Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Sports column

November 24, 2012

Column: Could Virginia Tech win and play with style?

BLACKSBURG, Va. — What was more difficult than sitting in the cold on Saturday at Lane Stadium? How about watching Virginia Tech play football?

If you like punting, this game was for you. There were 18 of them, 14 in the opening half — eight by the Hokies — and nine for each team when the proceedings had come to an end.

Frank Beamer has looked very much like his age (66) after many games this season, but actually seemed a little less stressed after a 17-14 win over Virginia on Saturday that extended the Hokies’ win streak to nine over the Cavaliers, and will send Virginia Tech to a bowl game for a 20th straight year.

“I think you don’t get too high and you don’t get too low, but I think it is more being proud,” said Beamer, who won the 257th win of his career, which is tied for sixth among FBS coaches. “We lost on the last play a couple of games … We have had some losses that were tough.

“We put a lot into it and didn’t get it done. For this team to stay together and play hard … I think it more being proud than anything else, I like what these guys are all about.”  

Virginia Tech did win, thanks to a late interception from Antone Exum and a Cody Journell field goal, but this was all about winning ugly, which has become normal for the Hokies.

The defense is expected to make stops, and the offense scores just enough to win games.

It started much the same in this one, as the Hokies went to the break tied at 7-7, continuing a trend in which Virginia Tech led at the half just three times all season.

Through one quarter, Virginia had gained 71 yards, while the Hokies had 28. Virginia Tech had already punted four times, and the Cavaliers kicked twice. Virginia had two first downs, Virginia Tech had two.

Logan Thomas missed on his first five passes — four of which were short on short passes to receivers — and when he did finally complete a pass, it was for zero yards.

After one period the Hokies’ leading rusher was a linebacker, Jeron Gouveia-Winslow, who gained eight yards on a rare fake punt.  

No wonder the Virginia Tech faithful — who were far fewer than at most games at Lane Stadium — expressed their displeasure with the proceedings, spending much of the first quarter booing everything from the play-calling to possibly the Hokies’ helmets, which were white with a small number on one side and a Hokie-bird on the other.

Not an attractive look. It wasn’t like watching Oregon and their eye-candy uniforms, but at least it wasn’t the jailbird threads being worn by the Pittsburgh Steelers.  

Call it good defense from Virginia, a steady wind that affected throws and punts, or the cold conditions, but something has to be done in Blacksburg.

One week after watching West Virginia and Oklahoma play a thriller in Morgantown, this was as difficult to watch as that one was fun.

Now coaches will tell you all that matters is winning, and Virginia Tech did just that, but it was hard to watch for most anyone other than your traditional fans.

There isn’t anything wrong with a defensive struggle, that can be just as exciting as 50-49, but not when the punters spend the game kicking the ball back and forth.

Virginia Tech has been a dominant program for two decades, but the Hokies have started to regress. Some seem to think it is time to shake up the coaching staff, but that was done prior to this season.

Frank Beamer and Bud Foster aren’t going anywhere, but the offense continues to struggle, other than an occasional spurt such as what Virginia Tech got in a second quarter drive to take a 7-0 lead, and a season-high 15-play drive to tie the score at 14-14 in the third period.

Virginia, which wasn’t much more productive in the opening half, gaining 149 yards to 109 for the Hokies, answered with its lone big play to tie the score at 7-7 by the break.  

The teams traded 14 punts in the opening half, eight by A.J. Hughes, who was able to keep his leg warm. Virginia had six punts.

The only reason they didn’t have one more was a lost fumble in the first quarter, but Virginia Tech seemingly didn’t try to take advantage, going 3-and-out from the Cavaliers’ 39 in a possession that took less than one minute.

The Hokies have long rode its defense and special teams to success, yet there are no defensive standouts on this team and the famed ‘Beamer Ball’ era at Tech ended a few years ago.

The special teams just aren’t that special any longer, although the punter does get lots of work, and Journell came through when the Hokies needed it most.

Yet, it’s still the offense that needs the most work. True, the Hokies lost most of its offense from last season, but that was 12 games ago. That shouldn’t matter any longer. Twelve games into the season and the Virginia Tech offense is still trying to figure itself out.

Perhaps the Hokies can figure it out in time for a bowl game. Whether or not a 6-6 team really deserves to go bowling is a subject for another day.   

Virginia Tech will never throw the ball around like West Virginia, but the Hokies do need to recruit the same type of athletes who can make plays with the ball. It just seems like this team is slow, and you can’t be slow and compete at the highest levels of college football.

For those cold fans hoping to be warmed up by a better second half performance, it never happened. Virginia Tech brought out the boo birds again early in the third quarter, using one of its timeouts just 1:13 into the third quarter after a punt.

Eventually, it became the Logan Thomas show on offense. He ran the ball 29 times — yes, 29 times — for 89 yards, and threw for 129 yards on 18 completions and a touchdown. They did make a few plays at times, but too often the Hokies struggled to generate much offense.

“That is part of our offense. It wasn’t clicking and a lot goes to them (Virginia) and a lot goes to us too,” Beamer said. “I thought Logan and our offensive football team made some plays and we showed some real toughness.

“(We) made some plays and caught some passes. I thought we showed what we are made of when things didn’t look good today. We were down a touchdown and we didn’t really play that well offensively. So I thought we really showed some stuff.”  

Virginia Tech fans have screamed about Bryan Stinespring and his play-calling for years. Every team has a punching bag, much like Tennessee in the early 2000s when Phillip Fulmer’s offensive coordinator, Randy Sanders, was constantly criticized and ridiculed for his play calls.

Sanders once told us reporters that he was just doing his job. He has a boss too and he did what Fulmer wanted done. Here is guessing that Stinespring and Mike O’Cain are doing what Beamer wants them to do.   

It might be time to change with the times. It will be difficult for that style of play to reach the ultimate goal that Virginia Tech wants to attain on the gridiron.

Virginia Tech has a trophy case in its football facility that is empty. It is waiting for that national championship crystal. If something doesn’t change, go ahead and use it for something else.

No need to waste space.

*****

Brian Woodson is the sports editor for the Daily Telegraph. He can be contacted at bwoodson@ bdtonline.com.

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