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September 1, 2009
Thoughts on the Hokies as they get ready to kick off the 2009 season

Not since the first week of September five years ago has there been more anticipation for a regular-season football game for Virginia Tech than what we’re experiencing this week in Hokieland.

In 2004, the Hokies were getting set to face No. 1 USC in the season opener at FedEx Field in Washington. This week – and this game – is probably bigger.

When Tech and Alabama play Saturday night in Atlanta, it will mark the first time since 2003 that two teams ranked in the top 10 will meet in the season’s opening week. And it will be just the 11th time in school history Tech is playing in a matchup where both teams are in the top 10.

“We’re obviously excited to be in a game like this,” Tech head coach Frank Beamer said. “It’s similar to the USC game in 2004. It’s something that our players have been focused on since last season ended.”

Some thoughts as we approach kickoff:

Was it a good preseason? Well, when a team loses its leading rusher for the season with a torn ACL, the answer is obvious. While the 22 practices since August 6 represented a good preseason in terms of getting the squad ready, it was a costly month.

“I think we have a lot of good players on this team, but losing Evans hurts,” Beamer admitted.

His replacements – Josh Oglesby, David Wilson and Ryan Williams – have all been banged up in this preseason, too, thus not one has emerged as a clear-cut starter. “None of them have gotten enough work. We’re going to play all three (against Alabama),” Beamer said.

The thought process is this: running the football against Alabama and Nebraska and Miami in the season’s first month was going to be hard enough with Evans. Even with one of college football most experienced offensive lines, the Hokies will have some battles this fall.

“The young guys are ready,” running backs coach Billy Hite said. “This is a tremendous group, but not one has the experience that Darren had. That’s what we’re lacking.”

What Tech has been lacking in the previous couple of seasons has been an effective passing game. “We need to improve dramatically in that area,” said quarterbacks coach Mike O’Cain.

So, will the Hokies be able to sling it?

After watching a few scrimmages, it’s clear Tech will not be a 300-yard-per-game passing team. It’s just not going to happen. Last year, Tech averaged 129 yards per game passing. This team should improve on that number (maybe 185 yards per game?). That would be a dramatic improvement, which will help the young backs.

Most impressive preseason: This is a tough one because a lot of players looked terrific over the past three weeks. It’s funny; a year ago, a lot of us thought Xavier Boyce might be the top receiver on the team until he got hurt. Well, he is slated to start on Saturday night and everyone will get a good look at what No. 29 has been showing us for over a year.

Also, the offensive line, as a group, has done a nice job in the past few weeks. In watching the scrimmages, it’s clear that Curt Newsome’s guys have worked hard to improve. They have some mighty tests in the opening month of the season, but it looks like they have the nasty attitude they’ll need this fall.

Of course, kicker Matt Waldron has really improved his leg strength this summer and his accuracy in the preseason won him the placekicking job. Waldron would ride his mountain bike and then run up a hill near his apartment in Blacksburg to maintain his leg strength. He’s been very solid this preseason.

Some other guys like Jayron Hosley, John Graves, Nekos Brown, Demetrius Taylor and Matt Reidy have had their moments, too. It was also great to see Davon Morgan running around at full speed, coming back from his knee surgery.

Hosley the real deal: Defensive coordinator Bud Foster said freshman Jayron Hosley has the ‘it’ factor and has a tremendous upside. Foster pointed out that DeAngelo Hall and Brandon Flowers stepped in as true freshmen as well, although Flowers did get hurt early in his rookie campaign and received a medical hardship waiver. Two weeks ago, the light went on for Hosley, who could be a return specialist for the Hokies.

Taylor a different guy, too: As you watch Tyrod Taylor conduct interviews, talk with his teammates and handle himself around the football complex, you see a different guy. As has been mentioned before, he’s bigger than ever – you can see the muscles in his upper back. He’s overall just thicker. But mentally, he’s taken real ownership of the offense. He’s a confident guy whether he’s going into a meeting with Brent Musberger of ESPN or his quarterbacks coach Mike O’Cain.

“He’s worked on his mechanics and he’s been much more accurate,” Beamer said.

It’s all about production, and Taylor knows he hasn’t put up big numbers through the air in his first two years. “I understand our playbook and our offense like the back of my hand,” he said this week. We’ll see how he performs on Saturday.

Wilson reminds you of Best: They both wear jersey No. 4, which might have something to do with it, but David Wilson’s running style reminds me of Cal’s Jahvid Best. They’re about the same size and each has that real explosiveness and speed.

Best has been the Pac-10’s top running back in each of the past two years and Wilson hasn’t played in a game, so it’s not a true fair comparison, but if you watch them run, they both have the balance and vision that’s just natural (think Reggie Bush, tripped by a defender, yet regains balance along the sidelines, and breaks away, etc.). Wilson, at times, looks like he’s a runner on one of those video games, darting and cutting and pulling away from people. Let’s hope Tech’s No. 4 can be as effective as California’s Best.

Radio and TV: Our radio coverage on Saturday night begins at 6:30 p.m. EST from the Georgia Dome. Some ISP affiliates will have their own coverage that begins earlier in the day, as usual, so be sure to keep an ear open to your hometown station. Our ISP coverage can be heard on all of our usual stations plus XM Satellite Channel 192 and Sirius Channel 218. If you bring your radio to the Georgia Dome, you’ll be able to hear our broadcast on the FM dial as usual, with the frequency TBA. Chesterfield’s Denny Hamlin, one of NASCAR’s rising stars, will be at the game Saturday and the focus of a terrific feature on Sunday’s Virginia Tech Sports Today program. You won’t want to miss that as well as our stories on Ryan Williams and the 2005 Tech-Marshall game.

Things to watch this week: Last year, South Carolina beat N.C. State 34-0. If you recall, that was the game N.C. State’s Russell Wilson was knocked out with a concussion, which made a long night even longer for the Wolfpack. Thursday night, the two teams meet in Raleigh and we’ll see if the ‘Pack can pull off a big home win.

Another game to watch, after the Hokies and Alabama play, will be the Maryland-Cal rematch in Berkeley. The Terps won this game last year in College Park 35-27. Tough opener for the Terps, but like the Hokies, Maryland is playing a very challenging non-conference game to start. That’s a 10 p.m. kickoff.

Monday night’s Miami-Florida State game should be terrific again, too. Last year’s game – Florida State won 41-39 – was a shootout, and with quarterbacks returning on both sides, FSU’s Christian Ponder and Miami’s Jacory Harris, it should be another terrific game. The ACC Labor Day night game is a valuable window for both the conference and the teams that play in the game. Hopefully, this year’s game will live up to the great tradition of FSU-Miami games from year’s past. Neither team is in the top 10, but it’s still a huge game from an ACC imaging standpoint.

Bill,

Which true freshmen have the best chances of playing this year? Jamey Greenway, Roanoke, Va.

Jamey,

David Wilson, Jayron Hosley and D.J. Coles will play against Alabama on Saturday. Logan Thomas, who is the Hokies’ third quarterback, will travel, but is expected to redshirt this season.

Bill,

Was Queen Harrison in the regional and NCAA championships for women’s track and field? I recall seeing that she was All-ACC, but that's the last mention of her. Did she get hurt as the post-ACC meet season approached or just have a bad run of events and not place? This former Tech student was proud of her accomplishments last year in making the U.S. Olympic team and looks forward to reading about her future feats, but I was just wondering what had become of her season? Thanks, Brendan McConnell, Woodbridge, Va.

Brendan,

Queen pulled her left hamstring in practice following the ACC Outdoor Championships in April. She did not participate in the NCAA regionals in May. She will be a senior at Tech this fall and should be one of the top hurdlers in the country again in 2010.

Howdy from Texas Bill,

Just a comment and kudos to you for your great articles on the Roth Report. I may be in Texas, but my heart is still in Blacksburg. I lived there and graduated from Tech, but moved to Texas when my dad (Howie Shannon, a former basketball coach) got lung cancer.

This was an especially great article (on Charley Wiles) that speaks volumes to giving the Hokies who are geographically far away from the program the real feel for what great program that we have at Tech. Charley Wiles sounds like a real positive, memorable mentor. When you write about the philosophy in terms of starts at the top, and positive working environment … friends who care about each other … family oriented … get-togethers, I really feel the positive atmosphere of this OUTSTANDING program at Tech. I think the attitudes and philosophies that this program projects are contagious.

I really feel like I’m in Lane Stadium when I read an inspirational story like this because I was inspired by so much greatness in and around Virginia Tech myself. I think my favorite quote in this week’s article was Coach Beamer’s – “If you don't act special, you'll get treated special.” Wow, I had to read it a couple of times. Coaches (men) like Frank Beamer come around once in a lifetime. Rob Shannon, ’83 Plano, Texas.

Rob,

Thanks for your note.

Bill,

I asked this four or five years ago, and will ask again. What improvement to the athletic facilities would you most like to be made? And, what improvement to the campus in general would you most like to be made? Dale. Harrisonburg, Va.

Dale,

We are well on our way there. The new basketball facility and new football locker room projects have been at the top of the list for the past couple of seasons. Hoops has moved into its new palace, and the football team will have a new home for next year. The baseball program will get a boost with its new indoor facility as well. The upgrades to English Field have been tremendous and I suspect we’ll see a better product on the baseball field in the coming years.

As for the future, the parking deck over at that Perry Street commuter lot is most needed on campus. It’s the university’s first foray into parking garages, and I’m anxious to see how it goes (as are many alums and campus visitors).

Bill,

I was delighted to see that Virginia Tech will be playing another game at FedEx Field, but I was surprised that the opponent will be Boise State. Would it be possible to play Navy every year there? Or perhaps the Hokies could play Maryland every year there? Sam Aspock, Ellicott City, Md.

Sam,

I spoke with Jim Weaver. Navy is not interested in playing Virginia Tech at this time. Also, since the Hokies and Maryland are in different divisions, they do not play every year. Tech will play in College Park in 2009, 2014 and 2019. The Terps visit Blacksburg in 2013 and 2018. Remember, the ACC sets that schedule for conference games.

As for next year’s game at FedEx Field, over the past 10 years, Boise State has gone 98-17 and that includes that win over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. The Broncos have a very good chance of going unbeaten this year, too, and are ranked in the top 20 again this season. It should be a fun, intersectional game.

Bill,

Thank you so much for taking the time to visit with us in Lynchburg last week. Having you and Mike (Burnop) at the Hillcats’ game was a treat for our entire family. Great job throwing out the first pitch, too! Right over the plate. We’re excited about Logan Thomas and his future at Tech. Question for you now: When do you think Logan gets on the field? Rita M, Lynchburg, Va.

Rita,

Logan probably redshirts this season, but he has a bright future at quarterback here for the Hokies. Thanks for your kind words.

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