB run where they had him in the backfield on 3rd and long and at least 6 Hokies had a chance to tackle him but didn’t. I was highly disappointed, I thought with a few weeks of practice things might have gotten a little better with the D but it didn’t.

  6. I am far from an expert, but I could see improvements throughout the season on offense, especially in the running game even with the loss of our #1 quarterback. Not so with the defense. We looked all year like we did against ODU. The tackling, coverage, and overall aggressiveness that we have become used to was not there..How many all-time records were set on offense by our opponents? It could be the talent, the injuries, the ages, the recruiting, or the coaching, I do not know, but it showed. With few exceptions, I do not see real leaders coming back. In the past I have said to give them time and I still believe that, however, the mountain we have to climb on defense is high. A plus is that with all the tribulations this team has had to go through, they never backed down or gave up. Go Hokies in 2019s!

  7. After watching many bowl games this week, I believe the following:
    1. We simply don’t have the horses yet. That will change.
    2. The coaches and players did the best they could under tough circumstances.
    3. I am proud of the effort they put forth repping the school.
    4. Our defensive ends frequently fail to set the edge allowing long runs on the outside.
    5. Ryan Willis did a good job stepping in when he did, and getting us some critical wins.
    Go Hokies!

    1. I agree with your 5 points. Despite being very critical of this coaching staff (and team), I am proud of their efforts to maintain the Commonwealth & Bowl Game streak. I couldn’t forgive staff otherwise. I would add 5 more points (excuse the length) :

      6. Our DEs, DTs don’t appear BIG enough nor FAST enough. Our lack of size and strength by the DEs and DTs prevents us from wrecking havoc and enjoying the luxury of rushing only 3 or 4 lineman with success so we can drop 8 or 7. I think that’s how the Eilte programs are getting it done.

      7. Likewise, our DBs & LBs are also not BIG, TALL, & FAST enough so they can cover cleanly, get up field easily, or move fluidly in open space when they need to. The result is we can’t cover, can’t seal, can’t spill, and can’t maintain containment so help side defense can arrive with bad intentions. Foster is forced to blitz less and play a lot of zone and cover instead on Man. We aren’t just suffering from youth but lack of physicality and elite skill on our Defense.

      8. I would like to see Fuente with a Offensive play card in his hand next season. I do not have 100% trust in our OC. Why on 4th down are we in the pistol formation when we only needed one yard and our RBs were having a season record day running on the Cinys #7 Ranked defense who for the year only allowed 103.8ypg. McClease had 102 yards alone. Stop getting too cute. Each week we hear our HC’s philosophy is he wants to pass to score and run to win and Monday when its time to win we decide to try and pass (in drenching rain) uggh.

      9. Which coach changed our year long strategy and decided we should stop kicking kickoffs into the end zone? Twice we kick the ball out bounds on Monday and take two unnecessary 10 yard penalties that shortened Cincy’s field. Good job coach. How about finding us a consistent kick and punt returner instead of toying with the kicker.

      10. Finally…….For Hokie Sake……will this team please work on tackling and how to downshift our pursuit speed against a defender so we can ensure we don’t miss or whiff on a sure fire tackle on a QB or RB in the backfield.

      My jury is still out on some of our coaching decisions

  8. Not sure there’s a huge difference between 6 – 7 and 7 – 6, so not terribly disappointed in the loss. I may be in the minority, but see drastic improvement for this team next year. Love these kids and feel sure that they would have lost to this Cincinnati team by 4 touchdowns had the game been played in October. They have continued to improve throughout the year. Something to consider… ND only won 4 games just two years ago and Cincinnati won only 4 games vs. a lousy schedule last year… common theme, both of those teams were very young.

    Hold the line. Better days are ahead!

    Go Hokies!

  9. FG miss at the end of the first half came back to haunt us. Of course a lot happened after that but all things the same we can kick a field goal to go ahead 37-28 and not have to go for the 4th down. I still would have preferred to kick the FG to go up 6 and force them to have to go for the TD instead of giving them the option to tie it up with a FG. You can play defense differently if the FG doesn’t help them.

    Tough injuries for us but when Ridder went out they became a one dimensional team because Moore couldn’t throw worth a lick. We had them 2nd and 15 in mid 4th quarter and he slowly lumbered through our many defenders for a 16 yard run. All we had to do was put them in passing situations and they would have been in trouble. It was a microcosm of our season for sure. Good enough offense to win but defense let us down.

    Anyone besides me bothered by Willis’s slide on 3rd down just 2 yards short of the 1st down? That could have been a big first down. I recall he did a similar thing at the end of an earlier game in the season. He was scrambling on 4th down and slid a couple yards short of the first down and we turned it over on downs. We were way out of that game but why would he scramble at all if he is not going for the first to extend the drive. t’s almost as if he was coached to slide and he couldn’t adjust to the game situation.

    Let’s hope the bball team gives us a lift tomorrow! Women’s team doing great too. Go Hokies!

    1. Willis was a good 4+ yards short of the marker when he began his slide. There were two defenders standing at the first down line coming at him and he had a bum left shoulder. There was no way he was going to run through those guys for 3 extra yards and get a first down. And on top of that, a defender dove into and hit him from behind after he had begun his slide (should have been a penalty). In short, this is not a play to criticize Willis about.

      1. Thx – I checked plays and if I have the right play (4:59 4th quarter ) the ball was marked 6 yards short of a first down so you were right and getting the first down was a long shot. My frustration was probably fueled by the urgency of the situation and watching Hayden Moore break tackle after tackle and not going down voluntarily. But, maybe Willis knew that Cincinnati’s defense had better tacklers and he had to protect his shoulder for next season.

  10. They have to learn how to tackle and play disiplined defense. All the offense needs to learn how to block!

    CFU needs to evaluate his coaching staff and make any changes that are necessary for this program to get back to an elite football team and program!

      1. I consider 1993 – 2011 an elite period for our program. Not elite every year. But shows us with 4th highest winning pct among all I-A teams during that period (185-58, 0.7613). Thirteen 10 win seasons, numerous top 10 rankings, conference championships, major bowl games, etc.

        It looks like we were headed that way again in 2016 and 2017 but 2018 and our inability to recruit elite offensive players (line, QB, RB) gives me doubts. But, looking forward to next year and being healthy.

  11. Hope this bowl game was worth the injuries these kids sustained. Feel terrible for all of them. Let’s hope next season is much improved.

  12. I think Tre Turner also didn’t return after the guy targeted him. That was huge. And the offensive PI against Keane was horrendous. Officials 30 yards away from the “foul” shouldn’t be allowed to call said “foul.” There’s presumably a reason guys closer to the action didn’t call it.

  13. I’m proud of how hard they played the last 3 games. Got zero breaks today. Glaring omission in wrap-up is the offensive PI call on Keene that gave Cincy the ball back on winning drive

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