Sept. 26 Football Notebook: Short Week, Tall Task
Thursday September 26, 2013
Hokies, Yellow Jackets square off following quick turnarounds
“Short weeks” have not been a huge issue for Frank Beamer’s Virginia Tech football teams in the past, and the veteran coach hopes the trend continues on Thursday night.
The Hokies travel to face Coastal Division rival Georgia Tech before a national ESPN audience. Each side will be playing just five days following its previous game on Saturday (Virginia Tech defeated Marshall 29-21 in overtime last Saturday, while Georgia Tech downed North Carolina 28-20).
It will mark the 11th time in Beamer’s 27 seasons that Virginia Tech will play a game on less than a week’s rest. Only once over the previous 10 occasions – in 2010 versus James Madison following a Labor Day Monday night game against Boise State – did the Hokies come up short on the back end of that combination.
That is an impressive track record, but one that gave Beamer little solace as he tried to prepare his squad for the Yellow Jackets’ vaunted option attack and a defensive unit that appears much improved.
“As you can imagine, your whole week is just speeded up, trying to cover a lot of things in a short period of time,” Beamer said. “Then you throw on top of that a completely different (kind of) offense. If you're playing an offense similar to Marshall, then there is carryover. But now you're playing a completely different offense and a different offense that you won't see again this year.
“You put all those things together and things are moving fast around here. We're trying to practice fast, learn fast, look at film fast, the whole deal.“
‘TEAM TO BEAT’
Georgia Tech is the reigning Coastal Division champion, and ACC media members picked Miami as the likely 2013 winner of the division in preseason. However, none of that altered Yellow Jackets coach Paul Johnson’s view of Virginia Tech as his team prepared for Thursday night’s game.
“Bottom line, clearly in my mind, they’ve been the team to beat in the Coastal Division since I’ve been here, and until somebody beats them that’s the way I’ll look at it,” Johnson said. “It’ll be a challenge coming in. We’ve had some games in the past three or four years that have been really close, and we’ve got to find a way to get over the top of them. We’ve been close but not there.”
Johnson’s Georgia Tech team actually did turn back a fourth-ranked Virginia Tech squad by a 28-23 score in the 2009 game at Atlanta, but the Hokies have claimed the last three series meetings. Johnson stands 1-4 vs. Virginia Tech as head coach at Georgia Tech.
“All I know is that they’ve won the last three,” Johnson said. “If you’re a competitor, there’s an old saying that revenge is a great motivator for those that care. So I hope our guys care.”
Luke Kuechly set a high standard for Boston College linebackers two seasons ago when he led the nation in tackles and garnered a slew of national awards. Two of his former teammates are doing their best to follow in his footsteps.
Senior Kevin Pierre-Louis enters this week’s ACC game against Florida State with 280 career tackles, tops among active ACC players by a wide margin. Fellow strong side linebacker Josh Keyes has made his presence felt with 2.5 quarterback sacks in three games. Keyes also has a quarterback hurry and a forced fumble to his credit this season.
“Those two guys are really explosive, and you notice those are guys who can make plays for us,” said first-year head coach Steve Addazio. “They can close the distance really quickly so you can get them involved in blitzes to sack the quarterback. They have that ability. They call it quick twitch – those guys are like that. They hit a pass rush, move and Boom! Boom! They beat you inside really quick.”
When eighth-ranked Florida State travels to Boston College for this weekend’s ACC game, the Seminoles will be facing a team that had an open date last weekend and will be seeing its first action since traveling to USC on Sept. 14. In fact, three of Florida State’s next four opponents will be coming off bye weeks when they face the Seminoles.
“That’s not very nice, is it?” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher remarked jokingly, but he acknowledged that those opponents will have some advantages.
“It gives teams more time to plan on you and watch film and learn tendencies and things like that,” Fisher said. “You have to be aware of those as a coach and make your adjustments and do the things you’ve got to do, but they’ll be rested up and healed and they’ll bring their ‘A’ game, there’s no doubt. That’s another challenge we have to face. But, that’s the name of the game.”
Fisher said FSU faces an additional challenge as it prepares to face the Eagles in their first year with Addazio as head coach.
“They’ve changed defensively and they’ve changed on offense,” Fisher said. “It’s not like playing them a year ago. You can go back and evaluate the players, but not the scheme.”
CARING FOR WATKINS
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney and his football team have rallied around defensive lineman Carlos Watkins this week following a tragic automobile accident last weekend near Forest City, N.C. While Watkins and the driver sustained only minor injuries, Watkins’ cousin, Dache Gossett, died as a result of injuries he sustained.
“The first thing I am going to do is to hug [him],” Swinney said earlier this week as he anticipated Watkins’ return. “I am just thankful to see him. I have talked to him a few times. Young people sometimes have a sense of invincibility. Then you get thrown in to a situation like that where you realize just how fragile life is. I am just going to hug him and tell him that I am glad to see him. We will do everything that we can to help him get through this valley that he is in.”
Swinney said Watkins was pinned in the automobile (an SUV) for over two hours following the accident.
“Carlos had his seat belt on,” Swinney said. “We all know what a big man he is ... It is just a miracle that he doesn’t have broken bones or anything like that.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family. It is also (Clemson defensive end) Dane Rogers’ cousin. They are a part of the same family – just a tough time for that family.”
Wake Forest’s last trip to Clemson in 2011 resulted in a disappointing near-miss against the ninth-ranked and eventual ACC champion Tigers. The Demon Deacons wound up on the short end of a 31-28 score in game loaded with “what ifs,” and a game that could have landed Wake Forest in the ACC Championship Game had the outcome gone the other way.
Coach Jim Grobe knows what he is up against as the Deacons make another journey south to take on the third-ranked Tigers this weekend.
“We had a chance a couple years ago and didn’t get it done,” Grobe said. ”I think we know going down there is tough. Since I’ve been here we haven’t beat Clemson in Death Valley. This is probably a year that is as tough a year to beat them as any year I’ve been here. They’re as talented as possibly any team in the country and very well coached.”
Clemson faced a competitive game at NC State in it last outing. Grobe and his staff took notes, but the Wake coach believes some sold the Tigers short after they gutted out the the 26-14 ACC road win.
“There's no question that NC State did some good things,” Grobe said. “In the same breath, I would tell you I know how tough it is to go to Raleigh and play football, so I think Clemson got a really good win. I think sometimes they don't get the credit they deserve for beating the Wolfpack team in Raleigh, because that's a really tough environment.”
SHORING UP THE DEFENSE
With quarterback Tom Savage putting up ACC record-tying passing numbers and wideouts Devin Street and Tyler Boyd jetting past defenders, Pitt coach Paul Chryst didn’t overlook the obvious following last weekend’s 58-55 win at Duke.
The Panthers yielded almost as many points as they scored, and Chryst seeks a much improved effort in this Saturday’s league game against visiting Virginia.
“We’ve got to get better defensively,” Chryst said. ”Some of (Duke’s) big plays came from a (Pitt defender) seeing a void in the defense and trying to compensate, so in return he gets beat and he’s not doing his job. Clearly we didn’t tackle very well. There are things we’ve got to clean up. It starts with coaching, and then the players have got to go do it. Obviously you don’t feel good giving up that many points.”
Chryst did not view the game as a total defensive wash, as the Panthers came up with four interceptions and made several other plays at key times.
“We don’t win that game without some of those defensive plays,” Chryst said. “The first two drives started interception, interception, and then we started the second half very strong.”
And of course there was the bigger picture: Pitt ultimately did what was necessary to earn its first ACC win.
“I think it’s our job to make sure that whatever the game is that we’re prepared to win it,” Chryst said. “If it’s a shootout, we’ve got to be prepared to win it. If it’s in bad conditions, we’ve got to be prepared to win it. That’s the way I choose to look at it.”
CAVS WARY OF GROUND GAME
After last week’s Pitt-Duke air show, Virginia head coach Mike London has fielded numerous questions this week about countering the Panthers’ passing attack. But London referred to Pitt as a team with “a Wisconsin flavor.”
“Coach Chryst has brought his style of influence from Wisconsin,” London said. “Although in the Duke game, the quarterback, (Tom) Savage did a great job with the six touchdown passes, we are designed to stop the run.”
London clearly made note of the fact, some time in between all the big passing plays against Duke, Pitt freshman running back James Conner found time to ramble for 173 yards on 26 carries.
“The other games you watch Pittsburgh play, they're very physical,” London said. “They like to run the ball. In this particular game they just played, it just went the other way and they ended up throwing the ball, and had a lot of dynamic, big plays down the field.”
When Miami makes Saturday’s road trip to South Florida, the Hurricanes will complete a non-league slate in which they played three of four games against in-state opposition. Miami opened the season with wins over Florida Atlantic and then-No. 9 Florida.
The sense of familiarity and the desire for bragging rights make it more than just another game for both sides, and the intensity level is sure to be high in Tampa on Saturday as the Bulls welcome the 15th-ranked Hurricanes for the high noon kickoff.
“There is an edge,” Miami coach Al Golden acknowledged. “These kids do know each other. Don't forget that this South Florida team beat Miami three years ago, we won (by only) 6‑3 two years ago. And I think during that span too this (South Florida team) went to Florida State and won.
“It's really one of those deals. There is a lot of pride. There is a lot of energy. There will be a lot of passion. Again, it should be a great environment. Last time we went up to Tampa there was a great crowd and it's a game that we have to really gear up and get in the right frame of mind and be ready for.”
When Duke plays host to Troy in Saturday’s nonconference game, the Blue Devils will be facing the FBS’ second-longest tenured coach in Larry Blakeney, who is in his 23rd season with the Trojans. Only Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer – in his 27th season at the helm in Blacksburg – has been at his current job longer.
“Larry Blakeney gets to coach on Larry Blakeney Field in Troy, Alabama,” Duke coach Dave Cutcliffe noted. “Does that tell you something about the job that he’s done?”
Blakeney has won 170 games while leading Troy through transitions from NCAA Division II to the FCS to the FBS, and Cutcliffe followed the progressions with interest.
“Larry Blakeney is a guy I’ve known for a long time, and he humbles me in regards to our profession,” Cutcliffe said. “Twenty three years at Troy! I grew up in Alabama. Larry grew up in Alabama. Larry was an Auburn guy. I was an Alabama guy.
“I think that he’s one of the finest football coaches in the business. Anybody in this day and time that can stay somewhere 23 years without losing your welcome is an incredible coach and person, so I want to personally congratulate Larry.”
North Carolina offensive-minded coach Larry Fedora wants his teams to thrive on quick strikes and big plays. And Fedora didn’t mince words after watching the Tar Heels fail to crack the coveted 400-yard total offense barrier in two of their first three games and fail to score in the second half of last week’s 28-20 loss to Georgia Tech.
“We’re not playing as well offensively,” Fedora said.” We’re just not playing that well -- it’s as simple as that.”
Is there a particular aspect of the offense that needs to be corrected heading into Saturday’s game against visiting East Carolina?
“It would be easy if it were just one thing,” Fedora said. “If it was one thing and we hit that one thing correctly, but there’s a lot of things involved. We’re still just not gelling as an offense. Some of it is the continuity up front and the young guys up front … I just think there’s a lot of different pieces. We’re not getting in flow. You’ve got to keep moving the chains to get in a flow offensively for everyone involved. From a penalty here to a missed block here to a misread here; it’s always one guy. That’s the thing on offense: You’ve got to have all 11. All 11 have to be willing at the same time.”
Outside observers have pointed to struggles in the running game, but Fedora has refused to blame to departure of 2012 do-everything back Gio Bernard to the NFL – or any other specific factor. He says he expected to the Tar Heels to be further along offensively at this stage of the still-young season.
“I did. I really did,” Fedora said. “That’s disappointing. So we’ve still got a lot of work to do. We’ve got a long season and we’re going to…we’ll get there.”
PAYING THE PRICE
NC State head coach Dave Doeren was aggravated by several offensive penalties his team committed in last Thursday night’s 26-14 loss to Clemson. The members of that unit found out just how aggravated when they reported for practice on Sunday.
“We ran six laps as an offense,” Doeren said. “Running a mile and a half with the pads on is not a lot of fun. We did the same thing the week before with the defense. It takes 15 to 20 minutes, and that is a lot of thinking time. That is really the only thing we do besides talk about it and talk about it. If it was one thing, it would be fixed.
“The week before it was some defensive guys roughing the passer and being offsides,” added Doeren, whose team plays host to Central Michigan on Saturday. “This week, it was a variety of different things and a lot of these are freshmen."
Despite those lapses, Doeren liked the manner in which his team battled third-ranked Clemson throughout, and he sees positives as the Wolfpack moves forward.
“I got a club of guys who fight, they are tough and they don’t quit,” Doren said. “I think that is something I can build a program around until we get healthy and have enough depth in the positions we need to be good in. That was the one thing I was real proud of the players for.”