Proceed With Caution
by Jim Alderson, 9/30/02
The season’s first month plus an extra week has come and gone. It has been a very good month for Tech, as the Hokies came through the tough OOC unscathed and took care of business against a game Western Michigan team. Tech has once again become media darlings as their 5-0 record versus mostly quality opposition and high national ranking has some commentators swooning. We are reading and hearing comments positively glowing in their tributes to this Tech team, with sentences such as “second best in the country” and “a lock to head to Miami undefeated” being bandied about. It has been a very good run with exciting wins over LSU and Texas A&M, but as our good friend ‘Lightning’ Lee Corso would say, not so fast, my friend.
Has anybody noticed that these are the exact same things that were being uttered last year about the 01 Tech team? That team also zipped out to a strong record, albeit against inferior opposition than this year’s outfit faced. Last year’s Hokies were 6-0, highly ranked and hearing the same praise heaped upon them. Words and phrases such as ‘undefeated’ and ‘Rose Bowl’ were thrown around with great frequency. We all know how things turned out.
The eight games remaining on the schedule consist of the seven most important games, those against the Big East, and will find Tech facing eight teams very familiar with how Tech does things. The likelihood of any opposing coach seeming dumbfounded, ala Lou Saban, at Tech running the ball, is not high. Everybody left has prior experience dealing with Beamerball. Remaining are three away games that are going to be very difficult, and two of the home games are against traditional rivals whose coaches have near the top of their job descriptions “Beat Virginia Tech.” This is not going to be as easy as some who are speculating whether we will face Miami twice this season seem to feel.
It has become apparent that opposing defensive coordinators have figured out that with nine men in the box they can stop the Tech ground game that was so devastating early on. If Tech couldn’t run on Western Michigan, they won’t be doing much running against some of the defenses they have left that will be far more talented. This will put added pressure on Bryan Randall and Tech’s still-rudimentary passing game. Randall continues to develop and make good decisions, but somewhere down the road a more vertical passing game has to be inserted into the game plan, and it will have to work. Tech has been working with leads for virtually the entire season thus far, but the time is coming when they will find themselves down in the second half. How the offense responds when Randall has to pass against a defense that is not stacked to stop the running game will be key to large success this season.
Looking at the road trips, Boston College is looming as a very difficult test. There is no coach on Tech’s schedule that has spent as much time studying Frank Beamer’s tendencies than Tom O’Brien. He hasn’t yet been able to put that knowledge to good use, but he has to feel this is his best chance to finally beat Tech. The tough admissions standards for football players at BC thins the recruiting pool and makes it difficult to acquire in mass quantities the kind of speed that Tech can put on the field, but O’Brien does have a physical defensive front and, most importantly, senior leadership at quarterback, a luxury Tech hasn’t had since 1996. Tech dominates this series simply by virtue of physical talent, but this could very easily be BC’s year.
There is another road test for the Hokies before they head to Miami, a stern one at Syracuse. Frank Beamer won on his last trip, but it was Frank’s only win there, and his record in the Carrier Dome is not good at 1-5. He has won more games in the Orange Bowl [2 to 1] than he has in the Dome. Syracuse is, as usual, floundering against their early OOC, the same sort of performance that gave us the ‘Big East Rule’ when they were winning the BE. But you can bet your car flag that the Orangepersons will have it together by the time Tech comes calling. I would also imagine that last year’s bowl slight, in which the Gator selected #3 VT over #2 Syracuse, hasn’t been forgotten. It is never easy for the Hokies in the Dome, and this won’t be either.
Among the home games is a revenge match against Pittsburgh. If there is one coach that can say he has figured out the defense of Bud Foster, it is Walt Harris. These guys have been piling up yards and points against Tech for a few years now, and more of the same can be expected when they hit Lane Stadium. Temple is fading into football oblivion, but Rutgers may finally be showing signs of life. West Virginia and the Hoos are both winning, although the ‘Eers haven’t exactly gone up against Murderer’s Row in beating Chattanooga, Cincinnati and East Carolina, and the French, while they do have a quality win over South Carolina, have as their other two victims weak sisters Akron and Wake Forest. Both will be ready when they come to Blacksburg, however. Jimmy Sharpe used to say of former in-state rivals VMI, Richmond and William and Mary that they would “rather beat Virginia Tech than eat when they’re hungry.” The same can now be said of WVU and the Hoos. Tech will get their best shots.
Tech has accomplished a lot in going 5-0, beating three ranked teams [LSU, Texas A&M and Marshall all still have only one loss] and rising to number four in the polls. They have also so far accomplished nothing, not even having yet qualified for a bowl. The story of last year’s team wasn’t written in September, and this year’s tale won’t be either. Tech is not 12-0 and headed to Miami for a shot at the MNC. The Hokies are 5-0 with games left against teams that are not going to be all that awed by Tech’s lofty stature, and will decide to show up and give it their best shot. Enjoy the victories and savor the possibilities, but take a look at Florida State and remember, this is why they play the games.
Jim Alderson,who first made his mark with his biting political commentary on the A-Line email newsletter, also brings a unique, sarcastic, and well-informed perspective on college sports, particularly (1) Virginia Tech sports and (2) ACC sports. While Hokie fans currently have very little use for subject number 2, Alderson is an entertaining and informative columnist on subject number 1. For even more fun, visit Jim's A-Line home page.