There may not be a bigger disparity in talent between the first two opponents for the Virginia Tech football team.
Just one week away from battling top-ranked and two-time defending national champion Alabama, the Hokies will welcome FCS-foe Western Carolina.
The Catamounts are a team that went 1-10 a season ago and are coming off a 45-24 season opening loss to Middle Tennessee State.
This weekend’s game is reminiscent of the James Madison game in 2010, when the Hokies were coming off a heartbreaking loss to fifth ranked Boise State on Labor Day Monday.
Not because Western Carolina will upset Tech, but because the Hokies will have to really dig to find the excitement and energy to play well against such an different type of opponent from the previous week.
Western Carolina is simply just not a good football team.
Last season they gave up an average of 41.75 points-per-game in conference games. Over the past seven seasons, the Catamounts have a 3-50 record against teams in the Southern Conference.
So, this team has very little in common with James Madison with regard to talent on the field, but the mindset of the Virginia Tech team has to be different than it was Sept. 11, 2010.
The Hokies will have to come out fired up and ready to play. Last season this wasn’t an issue when the Hokies beat up on Austin Peay 42-3 just five days after a close victory over Georgia Tech in Lane Stadium.
For the 20 players that all saw their first playing experience last week in Atlanta, including nine true freshmen, Saturday’s game is going to have a different feel.
“To start off, as my first college game, the atmosphere was crazy,” said Trey Edmunds. “I mean coming in here and seeing our fans and how loud it was, just the atmosphere by itself, it was crazy.”
Lane Stadium will not be as loud as the Georgia Dome was on Saturday night, but the first home game of the year usually brings out a great gameday environment. With the upgrades to the scoreboard and sound system on display for the first time, Saturday afternoon should be fun for all Hokies.
But that will only be the case if they focus on their opponent.
The Hokies had an encouraging performance against Alabama. The defense turned out a performance that may be among the best ever from Bud Foster’s defense and the offense had some success running the ball.
“We’re going to continue to work hard,” said receivers coach Aaron Morehead. “We’re going to continue to catch footballs. Good things are going to happen for this group and I’m confident in that.”
The Hokies should have few if any problems handling the Catamounts, but it remains to be seen how much energy the team will bring to the field for the first series.
Sometimes in games of this nature, the favorites have a tendency to come out flat and go through the motions, but the Hokies, with plenty to improve on from last week, need to come out sharp and focused from the opening kick.
Though the offensive line played fairly well in the opener, coach Jeff Grimes believes they have room to grow facing Western Carolina.
“I would say my level of expectation is higher because it’s our second game,” said Grimes. “And we should have a lot of improvement from the first game to the second game.”
The atmosphere won’t be as crazy and the opponent won’t be nearly as good on Saturday afternoon, but to improve on game one, the Hokies need to bring the same energy, intensity and attitude to the game, no matter who is on the other side.