By HANK KURZ, Jr.
BLACKSBURG, Va. —
Virginia Tech used Thursday night games to build an exciting profile during its rise in prominence, showing off a defense that flew around making stops and special teams that made big plays.
The Hokies have won 19 of their last 24 games on Thursday nights, and many of those victories came in a fashion that highlighted their ability to score quickly in all three phases of the game.
Coach Frank Beamer’s team has hardly resembled that program this season, but they hope to rediscover that swagger in a pair of Thursday night games the next two weeks — beginning this week at Miami (4-4, 3-2). Next week, they get No. 9 Florida State at home, where they have not lost this season.
The Hokies (4-4, 2-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) have played back-to-back Thursday night games in eight of the past nine seasons, and Beamer loves the opportunity the stage provides to let the nation know what the Hokies are all about.
“It’s kind of like Monday Night Football in the NFL,” Beamer said of the Thursday night spotlight. “You’re generally the only game on or one of two games on, and all of the other college teams and coaches are watching you, so it’s a big stage and you just want to perform well. This time of the year you want to be playing for something and we are and they are. It’s going to be a tough, physical football game.”
The winner stays earns a leg up in the battle to win the ACC’s Coastal Division.
Virginia Tech has dominated the ACC since joining the league in 2004, reaching the ACC title game five times in seven seasons. They came into this season 27-5 in league road games, but have been beaten handily in their only two conference road games so far — 48-34 at North Carolina and 38-17 at No. 10 Clemson. They are 0-4 away from Blacksburg.
Quarterback Logan Thomas is at a loss to explain the turnaround, and said while the Hokies can’t undo the disappointment of how they’ve faltered so far this season, they still can salvage something big by coming together.
“I don’t think anything would make up for it, but it would definitely be something that would make us feel better about the season,” he said of winning the division. “We’ve got a sour taste in our mouths and we don’t like it, but getting to the ACC championship would be something huge for us, and we know we can do it if we just play well.
“We’ve got to go out there and give 100 percent every game and there’s no reason for us not to give 100 percent and, if we do, we can give any team a run for their money,” he said.
It would help for the Hokies to get their running game going. Beamer and his staff spent a good part of their open week studying the tailbacks rotation and trying to figure out how to make it consistent.
The Hurricanes surely spent their open week trying to prevent it. They rank 119th out of 120 teams in the Bowl Subdivision in rushing defense, giving up an average more than 249 rushing yards per game.
Cornerback Kyshoen Jarrett expects to see a different team at Sun Life Stadium.
“I feel like everybody is well prepared. We got a couple of extra days to prepare, getting together, getting on film,” he said. “So I feel like this is a business trip. That’s what we have to treat it as.”
The Hurricanes have never won the division, and Jarrett and his mates in the defensive backfield can probably expect to be tested heavily by Miami QB Stephen Morris, who is passing for 227 yards per game.
“If you’re going to take your shots, you have to hit them,” Miami coach Al Golden said, noting that the Hokies have been playing more man-to-man coverage than usual. “And if you’re going to take your shots against man-to-man, you need to protect. It’s no secret we’ve been a team that has tried to take shots in every game we’ve played in. We have not been as successful in the last couple weeks as we need to be, and we certainly we need to be very successful in doing so Thursday night against this team.”
The Hurricanes have won four of six at home in the series, but have lost three in a row overall.