Three games into this 2010 college football season, we’ve learned a lot about this year’s Virginia Tech Hokies. We’ve seen their strengths and areas of concern. We’ve seen examples of both their potential, which is immense, and their flaws, which might be more than we had hoped. Still, the country has seen there’s an opportunity for greatness with this year’s Tech team, but the margin for error is slim.
Tech has played Boise State, James Madison and East Carolina. But the real season begins in Chestnut Hill, Mass.
As big as the season opener was at FedExField in Washington, D.C., the game at Alumni Stadium against Boston College is, in some ways, bigger. It’s a conference road game at a place where Tech hasn’t played particularly well in recent years. And Frank Beamer’s team will be facing a hungry team. You can count on that. According to offensive lineman Anthony Castonzo, BC “has had this date circled on our calendars since the schedule came out.”
It was October 10 of last year when the Hokies pounded BC 48-14 at Lane Stadium. The Hokies scored on their first four possessions, piled up 441 yards of total offense and recorded one of the most impressive defensive performances in Lane Stadium history. In one of the most unusual statistical lines ever, Tech held BC to just four total yards and zero first downs in the first half. The Hokies led 34-0 at the break.
Castonzo and his teammates remember. Just as the bitterness of Matt Ryan’s dagger to the Hokie Nation’s heart in 2007 inspired the Hokies in the 2009 game, this year’s Boston College team – one that’s had an extra week to prepare – is psyched for a rematch on its home turf.
And it’s a turf that has not been friendly to the Hokies in recent years.
On their last visit to Chestnut Hill in 2008, the Hokies jumped out to a quick 10-0 lead and forced a total of five turnovers, but lost anyway 28-23. In 2006, Tech suffered through a tough 22-3 Thursday night loss. BC’s defense sacked quarterback Sean Glennon four times and Matt Ryan threw for two touchdowns to lead BC to the win.
In fact, the Hokies have not won at BC since their 2002 BIG EAST Conference opener when Lee Suggs and Kevin Jones combined to rush for 298 yards in a rugged 28-23 win at Alumni Stadium. That’s a long time ago, eh?
Tech defeated Boston College in both the 2006 and 2007 ACC Championship games, but the Eagles have actually won four of the past six regular-season games. No other team in recent years has had that kind of success against Beamer’s Hokies.
Tech had won five straight games at Alumni Stadium before the 2006 meltdown. You might remember that night when ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit took exception to Brenden Hill’s “dancing” during a time out in the second half.
“I like playing there,” Beamer said. “The stands are vertical and the fans are there screaming at you. I like that.”
As for the singing and swaying during Sweet Caroline?
“I’ll never forget that song,” a chuckling Beamer said.
BC is 15-5 in home ACC games, will start 12 players who have already earned their degrees, and has a slew of veterans like Castonzo, who will be making his 44th career start against the Hokies.
Tech has played three games, but will have to play its most physical and sharpest game of this season if it hopes to win in Boston for the first time since 2002.
Success on the road
Virginia Tech has compiled an impressive record of 19-5 in ACC road games since joining the conference in 2004. Each year, Beamer is asked how his team can be so successful away from home and his answer usually goes back to the game week routine. It’s basically the same for both a home or road game.
For home games, the Hokies have a brief walk-through on Fridays at Lane Stadium and then bus to dinner at the Farmhouse Restaurant in Christiansburg before heading to the Hotel Roanoke. At the hotel, the players have various team meetings in conference rooms before going to their respective rooms to catch a movie. In the morning, there’s a team breakfast at the hotel, more meetings and then a bus ride to Lane Stadium. For road games, the itinerary is identical except there’s a flight or bus ride involved after dinner at the Farmhouse.
Thus the logistics of a road game are nearly identical to a home game. But clearly, playing the game on the road is different from Lane Stadium once the ball is in the air. So there’s got to be more, right?
“I think one of the reasons you come to Virginia Tech is to play in big games, and big road games,” Beamer said. “When the crowd gets really going, and they’re yelling at you, that’s a sign of respect.”
His kids buy into that theory. Always have.
I recall a conversation I had with Beamer before the Hokies’ 2005 game at West Virginia. The game marked Tech’s first visit to Morgantown since Tech had left the BIG EAST and the Hokies would certainly face not only a great WVU team, but also a very hostile road crowd (and hostile is being kind). What was Beamer’s take on the atmosphere there and Mountaineer fans?
“I think the louder they yell, the better we’ll play,” Beamer said in his pregame interview. And he was right.
It was crazy and loud that day at WVU, and there was no love lost for the Hokies.
But the louder it got, the better the Hokies played. Tech jumped out to a 24-14 lead at halftime and won going away 34-17 in Morgantown.
Keep in mind this was a WVU team with Pat White and Steve Slaton that finished 11-1. Its lone loss that season was to the Hokies in Morgantown.
Being on the road didn’t affect Tech that day – or in most instances – because Beamer has created a culture where the negative turns into the positive. The insults, chants and derogatory comments directed at his team are interpreted as a positive by his players. It’s an interesting way of getting players ready to play away from home.
Tech will play its first of four ACC road games this year at BC. The others are at N.C. State, at North Carolina and at Miami. Now, you know that all four of those games will be tough to win, and each stadium has its own unique environment.
What will be interesting to watch the next two weeks is how Tech will play in front of those hostile crowds. BC is 15-5 at home since ACC expansion. N.C. State is 14-7 at Carter-Finley during the same period. Will the 2010 Hokies have the mindset of previous editions? Will they thrive when the home fans go nuts?
“The louder they cheer, they better we’ll play,” is one of Beamer’s memorable lines about how some of his previous teams would perform in front of hostile crowds.
We’ll have a sense if this year’s unit fits into the mold over the next two weeks.
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