BLACKSBURG — There were no excuses for Virginia Tech on Thursday night.
Georgia Tech was without its first-team, All-ACC quarterback, Joshua Nesbitt, sidelined for the second half with an arm injury. And Yellow Jackets coach Paul Johnson compounded the problem with his arrogance.
Sure, Virginia Tech trailed by two touchdowns early and by one score entering the fourth quarter. No matter, this was a game the Hokies had to win to retain top-25 legitimacy.
And win they did, 28-21, but not before a startling defensive collapse followed by David Wilson's Olympics-caliber, 90-yard kickoff sprint for touchdown with 2:23 remaining.
So 20th-ranked Virginia Tech (7-2, 5-0 ACC) runs its winning streak to seven and entrenches itself atop the conference's Coastal Division.
Would the Hokies have survived had Nesbitt not been injured? Fans can soul-search that question, but we all know the probable answer.
Nesbitt had burned them for a 71-yard, first-quarter touchdown before injuring his right forearm attempting to tackle Davon Morgan after Morgan's goal-line interception. Moreover, with backup Tevin Washington at quarterback, Georgia Tech's offense became paint-by-numbers predictable.
But could the Hokies dent Al Groh's suddenly sullen defense?
Groh was 1-8 against Virginia Tech during his nine seasons as Virginia's head coach, a primary reason he's no longer employed in Charlottesville.
But his Georgia Tech defense — he's the Yellow Jackets' coordinator — gave the Hokies heartburn Thursday. Georgia Tech yielded 208 yards but only seven points in the first half and improved as the evening progressed.
But Johnson compromised the defense by attempting to convert a 4th-and-2 from Virginia Tech's 45 late in the third quarter and the Jackets ahead 14-7. With Nesbitt, sure. With Washington? Please.
Bruce Taylor and Antoine Hopkins stuffed backup Richard Watson for no gain, gift-wrapping field position for quarterback Tyrod Taylor and the offense.
Eight plays later, shortly after Taylor converted — irony alert — a fourth-and-3 with a 7-yard pass to Jarrett Boykin, Wilson raced 15 yards for the tying score.
Now it was only a matter of time, right?
Sure enough, Taylor drove Virginia Tech 62 yards to a go-ahead touchdown, passing the last 2 yards to tight end Andre Smith on third-and-goal with 6:34 left.
Georgia Tech (5-4, 3-3) was doomed — until Hokies cornerback Rashad Carmichael brain-cramped and allowed Washington to complete a 42-yard pass to Tyler Melton. That gain fueled a drive that ended with Orwin Smith's 9-yard touchdown run.
Enter Wilson to rescue coordinator Bud Foster's bunch. He returned the subsequent kickoff for the decisive score.
Georgia Tech finished with 346 yards rushing, most ever allowed by a Foster defense. Two late pass completions for 80 yards were equally troubling.
Absent Nesbitt's injury, no telling what the Jackets would have gained.
Nesbitt's Virginia Tech counterpart, Taylor, bordered on flawless, until a third-and-goal from the 8 midway through the second quarter. Given beaucoup time, Taylor bounced in the pocket for what seemed like minutes before forcing a ball into the back of the end zone, where Rod Sweeting intercepted.
So much for the tying touchdown. So much for Taylor's streak of 97 passes without a pick.
On Wednesday's ACC coaches' teleconference, Johnson was asked about Taylor's progress over the years.
"He's, without a doubt right now from what I've seen, the premier player in the league by a mile," Johnson said. "He keeps so many plays alive and he can beat you so many different ways. Not only is he throwing the ball so much better but he can kill you running the ball and keeping things alive."
Taylor did little to dissuade folks otherwise Thursday.
A rare four-game homestand completed, the Hokies hit the road for their next two, at North Carolina and Miami before the regular-season finale at home against Virginia.
Virginia Tech is a win away from virtually securing an appearance in the ACC title game. But as we witnessed Thursday, little comes easy or is assured for this team.
David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime, and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP. Sign up for text alerts by texting "BIGSPORTS" to 71593.