Monday, August 30, 1999

I've Got Good News and Good News

The good news, for the Big East anyway, is that the #12 Miami Hurricanes knocked off the #9 Ohio State Buckeyes on Sunday rather handily, 23-12.

And the good news is, they didn't look like world-beaters doing it.

I thought the two teams were fairly evenly matched, but the difference in the game was that Miami's star players made plays, and, well, Ohio State doesn't even appear to have star players, because no one stepped forward for the Buckeyes.

What do I mean by "fairly evenly matched"? Well, along the line of scrimmage, neither team dominated the other. They both had their moments, but neither one laid a butt-whipping on the other.

Outside of that, the main difference was that Miami's receivers and running backs stepped forward, whereas no one for OSU stepped forward. Miami got a 44-yard TD run from self-proclaimed Heisman candidate James Jackson and a 67-yard "It's all me, the throw was horrible" TD reception from Santana Moss, who finished with three catches for 115 yards. The result is a much-needed win for Miami and the Big East.

As a Tech fan, I was obviously scouting Miami. I watched three areas of the Miami game and evaluated them:

Quarterback Kenny Kelly

This can't be the same Kenny Kelly who thoroughly impressed me last year, because the Kenny Kelly that I saw against Ohio State did not impress me. In fact, I thought he was merely competent at best.

Kelly almost never delivered the ball precisely to a spot where a receiver could catch it and then do something with it. I saw a number of one-handed, reaching catches, spinning catches, diving catches, "jump-ball" catches, and generally, receivers making plays on the ball instead of catching well-delivered strikes.

Kelly threw off his back foot, he threw wobbly Billy Kilmer rejects, and he got lucky that Miami's great receivers padded his stats (he wound up 17-25 for 245 yards, but with two interceptions). He often threw the ball like the baseball player that he is. At this stage, Michael Vick's delivery is much crisper and more classic.

To Kelly's advantage, he was calm, in control, and never got flustered. He executed poorly, but I didn't see him make a lot of poor decisions. He is fast and smooth. If he can iron out the problems with his mechanics and improve his throwing motion, Tech will be facing a good quarterback on November 13th. Right now, he's only average.


Good ole Butch Davis. The poor guy just can't coach. The Canes committed ten penalties, they were unprepared in unusual situations (they only had ten players on the field for a two-point conversion attempt), they burned timeouts unnecessarily, and their sideline often looked like a Chinese fire drill.

When the Canes meet the Hokies, one area in which Tech always has the advantage is coaching. Always.

Line play

I thought the Canes played well on the line of scrimmage, but overall, the game was inconclusive. Sometimes they got good penetration with their defensive line, sometimes they didn't. Sometimes their offensive line opened up gaping holes in the middle of OSU's defense, sometimes they didn't.

The Canes shining moment in line play came early in the fourth quarter, when they put together a clock-crunching seven or eight minute drive.

Probably the key thing I noticed was that Ohio State wasn't able to push the Miami defensive line around. That doesn't mean Tech's offensive line won't be able to, but if I could sum it up, I would say that Miami at least played OSU's lines to a standstill, and often outplayed them, and that's pretty good.

Special teams

The Canes, who have been pretty good kick blockers under Butch Davis (30 blocks since 1995), didn’t block any kicks in this game. The Miami field goal kicker, Andy Crosland, who has been kicking for Miami since, oh, 1992, is still horrible. Looking for a guy who can miss short field goals with stunning regularity? Crosland's your man.

In all fairness, Crosland handles all the kicking duties for Miami, from kickoffs to punts to extra points to field goals, so he's not awesome at all of his duties. He does them all because the Canes, who just came off probation, needed the scholarships elsewhere.

Overall, although the Canes showed their strengths (linebackers, tailbacks, and receivers), their weaknesses are still there, and Kenny Kelly wasn't impressive in his starting debut. There's a lot of time and a lot of games between now and the Tech/Miami game on November 13th, but I didn't see a Miami team that intimidated me. I respect them, yes, but they don't scare me.


Is Beamer-Ball On Its Way to Going Nationwide?

Thanks primarily to the special teams demolition of Alabama in the Music City Bowl, and Tech's clever follow-up "Beamer-Ball" marketing campaign, the Hokies are gaining national notoriety for their special teams play.

Florida is noted for their passing attack. Nebraska is famous for bone-crushing offensive linemen. Penn State is "Linebacker U." And the Hokies are fast becoming "Special Teams U."

The downside of the notoriety is that the rest of the nation is quickly noticing what a huge advantage great special teams play is, and around the country, putting your best athletes on special teams, as Beamer does, is suddenly becoming the rage. Now that Tech has been noticed for its special teams play, the imitators are coming out of the woodwork.

On Saturday, Penn State blocked a punt against Arizona, but that was nothing compared to what N.C. State did against Texas. The Wolfpack, soundly beaten by the Longhorns in almost every phase of the game, blocked three punts, turning them into two touchdowns and a safety, and eked out a 23-20 win.

N.C. State never should have been in the ball game. They gained only 172 yards to Texas's 372, only had the ball just over 23 minutes, and had four turnovers. But the Pack won because they trumped the Longhorns in special teams play, to the tune of a 16-0 advantage in that phase of the game. All NCSU had to do was tack on an offensive touchdown to that output, and they won by three points.

The end of the game was dramatic. With Texas leading 20-15 and punting in N.C. State territory with less than four minutes to go, the Pack blocked the punt and returned it 48 yards for a TD, giving them the win.

If State's three blocks and Penn State's block are any indication, it sounds like the rest of the nation may be starting to grasp the fact that special teams play can turn a game around. I only hope the Hokies can maintain their edge.


Meanwhile, In Happy Valley…

Arizona number 3? You've got to be kidding me.

Sure, one game can be an aberration, but I watched Penn State maul Arizona 41-7 on Saturday, and it didn't look to me as if 'Zona was a good team having a bad day. They just looked bad, period.

I'll give the Wildcats the benefit of the doubt on offense, because PSU's defense, led by LaVar Arrington and almost-a-Hokie Courtney Brown is awesome, and they played like it Saturday.

But on defense, Arizona looked slow and untalented, and they compounded those problems by overpursuing and otherwise executing poorly. Penn State is not a club that's known for its team speed, but they made Arizona look as if they were running in quicksand.

And this was a team (Arizona) that was ranked #4 in the AP poll and #3 in the coach's poll.

I doubt that Arizona is really that bad, but I am starting to think this: Virginia Tech is approaching the level where they can play with just about any team in the country. If a good team like Arizona (12-1 last year) that returns 16 starters can look that bad, then I think that on any given day, Tech can hang with any of the big boys.

That's a strange leap in logic, but you get my point. Playing in the rarified air of the Top 15 used to be a big deal for Virginia Tech, but it shouldn't be anymore. At the end of last year, I watched the national championship game, and I saw two very good teams playing mediocre football, and they both would have gotten a run for their money from the Hokies on that particular night.

Winning a national championship is difficult and takes a lot of luck, so it may or may not be a realistic goal for Virginia Tech at this point in time. But there's no doubt in my mind that we have a Top-15 team, and on some days, a Top-10 or Top-5 team.

There are still teams like Florida State and Nebraska that will beat us with depth and sheer numbers, but the Hokies are almost there. And with a lot of luck, hard work, and good coaching, we might be able to stay near the top, and maybe some day actually be at the top, alone.


CBS TV: And So It Begins….

Saturday, Jack Bogaczyk's latest On the Air column ran in the Roanoke Times, and it contained this chilling section (all extra emphasis is mine):

LESS BIG EAST: CBS Sports programming chief Mike Aresco said Friday that talks between the Big East and the network to extend the league's primary football telecast contract are "ongoing for post-2000." Aresco said that if an agreement is reached, the Big East presence "probably won't be as large as it has been."

The current Big East deal calls for 9-11 games a season on CBS. The Southeastern Conference gets 15 games annually, but in a 2001-08 contract already signed, the SEC will be guaranteed a 3:30 p.m. national telecast over 12 weeks among its 15 dates.

"We aren't going to have as many windows as we had in the past for the Big East, but we are very much interested in their top games," Aresco said.

The Big East must weigh that diminished potential for CBS exposure against what it could get from another network.

How discomforting it is for CBS's sports programming chief to flat-out say publicly what anyone with a brain has noticed over the last couple of years. CBS is committed to the SEC, and is de-emphasizing the Big East.

While other conferences have already renewed their contracts as far as ten years into the future, the Big East has not, and its contract runs out after the 2000 season. And now the key network in the deal, CBS, is verbally shrugging its shoulders at the Big East.

The statement "we are very much interested in their top games" equates to "we'll show all of Miami's important games, as well as inter-conference matchups between Big East teams and Notre Dame, Penn State, etc." So forget about Tech being on CBS if the Big East signs a new, shriveled-up deal with the big eye network.

The new contract, of course, is critical to the future of the conference. If the new contract stinks, it makes Miami, or anyone else, all the more likely to bolt for greener pastures.

This is where the failure of Mike Tranghese and CBS over the last five years to promote any of the Big East's "lesser" properties now comes home to roost. If they had spent the last five years tooting the horns for Syracuse, WVU, and Tech, then perhaps the Big East would be perceived as having more value, and perhaps it would have more value.

Instead, the Big East's buffoonish commissioner kept putting all his eggs into a basket that was on probation and hasn't been to a BCS bowl since 1994. And since CBS doesn't know how to promote sports and sports teams, Virginia Tech still has no national TV following, even though the Hokies, over the last five years, have put together some good and entertaining teams at times.

The whole thing leaves me fuming, and as I've said before, it makes this season all the more critical for Virginia Tech. In this season of heightened expectations, the Hokies have to deliver on the field and make a name for themselves, instead of waiting for the Big East and CBS to do it for them. Because that ain't gonna happen.


Radio and TV Shows are Underway

On Sunday, the first Virginia Tech Sports Today show of the season aired. It ran at noon on Channel 10 in Roanoke. Last year, the show aired at 4 p.m. on Tuesdays on Home Team Sports, but a quick look on the HTS web site reveals no mention of the Tech sports program. Let me know if you find it listed.

The Hokie Hotline radio show debuts today, Monday, August 30th. The show ran from 7:00-8:30 last year. For a list of radio stations that are in the Tech network, see the fan's guide to television and radio on


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