Nov. 9, 2011
By Matt Winkeljohn
It’s probably not uncommon have a sort of out-of-sync feeling on the day before a game like tonight’s contest at Georgia Tech, but Wednesday was more uncommonly odd than usual.
The ACC’s Coastal division may be decided by the outcome, which is nothing new as these two teams have represented their half of the conference since Virginia Tech joined the league in 2004.
Add the fact this will be a night game, and that it’s Thursday rather than Saturday, and that neither team played last week, and there are several bubbles in the normal time-space continuum that leads up to kickoff.
It’s been an abnormal buildup made more strange by the fact that some buzz has been washed out by what’s going on at Penn State. While that situation doesn’t reflect poorly on college football at large, it has in a short time had a way of over-writing all scripts while headlining the frailties of man.
Thankfully for Yellow Jacket and Hokie fans, there will be a game tonight to remind not just those who root for these teams but all college football fans that the game is good even if some of the people of it sometimes are not.
There will be sub-plots of considerable interest.
Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer’s been in Blacksburg, Va., for a very long time, and he has another very fine team. The Hokies, in fact, have won an ACC-record 11 consecutive road games in conference play, winning every time out since losing in Atlanta in 2009 when their national championship aspirations were officially scuttled by the Jackets’ 28-23 win – at night, and on national TV.
Virginia Tech (8-1, 4-1 ACC) has lost only at Clemson (23-3), and while the Hokies don’t appear to have their usual gold brand of special teamers, Virginia Tech has one of the nation’s best running backs and one of the biggest quarterbacks, too.
David Wilson is averaging 131 rushing yards per game, and quarterback Logan Thomas is 6-feet-6, 150-plus pounds and second on his team in rushing. Oh, and he’s completing 61 percent of his passes.
On Wednesday’s weekly teleconference of ACC coaches, Beamer was asked by a national columnist about his thoughts on retiring Penn State Joe Paterno (read CBS Sportsline’s Dennis Dodd if you’re curious). Quickly enough, he moved onto Thomas.
“There’s nothing like experience. He’s a guy that is very smart, he understands the game and I think as he’s gone along he knows where to go with the ball. He’s more accurate,” Beamer said. “He does a great job getting us in and out of plays. You’re not going to rattle the guy.”
Wilson rattled the Jackets (7-2, 4-2) last year when he returned a kickoff 90 yards for the game-winner in Blacksburg with just over two minutes left to play.
Those two, and Virginia Tech’s musical-chair defense, will merit fastidious watching as the Jackets try to get a leg up on the ACC Coastal division.
“[Thomas is] a big, physical guy. He’s very athletic. I think a lot of people recruited him as a receiver/tight end-type of guy,” said Jackets head coach Paul Johnson. “He’s a big guy, hard to tackle . . .
“[Wilson] presents a huge challenge. He’s very talented, got great speed, good balance, and when he gets in the open field nobody’s going to catch him. Nobody is probably going to shut him down. Just contain him and hope he doesn’t hit a bunch of big plays.”
Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster has moved folks around.
Injuries and instinct have led him to jigger the Hokies’ defense to where they’ll have lighter, quicker personnel on the field against the Jackets than VT would if everybody were healthy and not playing Georgia Tech.
Call it a crazy observation if you’d like, but over time it feels like some of the defenses that have given the Jackets the most trouble since Johnson arrived were bigger and stronger in the front seven rather than over quick and light. There have been exceptions.