Doubters were coming out of the woodwork when the Virginia Tech football team lost the first two games of the season, the latter against FCS opponent James Madison University.
Everyone from college football analysts to daily sports bloggers to “so called” faithful Hokie fans counted Tech football out and shifted their attention to next year.
Head coach Frank Beamer was criticized for scheduling a top-flight opponent like Boise State for the first game of the year, and then turning around to play a game on four days’ rest. Offensive coordinator Brian Stinespring was denounced for the early red zone woes and questionable play calling. Running back Ryan Williams blamed his offensive line for the lack of rushing success in the early going.
Six weeks later though, the Hokies are first place in the Atlantic Coast Conference Coastal Division and have won five games in a row, three coming against ACC foes. Even better, Tech finally cracked the AP top 25 poll for the first time since the loss against JMU, as they are sitting at 23rd. The Hokies are also ranked 25th in the first BCS standings of the year.
Six weeks ago, sports enthusiasts had the Hokies playing in the dismal Meineke Car Care Bowl, and now many are choosing them to win the ACC and advance to the Orange Bowl. People said the Hokies were done when Williams went down against East Carolina, now many are drooling over the talents of sophomore David Wilson and are having flashbacks to Darren Evans’ record-setting 2008 campaign.
Why the sudden 180 degree switch in opinion?
The emergence of special teams play has a lot to do with the recent success. Tech’s special teams got off to a rough start. The first punt attempt was blocked and the first field goal attempt was missed. A kickoff sailed out of bounds, and Tech ran into the punter three times in the first four games. Lately, though, things have been looking up, with kick or punt returns of 92, 80 and 58 yards in the last three games.
Kicker Chris Hazley has hit 10 consecutive field goals and ranks 12th nationally in percentage at 90.9. Punter Brian Saunders has shown strides himself, with an average of 44.5 yards, which ranks 20th nationally.
How about the play of Tyrod Taylor? Taylor, who set the Virginia Tech record for wins by a starting quarterback with his 27th in a 45-21 victory against Central Michigan, has put the team on his shoulders.
He leads the ACC in passing efficiency at 159.5, is third in total offense at 257.4 yards per game and is coming off a career day against Wake Forest where he threw for 292 yards and three touchdowns and ran for another score. His one-yard sneak midway through the second quarter gave him 21 career rushing touchdowns, tying him with Bob Schweikert (1962-64) for most career rushing touchdowns by a Tech quarterback.
On the season, Taylor has accounted for 1,802 total yards, 15 total touchdowns and only four turnovers.
The rushing game has not missed a beat without Williams, as the Hokies have rushed for an average of 279 yards in the last three games. Evans and Wilson have picked up the slack, each rushing for more than 400 yards so far this year and combining for 11 touchdowns.
In order for the Hokies to stay perfect in conference play, they must continue the recent offensive success, but also show more consistency on defense and not give up the big play.
Wake Forest running back Josh Harris rushed for a career-high 241 yards on 20 carries and scored two touchdowns on runs of 33 and 87 yards. His rushing total was the most by a running back against a Tech defense. On the bright side, the Hokies forced Wake Forest to go three-and-out on five possessions.
The Hokies hope to stay on track when the Duke Blue Devils come into town this weekend. Duke 1-5 (0-3 ACC) should not be a problem for Tech. Since joining the ACC in 2004, the Hokies have outscored the Blue Devils 213-60.
However, the last two games against Duke have been a different story as the Hokies have won by just 11 and eight point margins.
Therefore, Tech cannot overlook Duke, a team hungry for its first conference win of the year. Let’s continue to give the critics reasons to praise Hokie football.