Hokies To Find Out A Lot About Themselves In The Next Week
The Kroger Roth Report
November 6, 2000

By Bill Roth
So, your neighbor's a Wahoo, your boss likes the 'Noles, and even your postman's been giving you grief for a month about these dreams that your favorite Blacksburg-based college football team will reach the BCS title game again. Now, you can't get a word in between the 'I told ya so's' and 'Why did they run the option so much?' comments which are coming from every direction.

OK, so the Hokies' national championship dreams sank to the bottom of Biscayne Bay this past weekend, torched by the Miami Hurricanes' big plays to the tune of 41-21. With a few bounces, it could've been closer, but without a three-touchdown fourth quarter, it could've been a lot worse too.

But step back and look at this thing objectively. Did Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer really think his team would go undefeated again this season after losing so many seniors from last year's team, plus two underclassmen (Shyrone Stith and Ike Charlton) to the NFL?

"I think it says a lot about our program and our players and coaching staff that we've been able to win the first eight games and be in a position to contend again," was Beamer's answer before the game.

Translation: "No, he didn't."

The preseason schedule looked daunting, and the prospects of winning at East Carolina, Boston College and Syracuse with so many new starters troubled Tech's staff before the season. Beating Miami for a sixth straight time would be tough too. Tech's defensive linemen weren't as experienced or as strong as the 1999 group, and the secondary and kicking game would be manned by rookies or first-year starters.

But the Hokies shot to the top of the charts (or at least to No. 2) anyway, thanks to a tremendous running game, a gifted quarterback, opportunistic special teams, and a belief - a thinking among the players - that they could and should win every time they took the field. Nineteen straight regular-season wins will do loads for your confidence and the Hokies found ways to win games against WVU, Syracuse and Pittsburgh after trailing in the second half.

Yet against Miami - the Hokies' biggest test of the season - the losses from '99 really showed. For the first time, the Hokies really missed the pass-rushing ability of John Engelberger and Corey Moore. They missed the defensive backfield play of Ike Charlton and Anthony Midget. And they missed the punting skills of Jimmy Kibble.

"We've got a lot of guys who are really talented, but need some time in Mike Gentry's weight room," Beamer said after the game.

Miami's offensive line let 'Canes quarterback Ken Dorsey stand in the pocket and deliver the ball with nary a defender in his face. That probably won't happen again next year when a bigger and stronger Tech defense gets another shot at Dorsey and Co.

But before that, Tech has to recover both physically and mentally from its dismissal from the real-life game of 'BCS Survivor.' Another 11-0 season might have been too much to ask, but after an 8-0 start, the Hokies don't want to let this year slip down the proverbial drain. That's why Beamer will call on his seniors this week to make sure this team doesn't let an emotional letdown cause the Hokies to lose for the second time this season - at Central Florida this weekend.

There is absolutely no way that a fire-and-brimstone speech, a Knute Rockne-style utterance, nor a Jackie Sherrill-esque cow castration will give Tech a mental edge over Central Florida. It's senior night for the Golden Knights. It's their last home game. The team is 7-3 and facing a top 10 team on its home field.

Adding to the fire: UCF is back home after road wins at Alabama and Louisiana Tech. UCF has won four games in a row.

It's the biggest game in the history of UCF football and here come the Hokies.

You know Tech is physically beat up. The question surrounds its mental state.

"We know we can still go 10-1 and play in an alliance [BCS] bowl game this season," quarterback Dave Meyer said. "That's a great motivation and I firmly believe at 10-1, we'd play in one of those great bowls."

Tech lost to Miami last week. It was a tough, emotional pill to swallow. Now, the Hokies have to make sure they don't let the 'Canes beat 'em again Saturday night in Orlando.

A Taylor-made leader
Most fans won't remember it as one of the best performances in Virginia Tech history. Some, perhaps, didn't even notice. In fact, if you asked him, it was just another game, and since Tech lost, he'd probably rather forget about the entire day.

Ben Taylor, Tech's junior linebacker from Ohio, hobbled on and off the Orange Bowl field in Miami with a sprained ankle as big as a grapefruit and pain as if a knife was sticking through his shoe into the top of his foot. Fact of the matter was Taylor could barely walk.

But once the whistle blew, Taylor somehow played at full speed. He played with tremendous guts and heart and led the Hokies with 10 tackles, including one for a loss.

In an otherwise forgetful defensive performance, Taylor showed why he's become a team leader and is one of the finalists for the Butkus Award as the nation's top linebacker. Last week, Taylor was held out of most practices and instead watched the team's preparation for the Miami game from the sidelines, riding a stationary bicycle. But he has no interest in being named first-team 'All-Schwinn.'

"I wanted to play, especially in a game like this," Taylor said following No. 3 Miami's win over No. 2 Tech.

Before the game, he could barely participate in the pregame warm-ups - "I was saving myself for the game," Taylor said with a small smile. Modern medicine helped ease the pain for a while "but it wears off and starts to hurt again," he admitted.

It didn't effect his play, though, and Taylor, time and time again, took on Miami's powerful tailback James Jackson.

Sometimes, you can learn more about a team - or a person- when it faces adversity or loses for the first time. We learned an awful lot about Taylor down at the Orange Bowl last week thanks to his gutty, hard-nosed performance, and we'll learn more about this team in the next few weeks coming off its first loss.

And if the Hokies are wondering where to turn for any inspiration at all, just follow No. 40.

Dandy Don hangs it up
West Virginia coach Don Nehlen announced that this would be his last season as coach of the Mountaineers following WVU's loss to Syracuse. Nehlen, the winningest coach in WVU history, led the Mountaineers to a pair of 11-0 seasons (1988 and 1993) and always ran a class program.

While some WVU fans have been clamoring for a coaching change in Morgantown, they may be underestimating the great job Nehlen did over the years in bringing in quality players to West Virginia. Unlike BIG EAST rivals Frank Beamer and Butch Davis, Nehlen can't depend on a quality harvest of in-state high school talent each season. His record has been remarkable over the years and his replacement has some big shoes to fill.

I'll always remember how classy Nehlen was during the Mountaineers' undefeated seasons, and how he handled recent losses without ever criticizing his own players, coaches or opponents.

"Golly-gee-willakers" coach, we'll miss ya.

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.