Why Tech Should Win Against Syracuse
by Will Stewart, TechSideline.com, 9/26/96
Gather around, Hokies (and even any Syracuse fans who may be eavesdropping), and I'll try to soothe your worries about this weekend's game against Syracuse. I think the Hokies should win it, and I'm going to tell you why.
I usually avoid writing prediction pieces like this, because if you're wrong, you wind up looking like an idiot. And this early in the year, when teams are playing inconsistently and trying to find themselves, it's tough to say what they're going to do from week to week.
Also, I've got to be careful, because I don't want anything I say to become bulletin board material (I know for a fact that other teams read this page). But after thinking about it for a while, I realized that I'm not about to say anything bad about the Syracuse Orangemen. I'm going to explain to you why Tech should win based on the Hokies' own merits, not any perceived shortcomings that Syracuse may or may not have.
Instead of getting into an analysis of the two teams, which I really can't do because I'm not that familiar with Syracuse's team, I'm going to break down the reasons why Hokie fans are worried about the game and then try to dispel them. And since I'm a little short on time, let's get right to it.
The Main Fears
Besides the obvious fact that Syracuse is a pretty good team, certainly better than their 0-2 record, there are two primary reasons why Hokie fans are worried that Tech might lose this weekend:
The Ambush Factor
As Miami found out last year, an 0-2 team can be very dangerous when backed into a corner. The key phrase there is, "as Miami found out last year." Don't compare last year's Miami team with this year's Tech team. The difference between the two teams is simple. Miami got totally ambushed by the Hokies last year, whereas this year, Tech is expecting a fight from Syracuse. An ambush, by definition, is an unexpected attack. Tech can't get ambushed by Syracuse, because the Hokies are expecting the Orangemen to throw everything they have at them.
There is no team in the country that is better prepared to understand Syracuse's mindset than Tech is. There is no team in the country that is better prepared to deal with that mindset than the Hokies, because they know exactly what it feels like. Tech will be prepared.
Tech rebounded from 0-2 last year for one main reason - senior leadership. J.C. Price chose the Miami game as the perfect time to introduce himself to Miami Hurricanes and the rest of the country, picking up four sacks, none more crucial than the last one, in Miami's last drive. I don't know enough about Syracuse to discuss whether or not they have the senior leadership to rebound from 0-2, but hey, if they've got guys like Price, Del Ricco, Bryan Still, and Dwayne Thomas playing for them, guys who can bring them back from the brink, then I'll tip my hat to them.
The Dome Factor
The Carrier Dome is a tough place to play. You should be scared of it, and Syracuse should be proud of it. Oddsmakers will tell you that home field advantage is worth 3 points, but I think the Carrier Dome is worth at least 7.
But let me ask you a simple question: how many games in a row does this Tech team have to win on the road before you start to believe that they know how to do it? Our road streak is at 9 and counting, and it includes such venues as Morgantown, Charlottesville, and Chestnut Hill.
Tech has dominated Syracuse in Lane Stadium, but they haven't beaten Syracuse in The Dome since I was still living on campus and drinking too much beer. The 1994 game sticks in this Tech team's craw, I'm sure of it. Tech brought a proud defense into the '94 game, and Syracuse shredded it for 287 yards rushing. Particularly late in the game, SU ripped off many long runs, including two TD's that brought them from a 20-14 deficit to a 28-20 victory.
Brian Edmonds remembers it. He dropped a wide open touchdown pass in the end zone. Ken Oxendine remembers it. He peeled off a long TD run, only to see it go to waste. Cornell Brown remembers it. Antonio Banks remembers it. Torrian Gray, Billy Conaty, Bryan Jennings, Jay Hagood, they all remember it. And they want revenge.
The 1994 team wasn't nearly as good as this year's team. Maurice DeShazo, as a senior, was not able to play mistake-free ball like Druckenmiller, nor was he able to lead the team like Druck does. But most importantly, that 1994 team had two things this 1996 doesn't have, two things that ate that team up like slow poison: Gary Tranquill and Phil Elmassian.
Tranquill wasn't nearly as good an offensive coordinator as Ricky Bustle is. Tranquill took the same guys that Bustle left behind after the 1993 season and somehow made them all play worse, particularly DeShazo. And although Elmo built the Tech defense you now see before you, his act had worn thin by the time the SU game rolled around in 1994. He drove the team like dogs all week long, and that's why they collapsed in the fourth quarter against SU, and then late in the season against Rutgers, Virginia, and Tennessee. Under Sharpless/Foster, and now Foster, the D starts strong and stays strong.
But I'm digressing. The Dome will not scare this Tech team, because they're road warriors, and if anything, it will motivate them to prove that they can win there. This group of seniors have done everything except three things I can think of right off the top of my head: win at Miami, win at home against UVa, and win at Syracuse. This weekend, they get a chance to knock one of those monkeys off their backs.
Other Motivating Factors
Do you need more? How about this - at last report, Syracuse is favored to win the game, by one point. The Hokies hate that. No matter how many times they prove themselves, they still get no respect, and they feed off of it.
And how about the Big East championship? Syracuse is the preseason favorite, and don't let the 0-2 mark fool you, because they still haven't lost a game in conference. For Virginia Tech, the road to the Big East championship is a long and winding road, with stops in Syracuse and Miami. If you're a Virginia Tech player and you need a pep talk to get psyched for this game, then close the coffin, because you're already dead.
So fear not, Hokie fans. Don't underestimate your team. They have the players, the experience, the poise, and the coaching staff. They can win on Saturday, and if they minimize the mistakes and take the crowd out of the game, they will win.
3:30 Saturday, CBS. Have fun watching it.