Not Just Another Game

Nov. 2, 2010

Next Game: Thursday at Virginia Tech, 7:30 p.m., ESPN (national)

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

Mario Edwards has been preparing for quite a while as best he can for his senior homecoming away from home.

The Georgia Tech safety began his college career at Virginia Tech, and spent a couple years in Blacksburg, Va., before transferring to Georgia Tech to be closer to an ailing family member.

When he was at Westlake High, he and quarterback Cam Newton were the chieftains, following in the footsteps of Adam “Pacman” Jones some years earlier — at least in terms of play-making abilities rather than by making headlines for the wrong reasons. Thursday night’s return to V-Tech will not just another game for him, as Dominique Reese suggested a couple weeks ago that the upcoming Clemson game was for him. G-Tech (5-3, 3-2) just about has to beat the Hokies (6-2, 4-0) to remain in contention in the Coastal division. For Edwards, there are additional emotional components.

“I’m going to be nervous and excited at the same time. I’ve been nervous since last Monday, ready to get out there and compete,” said Edwards, who’s 40 combined tackles and assists rank fourth for the Jackets.

“I still talk to Rashad Carmichael, a cornerback up there, and Steven Friday, a D-end. We talk pretty much every other day, but I haven’t talked to Friday in a week.”

Maybe he’ll talk to Friday Thursday, hopefully after taking advantage of some unusual film study.

Edwards has had a different view of V-Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor, whom Coach Paul Johnson said, “we haven’t tackled in two years.”

They practiced against one another, and Edwards has a DVD of some of that. So he squirreled himself away recently and went back into his personal history, mining for hints that may help him in the very near future.

“I still have some cut-ups of going against him so I watched them to get a feel for his moves and what we’ll be going up against,” Edwards said. “We’re going to have to be on our toes.”

V-Tech coach Frank Beamer keeps his players on their toes by assigning just about all of them a role on special teams almost as soon as they get to campus. That doesn’t mean they’ll all start on special teams, but at Virginia Tech there clearly is a special emphasis on football’s third leg and on changing games with defense as well.

Since Beamer became head coach in 1987, the Hokies have scored 127 touchdowns combined with their defense and special teams. V-Tech has blocked 126 kicks in that time, too.

“First of all, the head coach is the special teams coordinator so that makes you more urgent when you’re out there,” Edwards said. “Also, it’s like an environment around there. Special teams can score at any moment and they treat it like that.” Special teams have been a problem periodically for the Yellow Jackets, never more than in their loss at Clemson last time out.

If G-Tech is going to pull an upset Thursday night, the Jackets will almost certainly have to fight the Hokies to a special teams stalemate at the least. That won’t be easy. As Tech assistant Charles Kelly said, V-Tech, “makes you feel pressure all the time,” on special teams.

Mario Edwards knows.

“[Beamer] called me in one day, and I thought I was in trouble,” he said. “He started drawing up punt return gaps and how to block a kick. That’s when I knew it was pretty important to him. All 11 guys are happy to be on special teams, and they want to score.”

I’m thinking G-Tech has to change the game somehow on special teams to win at V-Tech, or at a minimum keep the Hokies from doing that. If you agree, let me know at stingdaily@gmail.com.

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