Time to Regroup
by Jim Alderson, 11/6/02

Last year a Virginia Tech team that had won a bunch of games against inferior opposition found itself basking in the accolades of media and message board goofiness that had already awarded the Hokies an unbeaten record heading into a Miami game that would be a clash for the ages. Unfortunately, no one informed Syracuse that they were merely cannon fodder for Tech, and the Orangepersons came into Lane Stadium on a bitterly cold day and exposed Tech as a MNC pretender.

A dispirited Tech team that was obviously not ready to play then traveled to Pittsburgh and was hammered by the Panthers. Fast-forward to this year and a few things have changed, such as the caliber of OOC opposition and the reversal of Pitt and Syracuse on the schedule. Other things have not changed, however, and a Tech team that had again been the subject of adoring hype that again had the Hokies already undefeated heading into a titanic contest with the Canes again suffered a home loss.

Tech must attempt to regroup and travel to a venue where Frank Beamer has enjoyed precious little success and tangle with a suddenly rejuvenated Syracuse team that has had the Tech game circled since bowl bids were awarded last December. Letís hope the results are different this time around.

There was not a lot of surprise to be seen in Techís loss to Pittsburgh. The MNC and BCS talk was looking increasingly foolish for a team that has no kicking game, a rudimentary passing one and inexperience at the most vital position on the field. Many of the quiet conversations and e-mail exchanges that circulated prior to the game dealt with not whether Tech would win, but if the Panthers would hang as big a loss on Tech as they did last year. If not for a generous application of Beamerball early on, they would have. The Panthers have arrived.

Pitt has emerged as a legitimate Big East contender, perhaps the favorite if Miami continues to sleepwalk through games and act a lot, as did Tech, like a team just waiting to be beaten. If Pitt tailback Brandon Miree could light up Bud Fosterís crew, he will run on a Canesí defense that has problems stopping most anybody on the ground.

Pitt has become the first Big East team other than Miami to beat Tech in consecutive seasons since conference play began. Walt Harris is building this program into a powerhouse in a piece-by-piece manner that very much reminds of what Frank Beamer and his staff accomplished in the nineties, right down to doing to Joepa what Frank did to George Welsh. The Panthers are going to be a force to be reckoned with for the foreseeable future.

Some Tech fans will need to cease whining about next yearís OOC and ponder instead how Tech can return to within shouting distance of the top of the BE, for the evidence is pretty compelling that Pitt has passed the Hokies, and we can no longer even lay claim to being the second-best team in the Big East. The rest of the league is catching up, and Pitt has shot by.

There are fairly simple reasons for Techís decline that began to show itself in the pedestrian victories over Rutgers and Temple, and fairly simple explanations. The reasons include games against conference teams whose coaches have spent far more time studying Tech than had LSU's Nick Saban or Texas A&M's RC Slocom and are much more familiar with what Tech desires to do on the field.

The lack of solid quarterback play tends to also stand out like Terry Shea at the Hall of Fame. Bryan Randall looks a lot like a quarterback who has lost confidence, a state of mind that will be difficult to recover as Bryan contemplates who is standing on the sideline and the competition for the position that will be on the field next spring. Tech has a quarterback in the program who is being given the exact same opportunities for success that were given his celebrated older brother, including the luxury of a redshirt year that was not afforded Randall.

Techís biggest offensive problem is the lack of an experienced veteran quarterback, and the odds seem to be increasing with every Randall miscue that another inexperienced one will be lining up behind center next year, for the third straight season. I wonder if the knowledge of who is around is affecting Bryanís play, causing him to press and creating a situation of gaffes that feeds on itself?

There has also been much venom spewed in the direction of the offensive coordinator, as many members of the lynch mob that demanded that Ricky Bustle be hung from the highest tree are advocating the same treatment for his replacement. Like Bryan Randall, Bryan Stinespring is new on the job, and it occasionally shows. Few people stroll into promotions without having to acclimate themselves to their new position, and this appears to be no exception. I have no doubt that Stinespring will grow into an outstanding OC, and certainly Frank Beamer thought so, but, like most of us, Bryan is facing a steep learning curve in his new job.

Tech now heads to the Carrier Dome a wounded team. Last yearís edition of the Hokies never really overcame the Syracuse loss. Hopefully, this yearís version will prove to be a bit more resilient and mentally tougher, because another loss will have us contemplating the joys of Uptown Charlotte in late December. Iím not sure about the team, but avoiding that fate is strong motivation for the fans.

 

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