1. BE THE TURNOVER KING
Being the turnover king is nothing new to the Hokies. Last season, Virginia Tech led the Atlantic Coast Conference with a plus-nine turnover ratio.
Winning the turnover battle was much of the reason Tech won some of the games it did in 2009.
In a 16-3 victory over East Carolina, two forced fumbles when the Pirates were in Tech territory and a late interception sealed the deal on a day the Hokies’ offense sputtered.
In a 16-15 win over Nebraska, an interception by Kam Chancellor at the beginning of the third quarter halted a Huskers drive inside Tech territory when Nebraska threatened to go up two scores.
But, just like the turnover category helped the Hokies win games, it also aided losses.
In Tech’s opening game, two fumbles led to two Alabama field goals at inopportune times in a shoot out in Atlanta. One of those miscues, with 12 minutes remaining in a tie-game, took all the air out of the Hokies and gave it right back to Alabama, helping them get the win.
All Hokie fans remember, though they probably don’t want to, Ryan Williams’ fumble with two minutes remaining in Tech’s 20-17 loss to North Carolina. Williams’ gaffe at the Tech 24-yard line set up a game-winning kick, ruining Tech’s run at an ACC title repeat.
This season, Tech returns just four starters on the defensive side of the ball. Critics and fans alike agree that the Hokies’ strength now lies on offense, and not on defense.
Without the services of Cody Grimm and Jason Worilds, amongst others, Tech’s defense will struggle to maintain its dominance in stopping the run. As a result, it’s more than probable that the Hokies will give up more yards than they did last season.
Where games will be won, and hopefully not lost, is in the turnover battle.
The more Tech’s defense can put the ball in the hands of its offense, the better the Hokies’ offense will be positioned to score. The less the Tech offense loses the ball, on the other hand, the less pressure will be put on a less-talented defense.
All of this sounds elementary, but it will truly make-or-break the destiny of a team that head coach Frank Beamer says is one of “two or three” teams he’s coached capable of reaching the BCS National Championship.
2. EMBRACE AN OFFENSIVE IDENTITY
With a less talented defense, the Hokies will have a hard time pulling off close wins in low-scoring games as they have in years past.
While just four starters return on the defensive side of the ball, eight return on the offensive side — including at every skill position except tight end.
Starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor enters this season in a luxurious position. After the snap, Taylor can choose to hand the ball off to one of two former Sporting News freshman All-American running backs in Williams and Darren Evans, or he can drop throw to either of his returning starting wide receivers in Danny Coale and Jarrett Boykin.
Tech is the only team in the country returning two receivers that had 30 or more catches last season and averaged more than 20 yards per catch.
Along the offensive line, Taylor’s protection shouldn’t miss a beat. The team will miss Ed Wang protecting Taylor’s blind side, but if history means anything, offensive line coach Curt Newsome will find a way to fill that void before the season starts.
The pieces are in place for the Hokies to have one the most electric offensive attacks in years. But, for Tech to win the conference and possibly make a trip to the BCS National Championship game, its offense will have to produce game in and game out.