Hokies have jumped out to a great start, but room for improvement evident
The Kroger Roth Report
October 9, 2000

The voters in the Associated Press poll think Virginia Tech is American's third-best college football team.

The coaches, who vote in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll, have Tech second. In fact, three of 'em voted Tech No. 1.

But are the 2000 Hokies really that good?

"I'm more concerned about us getting better as a football team than the polls at this point," was coach Frank Beamer's response when asked that question following the Hokies' 35-13 pounding of Temple. Like one of the presidential candidates dodging a question in the recent debates, Beamer recognizes two things. First, it's too early to get concerned about ratings and rankings. And secondly, his team still has some room for improvement. It must get better if the Hokies are to stay in the BCS title game hunt for a second straight season.

Now at times, the Hokies look unbeatable.

Offensively, they've got the nation's most electrifying quarterback in Michael Vick, a legitimate big-time tailback in Lee Suggs, and a huge, veteran offensive line that dropped defensive linemen from Boston College and Temple to their knees in the past two games when Tech exhibited a jaw-dropping running game.

Defensively, the Hokies are playing better each week. Tech sacked Temple quarterbacks six times. In all, the Hokies recorded 12 tackles behind the line of scrimmage and held Temple to minus-15 yards rushing. Tanardo Sharps - who entered the game as the BIG EAST's leading rusher - was held to just 19 yards on 16 carries. "They whipped our offensive front. We just got a good old-fashioned whippin'," was the way Temple's coach Bobby Wallace summed it up.

And on special teams, the 2000 Hokies' Pride-and-Joy (punt return) unit has been sensational. Tech has returned three punts for touchdowns, blocked a total of five kicks (three punts and two field goals attempts), and twice tackled jittery punters before they could kick the ball. That's in just five games.

But at other times, the Hokies look sloppy - which has Beamer and his staff concerned.

"We're putting the ball on the ground too often," Tech's coach said, shaking his head. "The fumbles on snaps to the quarterback, that's just not us."

Vick has committed six turnovers in the past two game, including a pass which was returned 65 yards by Temple linebacker Chonn Lacey for a touchdown. (Note to Heisman voters: Purdue's Drew Brees also had a pass picked off and returned for a touchdown last week in the Boilermakers' win over Michigan). OK, so Vick is human. We don't need to run a DNA test on the kid to make sure.

We've heard enough about the Tech players yawning to the TV cameras after Tech took a 21-0 lead over Temple to think perhaps they lose some focus once they feel they have a game in hand. At Boston College, Tech jumped ahead 14-0 in the first seven minutes. The game before, Tech was ahead of Rutgers 35-0 in the second quarter. And of course, Tech led East Carolina 31-0 in the second quarter in week two.

"We lose our focus," Beamer admitted after the Temple game. "That second quarter out there, it got a little rough."

But have the Hokies jumped out to big leads each week? Yes.

And has any opponent seriously threatened to come back and win the game? No.

On the surface, that sounds great.

But Beamer, his staff and his players know this team has not come close to reaching its potential.

The short, wobbly punts from walk-on Bobby Peaslee have forced Beamer to re-open the punter's job competition. Linebacker Ben Taylor, cornerback Eric Green and freshman punter Vinnie Burns are back in the picture. The receivers, tight ends and backs have dropped far too many passes. The deep passing game has been non-existent. And the turnovers, the procedure penalties and the late hits out of bounds are very uncharacteristic of Virginia Tech teams. It seems the Hokies have yet to play a game when their offense and defense are both clicking.

To run the table - and that includes a win at the Orange Bowl on Nov. 4th- the Hokies will have to put all phases of their game together.

Here in mid-October, every team seems to have its own question marks. Whether it's Nebraska's defense, Virginia Tech's punting, Kansas State's schedule or Florida State's kickers, the national picture is clouded because - at least to this point - nobody has stepped up to be a clear-cut favorite for the top spot. If and when the Hokies put it all together, Beamer's Boys will be tough to beat. But Frank Solich can say the same thing. So can Bill Snyder, Butch Davis and the Bowdens - both Bobby and Tommy.

Of course, everyone will get their chance. November is shaping up to be a great month with Kansas State at Nebraska, Michigan vs. Ohio State, and of course, Tech at Miami.

If the Hokies and 'Huskers run the table, they will meet at the Orange Bowl for the national championship. Unlike last year, Tech controls its destiny in this title hunt. But the Hokies will have to bring their 'A' game if they're going to win at Miami in November and before.

West Virginia, Syracuse and Pittsburgh will try to knock Tech off the BCS front porch in the next three weeks. The Mountaineers gave Tech its biggest scare last year and the Hokies haven't won at Syracuse since 1986. Those two statements of fact will prevent Tech from looking ahead to Nov. 4th.

Sure, the Hokies are in great shape right now. But as Beamer will preach to his team this week, sloppy play, dropped passes, turnovers and penalties are the surest ways to get upset.

Tech's defense rises to Foster's challenge
Last week in practice, Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster told his unit it was time to step up its game.

"We challenged them last week," he said. "We weren't good enough the week before (at BC) and we told 'em we needed consistent play."

Tech's defense returned to its swarming ways against Temple, registering those six sacks and not allowing a run of over eight yards. During 15 Temple possessions, the Owls went three-and-out eight times. Three other possessions ended with interceptions. Temple ran only 56 plays for the game (compared to Tech's 85) and gained only 116 net yards.

"We played so much better in technique and with our fundamentals," Foster said. "Overall, we played with a lot more confidence, emotion and enthusiasm."

The most impressive statistic of the game might have been third-down conversions, where Tech held the Owls to just 1-of-14 for the game.

"David Pugh and Chad Beasley played really well against the run and the pass and our linebackers played very solid," Foster said.

About linebacker Ben Taylor's play against Temple: "Night and day different from the game before. I was really pleased," Foster said.

Tech's pass defense was exceptional thanks to a terrific pass rush from the front four.

"I thought Jim Davis came in and did a great job too," Foster said. "We've been up and down on defense, which isn't surprising for a young unit, but we've got to be consistent."

Short week for Tech and WVU
West Virginia plays its second Thursday road game in three weeks when the Mountaineers visit Blacksburg this week. Tech has defeated WVU eight of the past 11 years, including the last three at Lane Stadium. But Beamer and his team need only pop in the tape of last year's game in Morgantown to know how tough Thursday's game in Blacksburg will be.

WVU was sluggish in its 28-16 win over Idaho. The Mountaineers converted just 1-of-14 third-down plays and thus punted a school-record 11 times. WVU was outgained 474-247. But WVU still found a way to come from behind and win - just as it had done the week before at Temple. So there's something to be said about the character of Don Nehlen's team, which is off to a 4-1 start.

Since 1994, WVU is 4-15 against Tech, Miami and Syracuse - a statistic that Mountaineer fans quote ad nauseum. Still, it's a team that seemingly always plays Tech down to the final minutes.

The last time Tech faced WVU on a Thursday night, though, Tech came away with a 34-6 win in 1994.

CBS/WUSA-TV share blame for Tech-BC switch
The Washington Post reported last week that CBS and WUSA (Channel 9 in Washington) share the blame for the network cutting away from the Tech-BC game after three quarters to show the Mississippi State-Florida game.

"A CBS Sports spokesman said the switch away from Virginia Tech was made because there was confusion at the local and network level about the game being considered a 'constant.' When games involving local teams are aired in those areas, a constant means the game will be carried from start to finish before switching elsewhere," the Post reported.

"Channel 9 didn't ask for it as a constant," the spokesman said. "And we probably should have kept it on. It was both parties. In hindsight, we should have stayed with Virginia Tech."

That's little consolation for Tech fans in Northern Virginia who missed Vick's 82-yard run in the fourth quarter. CBS - which will televise three more Virginia Tech games this season - should include Washington, Richmond, Norfolk, Bristol and Roanoke as 'home' markets for Tech or endure another ton of e-mails and phone calls from disgruntled alumni when the network cuts away to the SEC game.

WUSA took more than its share of criticism this past week too when the station opted to show the Florida State-Miami game instead of Jefferson-Pilot ACC game of the week, featuring the hometown Maryland Terrapins.

A hero from Locust Grove
Dennis Bane is the winner of this year's Virginia SGMA Heroes Award. The National Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association, in conjunction with the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, recognizes outstanding work from citizens in each state to help promote sports in their communities.

Bane, from Locust Grove, Va., has been a tireless volunteer in Special Olympics for 27 years. His leadership efforts in Spotsylvania County led to the inclusion of Special Olympics into the school system's individual education plan for every special-ed student. Now, every student at Chancellor High School has the opportunity to be involved in sports and has transportation and funding assistance to accomplish this task.

Bane also works with local volunteers to provide opportunities for mentally disabled athletes to participate in track, basketball, bowling, powerlifting and other sports. He will be rewarded with a plaque, certificate and $500 - $400 of which is donated to the Special Olympics. Bane is also in the running for one of three SGMA national awards to be presented at the January Super Show, SGMA's annual trade show.

Notes to ponder
Tech has scored a school-record 229 points its first five games. The old mark was 205 set by the 1905 Hokies. Tech is averaging 45.8 points per game, which is third in this week's NCAA statistics ... Tech has scored in each of its 20 quarters of play this season - the first time in school history that has happened ... Tech has won 11 consecutive BIG EAST games, one short of the league record held by Miami. Tech has also won 16 consecutive regular season games. Miami won 31 from 1990-93 ... The Hokies are tied for the NCAA lead in interceptions with 12. Miami and South Carolina have also picked off 12 passes this fall...At one point against Temple, Tech had three true freshman on the field. Linemen Jim Davis and Kevin Lewis and cornerback Eric Green. Davis had two sacks, Lewis had a tackle for a loss and Green picked off two passes.

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

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