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Steve DeShazo: Hokies short on time to show they’ve found answers
GREENSBORO, N.C.—By this point each summer, nearly every football player in the country is eager to strap on the pads. There may not be enough calamine lotion in Blacksburg to scratch the Virginia Tech Hokies’ collective itch.
It’s been nearly eight months since the Hokies won a football game. They were 11–1 after clobbering wannabe rival Virginia 38–0 two days after Thanksgiving, but were humbled 38–10 by Clemson in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game a week later—their second decisive loss to the Tigers in 2011.
Then, Tech lost a heartbreaking and controversial 23–20 decision to Michigan in the Sugar Bowl that included an apparent Danny Coale overtime touchdown catch overturned by replay and a missed field goal in the extra period.
Suffice it to say there’s a sour taste in a lot of mouths in and around Lane Stadium—one that no Altoid can mask, only a victory.
“The last two games are a huge motivational factor going into this season,” quarterback Logan Thomas said Sunday at the annual ACC Football Kickoff media gathering. “I don’t think any of us watched the film from the Sugar Bowl, and I didn’t want to watch the Clemson game. But at the same time, it’s there in back of my head, motivating me.”
Exacerbating the Hokies’ frustration, their spring game was rained out, so they couldn’t even take out their aggression on each other in any fashion other than practice.
“It kills you a little bit,” junior cornerback Kyle Fuller said. “I was really looking forward to the spring game.”
So when the Hokies report for practice two weeks from today, Fuller expects to see a hungry team.
It’ll be a different-looking squad as well. Coach Frank Beamer must replace eight offensive starters, including four-fifths of his line as well as both starting receivers and ACC player of the year David Wilson, a 1,709-yard rusher whom the New York Giants snapped up in the first round of April’s NFL draft.
The return of Thomas (who set school single-season records with 3,013 passing yards and 3,482 total yards) and nine defensive starters should keep the Hokies in their accustomed spot near the top of the ACC standings.
Still, preventing a two-game skid from becoming a three-game trend won’t be easy. The Hokies’ opener comes not against a FCS patsy but Georgia Tech on Labor Day night in Blacksburg. The rivalry’s annual winner has captured every Coastal Division title since the ACC split into divisions in 2005. (Georgia Tech later vacated its 2007 ACC title because of NCAA violations.)
The winner will get a huge leg up in the division race, while the loser will spend the fall playing catchup.
“It’s going to be a good test to see where we’re at,” Thomas said.
A point in the Hokies’ favor is the month of practice they’ll have to prepare for Georgia Tech’s challenging spread option offense. The Yellow Jackets rolled up 340 yards in last year’s meeting in Atlanta, but the Hokies amassed 476 in a 37–26 victory.
That’s why the Hokies won’t be the only motivated Tech team on Sept. 2.
“I’m excited for the opportunity,” Georgia Tech quarterback Tevin Washington said. “It’ll be our first game of the season, on national TV. I don’t think you could ask for more than that. You could ask an 8-year-old the same question, and he’d say the same thing. I’m like a child in terms of competitiveness.”
Asked why the Hokies’ promising 2011 season ended on two such sour notes, Fuller shrugged.
“I couldn’t tell you,” he said.
The Hokies have a month to come up with an answer.
Steve DeShazo: 540/374-5443