What a first month of a football season Virginia Tech has lined up for itself. The #7 Hokies open up with #5 Alabama in the Georgia Dome, then host, in order, Marshall, #22 Nebraska and Miami in a Sept. 26 ACC opener.
I’m saying this now – if Tech is 4-0 heading into October against that schedule, we could be talking national-championship picture with this team.
“If Tech gets through that September schedule undefeated, then they have a legit shot at it,” said Chris Coleman, the managing editor at HokieSideline.com, who despite the general sense of optimism about the ’09 season in Blacksburg had to throw a little cold water on the situation, reminding me that the Hokies have to go on the road against Georgia Tech in October and then have back-to-back Thursday-night games with North Carolina and then at East Carolina that could be interesting down the stretch.
More cold water comes in the form of looking at the Virginia Tech offense, which was saved from being the worst-rated offensive unit in the ACC in ’08 only because of their rivals up the road in Charlottesville. Things could change there now that junior quarterback Tyrod Taylor is installed as the man at quarterback after two years of battling for the top job with the now-departed Sean Glennon. But Taylor hasn’t exactly shown himself to be a world-beater back there in the backfield, ranking 10th in pass efficiency in 2008 while completing just 57.2 percent of his passes and throwing two touchdown passes against seven interceptions.
And what Taylor does bring to the mix, the quick feet that had him gain 738 yards and score seven touchdowns on the ground as a sophomore, can also be his undoing. Taylor has missed time to injury in each of his first two seasons at Virginia Tech, and with Glennon gone the next option for Coach Frank Beamer is untested redshirt freshman Ju-Ju Clayton.
The key to the offensive attack, as is usual at Tech, will be the running game, anchored by sophomore tailback Darren Evans, who ran for 1,265 yards and 11 touchdowns in nine starts as a freshman. And we heard at the ACC Football Kickoff a couple of weeks ago that we’re going to be seeing more of 6-3, 283-pound senior tight end Greg Boone in what Beamer calls the “Wild Turkey” formation that lines Boone up as a shotgun quarterback with a run-pass option on most plays.
The defense, #2 in the ACC in total defense and #1 in the conference in scoring defense, will be just as stout as in years past, senior free safety Kam Chancellor said at the Football Kickoff. “We’re always focused, and we take it one game at a time, and we all come to play every day at practice. Playing for Bud Foster, he’s very encouraging, and he stays on our tail, and he just gets us ready for every game,” said Chancellor, whose defensive mates only have to account for one major loss from their dominating ’08 unit, cornerback Victor “Macho” Harris.
So are the expectations inside the Tech locker room as high as they seem to be on the outside? You won’t hear Beamer ackowledging anything like that, even if it is the case.
“When you’re opening up with a team as good as Alabama, a team that was number one part of the year last year, a team that’s got most of their defense back, a team that’s highly respected, nationally known, most of your thoughts is, We’ve got to make great preparation for this football game,” Beamer said in his best coach-speak.
One game at a time. That’s how you win championships.
Players to watch
– Tyrod Taylor, junior, quarterback. It’s his team now. Can he improve on subpar ’08 season (57.2 percent completion percentage, 2 TDs, 7 INTs)?
– Darren Evans, sophomore, tailback. On the Doak Walker Award watch list after running for 1,265 yards and 11 TDs as a freshman.
– Stephan Virgil, senior, cornerback. Playing in “Macho” Harris’ shadow, Virgil quietly tied for the team lead in interceptions in ’08 with six.
2009 season schedule
Sept. 5 Alabama (Atlanta, Ga.)
Sept. 12 Marshall
Sept. 19 Nebraska
Oct. 3 at Duke
Oct. 10 Boston College
Oct. 17 at Georgia Tech
Oct. 29 North Carolina
Nov. 5 at East Carolina
Nov. 14 at Maryland
Nov. 21 N.C. State
Nov. 28 at Virginia