College Football Corner: High hopes for the Hokies

This is one of a series of in-depth previews of D.C. area Division I teams heading into the 2015 season. Click here for quick capsules on all area teams, and stay tuned for a Week 1 preview Friday.

WASHINGTON — For Virginia Tech football, 2014 offered the best of times and worst of times.

In a season where the Hokies upset eventual defending National Champion Ohio State in Columbus, they also found a way to lose 6-3 to Wake Forest in double-overtime after playing 60 scoreless minutes I’m still upset at the NCAA for not making up some reason to end that game after regulation. They couldn’t have interrupted that hot mess with a “Sorry, you’ve exceeded your allotted time on the field  for the week”?  Aren’t there ever thunderstorm warnings in Winston-Salem?  A fire drill? That loss meant that the Hokies had to rally past Virginia just to qualify for a bowl, and it was the second time in three years where a win over the Cavaliers was necessary to reach six wins.  That can’t be encouraging for a fan base that’s grown accustomed to challenging for conference championships.

Frank Beamer is the longest tenured head coach in Division I football

He’s taken his alma mater from a middling independent program that served up stocking stuffers for the likes of Clemson and Florida, to a Big East, and then ACC, contender, regularly beating the likes of Clemson.  He’s been in Blacksburg for 29 years, and one would have to think that even if this isn’t his last season at the helm, Beamer is well past the midpoint of his tenure.  One would prefer a graceful exit and smooth transition, unlike what happened at Florida State, where it was apparent Bobby Bowden had stayed a few years too long (three six-loss seasons in his last four years).  The Hokies have gone three years without a double-digit win campaign, which is their longest stretch since the early 90s.  A fourth-straight disappointing season would be tough to stomach for a program that played in five of the first seven ACC Championship Games (after taking the title its first season in the league).

Michael Brewer enters his second season as the Hokies starting quarterback

The transfer from Texas Tech’s 2014 season was a mixed bag. He threw for over 2,600 yards but tossed 15 interceptions and lost three fumbles.  Coach Beamer feels that Brewer has made strides in his first offseason in Blacksburg, and will be better equipped to direct the Hokies offense this fall while making fewer mistakes.  The running game looks to bounce back from what’s been a rough couple of years. Due to injuries and/or an offensive line that never came together, Virginia Tech’s once-vaunted running game (Lee Suggs, Kevin Jones) has run aground.  Beamer thinks that this year things will be better.
“You start with JC Coleman, and Trey Edmunds is back–I told him the other day he looks faster than ever–and we got a freshman McMillan that I think’s got a great future,” said Beamer. “We’ve really got some weapons.”
For a running game that ranked 8th in the ACC last year, that’s encouraging.

Defensively the Hokies run a 4-4 front

…and it’s not necessarily the scheme that’s been successful over the years.

“In any defense it still gets back to personnel,” said Beamer, “and right now we’re two-deep in the defensive line.”

Defensive end Dadi Nicolas (9 sacks in 2014) and linebacker Deon Clarke (74 tackles, 5 sacks and an INT) anchor the front eight while the last of a long line of hallowed Hokies is the standout in the secondary.  You’ve heard of Vincent, Corey and Kyle Fuller, who played in the NFL after starring at Virginia Tech?  Meet youngest brother Kendall–the junior has eight career interceptions (including a three-pick day against Duke as a freshman).  Prepare for another strong season from the Hokies D.

Special teams have long been a Hokies hallmark

When the program was just getting good, it did so on the shoulders of a kicking game that seemingly made big plays every week.  “Beamer Ball” made opposing teams and their fanbases cringe every time they lined up to kick.  The coach feels that his school served as a pioneer.

“I think within the last 10 years everyone started to emphasize special teams more, putting good people on there, and I think it’s gotten tougher to gain an advantage,” said Beamer. “I used to feel like you could gain an advantage over most everyone you played, but not any more.”

Still, expect a kicking game that makes a difference.

The season begins with a bang

Defending National Champ and Preseason No. 1 Ohio State comes to Blacksburg Labor Day night.  There’s the customary pre-ACC September stumble Hokie fans are accustomed to (ECU in 2008 and 2014, JMU in 2010 and Cincinnati in 2012). But upon further review, those only appear to occur in even-numbered years.  The key conference stretch for Virginia Tech will come from Oct. 17 through Nov. 12: three games against fellow Coastal Division contenders Miami, Duke and defending champ Georgia Tech, with a trip to Boston College thrown in for good measure.  The Nov. 12 game is especially huge. The Hokies or Yellowjackets have combined to win nine of 10 Coastal Division titles.  It’s also on Thursday night– a night Virginia Tech used to dominate–  but the Hokies are 1-4 on since 2011 and will not host this fall.  Can the pendulum swing back to Blacksburg?

Twenty-nine years at Virginia Tech

Frank Beamer has done just about everything, from coaching Heisman contenders to competing in championship games. He’s guided the Hokies to 10 different bowls, ranging from the Sugar Bowl to the Russell Athletic Bowl.  But Beamer contends that he has not accomplished one Blacksburg milestone–he told me earlier this month that he doesn’t eat the famous Lane Stadium smoked turkey legs.

“I know our fans enjoy it. I don’t have an opportunity to get involved with it that much,” Beamer said. “It’s kind of neat, that smoke, it smells nice in the stadium.  I enjoy that part of it.”

There’s no reason to think coach Beamer and the Hokies won’t enjoy the sweet smell of a successful campaign this fall.

Dave Preston

Dave has been in the D.C. area for 10 years and in addition to working at WTOP since 2002 has also been on the air at Westwood One/CBS Radio as well as Red Zebra Broadcasting (Redskins Network).

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