'Tired' Hokies look for improvement this week at ECU
The Kroger Roth Report
September 4, 2000
By Bill Roth

We saw some new things last Saturday afternoon at Lane Stadium/Worsham Field at Virginia Tech's first home game of the century.

For one, we actually saw some football, not just nasty weather.

Secondly, we saw the first collegiate starts for seven defenders and an exciting new tailback.

And third, for the first time in a long time, we saw a tired Tech football team that looked gassed - and that was in the first half.

"I thought at one point out there we looked real tired and probably were," Tech coach Frank Beamer said in his opening remarks following the game.

Tired? You bet. But not because of lack of preseason effort.

The conditioning problems the Hokies faced on the field were the result of the crazy circumstances in the last couple of weeks.

A refresher. Back in July, Beamer and his staff had a tough decision to make. The Hokies had three football games in 12 days to start the 2000 season - an unheard of scheduling quirk. Beamer's dilemma - how hard should he work his team in preseason camp?

On one hand, the Hokies needed to be in great shape early, battling Georgia Tech, Akron and East Carolina all within 12 days.

But on the other hand, if Tech's coaches put the team through too much preseason contact work, would the team still have its legs for the back-to-back short-week games against the Zips and Pirates?

Beamer consulted some NFL coaches and others who had been challenged by consecutive short-week situations and came up with a new preseason routine. Instead of having two-a-days every day in camp, the Hokies practiced three times every 48 hours.

So, over the course of a week, Tech cut its contact work by 20 percent. Beamer and his staff executed very efficient practices, and even though it didn't practice as much, the staff felt it had covered all bases, all the 'X's and 'O's.

But the down side of the lighter work load was the overall conditioning of the team since there wasn't as much preseason contact as usual.

"I understand why it happened because we probably didn't work quite enough in preseason camp," Beamer said. "We were workin' there for limited days because of the Georgia Tech game. Then when we didn't play it, it just cost us a couple of days. It's a thin line there in preseason camp about how much work you get into. It probably affected our tackling a little bit and that's something we have to address."

Conditioning isn't just running sprints at the end of each practice. It's the line-of-scrimmage hitting that occurs during every practice week.

In the first half of the Akron game, the Zips ran 48 total offensive plays and had the ball for more than 20 minutes. And as you know, Tech's defense allowed 300 yards.

"I'll bet you go back and figure out the yardage they got after contact was made and you've got about 200 of those 300 yards right there," Beamer said. "I think it comes back to effort and good fundamentals and we've been a good tacklin' team and I expect this team to be a good tacklin' team."

But when players are tired, they miss tackles and make mistakes which happened far too frequently in the first half.

"It's something we have to address," Beamer said.

Second half a different story
But in the second half, Tech's defense was 100 percent better.

Akron had six offensive possessions in the final 30 minutes and didn't score a single point.

Tech allowed just 110 second-half yards and 79 of those came during one third-quarter drive.

Overall, Tech's defense forced four punts, caused a fumble and stopped the Zips on downs in the second half. Akron ran only 26 plays in the second half.

"It went about the way we expected" Beamer said. "When you have so many young guys, you're going to have some mistakes and we did. But in the second half, that group was much better."

Among the folks who really played well were linebackers Jake Houseright and Ben Taylor. Those two kids were all over the field and anyone who's been around the Hokies' program knows how much adversity Houseright has overcome to get on the field for Tech. He made many key stops for Tech's defense.

It was a good first game also for safety Willie Pile, who had an interception for a touchdown, a fumble recovery and seven tackles.

And how young were the Hokie defenders? A grand total of eight freshmen were on the field against Akron - Nathaniel Adibi, Cols Colas, Jim Davis, Kevin Lewis, Garnell Wilds, Vegas Robinson, Eric Green and Mark Costen.

Offensive line grades out well
Tech's offensive line was terrific, leading the Hokies to 549 yards of total offense, including 335 yards rushing.

"We came out looking to run the ball and we get real excited as an offensive line when we try to run," senior tackle Anthony Lambo said.

It could be a big year for this group and protecting quarterback Michael Vick is job one.

"A lot of teams are going to try to keep Mike in the pocket by blitzing from the outside," Lambo said. "That puts the pressure on the running backs and offensive line to pick up those different twists that we're not used to seeing."

Lambo's take on tailback Lee Suggs, who rushed for 90 yards on 14 carries in his first collegiate start: "He does a good job making cuts on certain plays and seeing the angles of the defenders."

And goals for this week?

"We need to have less turnovers on offense and have two really good days of practice in pads," he said. "We've been practicing since August 4th, and its just so exciting to get this season going. We are really looking forward to going to East Carolina and playing them."

Hokies see Rose again
In 1995, Tim Rose was the defensive coordinator at Cincinnati when the Bearcats shut out the Hokies 16-0 at Lane Stadium. In 1998, he was the defensive coordinator at Boston College when the Hokies defeated BC 17-0 - ironically, Tech's last Thursday night game before this week's tilt at East Carolina.

In the BC contest in '98, Tech was held to 10 first downs and only 236 total yards. The game was highlighted by Pierson Prioleau's 85-yard interception return for a touchdown.

So in two games against Rose, Tech's offense has scored one touchdown (Lamont Pegues 1-yard run vs. BC in 1998) and one field goal (Shayne Graham vs. BC in 1998).

Rose is the guy who will line his nose guard up five yards off the line of scrimmage and move him around like a linebacker. Very unusual and - at least against the Hokies - very effective.

ECU finished 14th in the nation in scoring defense last season and the Pirates were ranked 10th against the pass. The Pirates opened their season with a 38-0 shutout at Duke.

Other thoughts for the week
  • Evidently, there are still three coaches out there who think Penn State is a top 25 team. Despite their 0-2 start, PSU received three votes in this week's ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll. Makes you wonder about the validity of the poll, no?

  • Last year, Boston College ended the season with lopsided losses to Virginia Tech (38-14) and Colorado (62-28). Saturday, the Eagles opened their season with another lopsided loss, this time, a 34-14 setback at West Virginia.

    BC finished 8-4 last year, but seven of those wins came against teams with losing records, including Baylor (1-10), Rutgers (1-10) and Division 1-AA Northeastern. Makes you wonder about the experts who were predicting a terrific season in Chestnut Hill and a bad season in Morgantown.

    The Mountaineers win over BC was a huge win for Don Nehlen and Co. With Maryland and Miami both visiting Mountaineer Field in the next two weeks, WVU has a chance to really make a statement this September. WVU plays Temple and Idaho before visiting Blacksburg Oct. 12th.

    BC has two weeks to right its ship against Army and Navy before the Hokies visit Beantown in three weeks.

  • If you bring your portable radio with you to the ECU game, you'll be able to hear the action on the Tech ISP Sports Network live at Dowdy-Ficklin Stadium in Greenville. Scan the FM dial (starting at 88.1 FM) and working your way up until you hear the broadcast.

  • This is a key week for the BIG EAST with teams hitting the road for some interesting non-conference games. The Hokies play at East Carolina, Miami visits Washington, Temple visits Maryland, Pittsburgh travels to Bowling Green and Syracuse visits Cincinnati.

    Syracuse will find that playing Cincinnati on the road can be tough (ask Ron Dayne and the 1999 Wisconsin Badgers.) As for the Hokies and 'Canes, it doesn't get much tougher than Greenville, N.C., or Seattle. So far, BIG EAST teams are 6-0 vs non-conference opponents.

  • Tanardo Warning: Temple running back Tanardo Sharps rushed for 180 yards against Navy last Saturday. This week, he gets a crack at a Maryland team that lost its last four games of 1999 (including a loss to Duke) and allowed at least 30 points in five games. Temple scored a nice road win at Navy last week. If the Owls can start 2-0 (with six home games remaining) it's not inconceivable that Temple could have a - gasp - winning season. Home games with Bowling Green and Eastern Michigan follow the Maryland game, giving coach Bobby Wallace a chance to build some momentum heading into BIG EAST play.

    Tech tight end Browning Wynn may like blocking, but he does a pretty good job of catching passes as well.
  • Why is Browning Wynn so popular with Tech's coaching staff? The kid worked his tail off to earn a scholarship and now is the Hokies' starting tight end. He won the Ironman competition this summer. And he's got a great attitude for a tight end.

    Wynn was asked if he'd rather catch a pass or knock a linebacker down. His response?

    "Given the choice, I'd rather knock a linebacker on his butt," he said.

    And that's what almost everyone wants to see.

The Roth report appears weekly in hokiesports.com-the newspaper and is posted for the general public on hokiesports.com.

The opinions expressed here are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Virginia Tech Athletics Department, hokiesports.com, or it's advertisers.