Monday, December 30, 2013

Sun Bowl Preview: Virginia Tech vs. UCLA

By Justin Cates

In honor of this game's host city of El Paso, Texas I'm going to shoot straight from the hip in this preview. I won't be bothered by silly stats and thoughtful analysis. I'm basing everything on my gut.

Besides, trying to figure out this Hokie football team is a fool's errand.

Tech managed to navigate a schedule featuring 10 teams that made bowl games at 8-4. Not bad considering the brand new offensive system and general lack of proven talent on that side of the ball.

Of course, a reasonable argument can be made that there's very little reason the Hokies shouldn't be 11-2—assuming a loss to Florida State in the ACC title game—and readying for a BCS game.

The Alabama opener wasn't close, but losses to Maryland, Boston College and Duke were all avoidable.

Now Duke is a much better football team than the Hokies, but they played like hot garbage juice when they won 13-10 in Blacksburg. The Hokies played...well, like something worse than that.

The results were a bit better against Maryland and BC, but there were far too many orange and maroon mistakes.

Sorry to relive that, but my point is No. 17 UCLA is much better than those teams so it's a mighty tall order to expect Tech to win this one.

Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley likely began salivating when he saw the Maryland tape. Terrapin QB R.J. Brown ran all over the Hokies and he was coming off an injury. Hundley is a much better passer and probably a better runner. Yikes.

Senior linebacker Anthony Barr leads UCLA on defense and he's an absolute monster. At 6-4, 248 there is little question why he's considered a likely top five selection in the NFL Draft. His 10 sacks this season prove he's an outstanding pass rusher. It's too bad he'll end up somewhere terrible next season like Oakland.

The powder blue uniform belies the ferocious nature of Anthony Barr.

Linebacker/running back Myles Jack is a headache wherever he lines up. He was named both the Pac-12 offensive and defensive rookie of the year.

The last four games, Jack has seven touchdowns on just 37 carries. UCLA's diamond formation may well give Bud Foster a migraine.

But, given all that it's not unthinkable Tech can pull an upset. Bowl games are essentially a toss-up and the Hokies tend to play to the level of the opponent.

To win however, Tech needs a running back to step up and fill the hole left by injured starter Trey Edmunds. Logan Thomas has to avoid mistakes. Chuck Clark has to play big on defense to fill in for Kyle Fuller who will dress, but is limited due to injury.

As Doc Brown said in Back to The Future, so long as all of those things happen perfectly..."everything will be fine."

Friday, December 6, 2013

Virginia Tech Names 16th School President

By Justin Cates

Virginia Tech announced today that its Board of Visitors appointed Timothy D. Sands as the 16th President in University history effective June 1, 2014.

Sands will succeed Charles Steger who is retiring after 13 years as President.

Dr. Sands comes to Blacksburg from Purdue University where he was the executive vice president for academic affairs and provost. He also served as acting president in the fall of 2012. 

Sands holds a bachelor’s degree in engineering physics (1980) and master’s degree and Ph.D. in materials science and engineering, all from the University of California, Berkeley.

“I am delighted and honored to serve this great university,” said Sands. “There is so much here that Virginia and the nation needs. Virginia Tech truly embodies the 21st century land-grant university role. I’m excited to have the opportunity to serve a university that’s been on an upward trajectory over the last decade or more and is well positioned for even greater success. I share in the board’s optimism for the future.”

He sounds like a pretty terrific hire and personally, I like having an outside individual with fresh, new ideas coming into the fold.

Dr. Steger has done a tremendous job getting Virginia Tech in a great position as a top research institution and Dr. Sands seems like a great fit to continue the process. 

Now let's be irrational and take a look at how this affects sports.

Current athletic director Jim Weaver retires December 31 and the university wants to have a new AD in place by the end of February.

Steger has said he'll consult with Dr. Sands as they make a selection.

As Andy Bitter nicely summarized, from his comments today Sands sounds like he values athletics but not at the expense of academics. He appreciates Tech's rather unique position of running an athletic department that is solvent and not subsidized by the University budget.

Monday, November 25, 2013

A Look Ahead: Virginia Tech vs. Virginia

By Justin Cates

Editor's Note: Saturday will mark day 3,291 of Virginia Tech's continuous possession of the Commonwealth Cup.

Virginia Tech has lost three of it's last four, but with one final spin of the ACC "wheel of destiny" there's still a chance the Hokies can win the Coastal division.

Tech needs to beat Virginia and hope North Carolina can edge the surprising Duke Blue Devils.

That very well may happen, but the Hokies (7-4, 4-3 ACC)  have shown they're more than capable of losing to anybody and Duke can beat just about anyone after winning seven straight games.

The Cavaliers (2-9, 0-7 ACC) haven't won a game since beating VMI on September 21. They've played horribly, but there is certainly plenty of talent on the roster and funny things happen in rivalry games.

Junior Kevin Parks is a good running back who has gone over a hundred yards five times this season including the last two weeks at North Carolina and Miami.

The 'Hoos haven't been able to pass effectively, but stopping the run has been tough for opponents as Parks has 926 yards and 11 touchdowns.

As for that passing game, it hasn't been pretty.

Quarterback David Watford has eight touchdowns and 15 interceptions this season prompting coach Mike London to insert freshman Greyson Lambert in recent weeks.

Against Miami, Lambert completed 13-of-19 passes for 134 yards.

A marginal improvement, but Lambert gives the 'Hoos more of a threat through the air while Watford's strength is his athleticism on the ground. Both quarterbacks will play Saturday.

On defense the Cavaliers are paced by safety Anthony Harris who leads the nation with eight interceptions.

Harris will miss the first half against the Hokies after being ejected for targeting against Miami.

The Hokies are looking to beat Virginia for the 10th straight season.

All bias aside, Mike London is probably the worst football coach in the country. He's like a more hapless and hilarious version of Al Groh. He makes Will Muschamp look like Vince Lombardi.

How UVA has managed to go from George Welsh to knuckleheads like Al "NFL experience" Groh and Mike "I won the national championship with someone else's players" London is well beyond me.

With its academic profile and upper level facilities, Cavalier football is a sleeping giant. At present, that giant is comatose.

Point of fact, I myself am not currently an FBS head football coach, however it doesn't take one to see a bunch of underachievers.

"Yeah, yeah I KNOW! Just lay off until they fire me okay?"
That brings us back around to the Hokies.

This isn't a bad team. It's not a good team either. Not much was expected with a new offensive coaching staff, but this group was close to so much more than 7-4.

That being said, the Hokies could still win nine or—theoretically at least—ten games this season. With a win and some help from the Tar Heels, Tech could make it to Charlotte to play for the ACC title game.

Had you offered that deal to Frank Beamer in August he would have called you a liar and promptly taken the deal.

The point is, there's still a lot on the table for Virginia Tech football this season.

Everything else aside, it's always satisfying to beat UVA in anything.

Plus I may or may not have a large sum of money invested in, "Virginia Tech Football: A Decade of Dominance in the Commonwealth" T-shirts.

We'll see if the Hokies can make it a reality Saturday.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

My Jim Weaver Story

By Justin Cates

Like any man, Jim Weaver's legacy will not be easily defined.

Virginia Tech's athletic director announced last week that he will be retiring at the start of the new year, sooner than expected due to issues with his health.

Weaver has been controversial at times and has long been a source of consternation for the Hokie faithful. He's viewed by many as a kind of business drone obsessed with crunching numbers and watching the athletic department's bottom-line.

This is not entirely incorrect. Weaver's business savvy has put Tech's athletic department in the black and paved the path for the next director to take things to a level that not too long ago seemed like an impossibility.

Tech's facilities have improved across the board. A few missteps aside, the coaching has improved as have the academic support facilities, conference affiliation and talent level across all programs.

Many fans—myself included on occasion—have been frustrated by some of Weaver's decisions.

Loyal season ticket holders have been subjected to season ticket re-seating with preference given based on Hokie Club donations. Long time basketball coach Seth Greenberg was fired with horrible timing after most off-season coaching moves had already been made in the spring of 2012.

Something especially annoying to students was the decision to ban Tech's band, The Marching Virginians, from playing the "Stick It In" drum cadence.

Played when the Hokie football team had the ball in the opponent's red zone, the cadence—seen here—played as fans chanted, "Oh, Oh, Oh" while raising their hands in the air. Finally, the cadence stopped and everyone yelled, "Stick it in! Stick it in! Stick it in!" punctuated by a series of somewhat suggestive pelvic thrusts.

Some may argue that's just the behavior of immature college students deserving to be curtailed, but I have borne witness to elderly women in the stands joining in on the dance as well.

And then there's the time that Frank Beamer nearly got away in 2000.

As he said in his most recent book Let Me Be Frank: My Life at Virginia Tech, the winningest coach in Hokie football history actually briefly accepted the North Carolina job.

It was only when he and his wife Cheryl returned home that Beamer began to have second thoughts.

He met in Weaver's office with the AD, school president Dr. Charles Steger and Minnis Ridenour. During the meeting an offer was made to increase the salary for Beamer and more importantly gave more money to his assistant coaches.

It was nearly a dark moment in Hokie sports history, but proved to be a crucial save. Of course, it's fair to wonder how things ever made it to that point.

Rough patches aside, Weaver has had an incredibly successful tenure as the second longest serving athletic director in Virginia Tech history.

Sometimes, his interactions with the fan base weren't terribly smooth, but one-on-one he was surprisingly warm and engaging.

Weaver oversaw Tech's conference moves to the Big East in 2000 and to the ACC in 2004.

That brings me to my stories.

As a young kid in Blacksburg, I had developed an interest in broadcasting and at the urging of a neighbor I wrote a letter to the voice of the Hokies Bill Roth.

To my surprise, Bill called me one afternoon after I got home from school. He said he was across town watching a Tech baseball game and he invited me to come watch with him and chat.

I got a ride over and found the door to the press box locked. Like any mischievous and enterprising youth, I waited for someone to exit, then silently slipped inside before the door closed.

I made my way up the stairs and found Bill. We had a nice chat and not long after I told Mr. Roth that I wanted his job, in popped Jim Weaver to say hello.

Roth introduced him to me saying, "This is Justin, he wants my job".

Weaver shook my hand and said, "Young man if I have one piece of advice for you it's to work cheap."

Everyone laughed and I smiled somewhat puzzled. Years later, I truly appreciate the driest sarcasm I've ever heard. Given his penchant for the bottom line though, I've always wondered if it wasn't partially serious.

Fast forward to my freshman year of college when I was working for campus radio station WUVT.

I decided to attempt to interview Weaver and initiated it by sending him an e-mail late one Friday afternoon.

Unexpectedly, he responded quite quickly and agreed to an interview in his office in the Jamerson Athletic Center the following Monday morning.

Dressed in an ill-fitting suit, I sat in the waiting room with his secretary, politely declining coffee and wondering what I'd gotten myself into. 

After a few minutes he came out and shook my hand, then led me into his enormous office.

He patiently sat and answered everything I had written down and even random things I started throwing at him from Hokie football scheduling to when he thought Joe Paterno would retire at Penn State (Editor's Note: Weaver played and coached under Paterno).

He didn't have to do any of that. He could have politely declined my request for an interview or even ignored my e-mail altogether.

That's never been Weaver's style.

Whether you agreed with him or not, he always stood his ground and was willing to explain himself to you.

He served Virginia Tech well and oversaw the athletic department during a tumultuous time in college athletics.

He ruffled feathers with things like coaching changes and ticket re-seating, but those things come with the territory in big-time college athletics. Thanks in large part to Weaver, Hokie sports are just that now. Big time.

And so I'd like to give him the biggest compliment I can offer: Jim Weaver is a true Hokie.

Not that he cares what I think.

Maybe, I'll send him an e-mail.

Friday, November 15, 2013

A Look Ahead: Virginia Tech vs. Maryland

By Justin Cates

Things finally came together on offense in the Hokies 42-24 upset win over the Miami Hurricanes.

After turning the ball over eight times in the previous two games, quarterback Logan Thomas was nearly flawless in Miami Gardens completing 25-of-31 passes for 366 yards and two touchdowns.

Thomas added another 42 yards on the ground, but for one of the few times this season he wasn't the Hokies' primary running threat.

Redshirt freshman Trey Edmunds exploded with 14 carries for 74 yards and four touchdowns while sophomore J.C. Coleman tallied 22 carries for 68 yards.

Tech also has two breakout receivers in Willie Byrn and Josh Stanford.

Byrn has impressed with his toughness and speed all season, but the light didn't fully come one for Stanford until the last two games.

Against Boston College Stanford finished with 171 yards and the 'Canes were burned for 107 including a magnificent tackle-breaking run on a 32-yard touchdown.

The Hokie offense presented a balanced attack that both exposed weaknesses in the Miami defense and showed what the Tech unit is capable of when not turning the ball over. The trick is maintaining the momentum.

It won't be easy with major questions surrounding Tech's already shaky kicking game.

Kicker Cody Journell was dismissed from the team this week ending his bizarre four and a half year odyssey of occasional on field brilliance and off field stupidity.

That leaves the Hokies (7-3, 4-2 ACC) with no kickers on the roster who have made a field goal in a college game. Ethan Keyserling kicked against Marshall earlier this season but missed three kicks in the rain.

He'll likely get the start but Michael Branthover, Mitchell Ludwig and freshman walk-on Eric Kristensen all got a look in practice this week.

Senior day in Blacksburg will see Tech's senior corners on the sidelines as both Kyle Fuller (groin) and Antone Exum (ankle) won't dress Saturday.

Thankfully for the Hokies, corner is the deepest spot on the team and freshmen Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson will start in their places.

They will face a Maryland (5-4, 1-4 ACC) team that has hit a major wall in the second half of this season.

After starting 4-0, the Terrapins have dropped four of the last five with only a one point win over Virginia in that span.

Talented quarterback R.J. Brown just hasn't been the same since suffering a concussion in a 63-0 loss at Florida State, but there aren't many healthy bodies to throw to right now.

Five wide receivers are out for this game including leading receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long.

That makes it tempting to lean on the running game and tailback Brandon Ross, but it's a tall order against a Tech run defense currently ranked fourth in the nation.

The Hokies have to win out if they want a chance to make it to the ACC Championship game in Charlotte. They need help too, but a loss to Maryland or Virginia will spell disaster.

An early season match up between these two teams would have looked a lot different. A healthy Maryland offense would have presented an interesting challenge for the Hokies.

As it stands now, it should be a happy senior day in Lane Stadium.

Monday, November 4, 2013

A Look Ahead: Virginia Tech vs. Miami

By Justin Cates

Maybe it's my fault.

It certainly appears ominous now that I left the Duke preview hovering at the top of the page this past week.

After that miserable 13-10 loss, the Hokies looked to rebound against Boston College. The folks from Chestnut Hill did not cooperate.

For the second consecutive week, Tech put up some big numbers and largely dominated the stat sheet but also once again made far too many mistakes to win.

The Hokies racked up 446 yards of total offense to BC's 289 but lost by seven thanks largely to four turnovers by quarterback Logan Thomas.

Thomas threw for 391 yards and two touchdowns becoming Tech's all time leader in total offense, but also lost two fumbles and tossed two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown.

That makes eight turnovers for Logan in the two losses. Whatever happened during the Hokies' bye week has had disastrous consequences for the senior signal caller.

The only real bright spot on offense Saturday came from receiver Joshua Stanford. The redshirt freshman had a breakout game with six catches for 171 yards. He's shown a great deal of improvement over the season and continues to make tough catches when needed.

Demitri Knowles on the other hand is a puzzling case.

The redshirt sophomore has shown tremendous potential but has struggled at times this season. His kick returns have been terrible—an area where he excelled as a freshman—and he seems reluctant to make tough catches over the middle.

Against BC he blew a wide open catch when it appeared he didn't look for the ball, instead flailing his arms at the last second and knocking the pass in the air for a defender to grab for an interception.

It's easy to blame Thomas for everything—and he's playing really poorly at present—but the supporting cast continues to have its issues.

The defense played as one would expect, though one could argue it was an off day. Subtracting the pick six, the Hokie defense gave up 27 points and got run all over by the Eagles' outstanding senior tailback Andre Williams.

The Hokies will be glad to see Andre Williams graduate. I sure as Hell will.

Williams finished with 33 carries for 166 yards and two touchdowns.

That took all the pressure off quarterback Chase Rettig and allowed him to simply manage the game. Rettig completed 11-of-14 passes for 93 yards and a touchdown.

Virginia Tech (6-3, 3-2 ACC) is now tasked with taking down Coastal Division leader Miami (7-1, 3-1 ACC).

The rival Hurricanes are coming off a tough loss to Florida State, a result made worse by a key injury against the Seminoles.

All-ACC tailback Duke Johnson suffered a broken ankle late in the game and will be lost for the rest of the season. That puts backup Dallas Crawford in the starting role.

Crawford played exceptionally well when Johnson was injured against North Carolina putting together 33 carries for 137 yards and two touchdowns.

Crawford is very good, but not nearly at the level of Johnson.

The injury hurts, but the 'Canes will win or lose based on the play of quarterback Stephen Morris.
Morris and Logan Thomas are basically the same person. Both are talented, athletic passers responsible for many great plays and victories. They also both make bonehead plays and ill-advised throws that hurt their teams.

Morris has 12 touchdowns and 10 interceptions on the season. Thomas now has 11 touchdowns and 12 picks.

Which Stephen Morris will show up Saturday? Definitely the one with this awful tattoo.

You get the idea.

These are two strong defenses so whichever team can get better quarterback play stands the best chance to win.

I have absolutely no idea who that will be and expect it to vary from quarter to quarter or even drive to drive.

For the second straight year Miami plays this one at home in prime time. That may well be the advantage that puts them over the top.

No. 14 Miami hosts Virginia Tech at 7 PM Saturday in Miami Gardens, Florida. The game will be shown on ESPN.

Friday, October 25, 2013

A Look Ahead: Virginia Tech vs. Duke

By Justin Cates

The Hokies are coming off a bye week with a surprising number of new injuries in the defensive backfield.

Freshman corner Brandon Facyson is doubtful after suffering a concussion Sunday and Kyle fuller is questionable with a groin injury.

Thankfully, senior corner Antone Exum is expected to make his first start of the season after recovering from an off-season basketball injury. 

Duke (5-2, 1-2 ACC) runs primarily a spread attack which means the Hokies (6-1, 3-0 ACC) will line up in a nickel quite a bit, featuring Kendall Fuller at the nickel position. Expect to see lots of Donovan Riley opposite Exum if Kyle Fuller can't go.

Last season, J.C. Coleman had his breakout performance with 183 rushing yards against the Blue Devils. Tech hasn't been able to run on anyone this year however and Duke has some solid interior line players on defense.

It will be interesting to see if the Hokies find a way to run for any significant yardage.

The Hokie offense will likely continue to lean on the capable passing efforts of recent weeks. Logan Thomas is playing much better in ACC games and the receiver seem to get better every week.

Duke is feeling good after falling behind Virginia 22-0 only to storm back and score 35 unanswered points to win in Charlottesville.

Duke tore out to 20-0 lead during the first quarter against the Hokies. Tech scored the final 41 points and came away with a deceptively comfortable victory.

Brandon Connette is dangerous and elusive in the open field.

Duke always manages to play tough against Virginia Tech. Quarterbacks Anthony Boone and Brandon Connette hope they continue their strong play and make some plays early.

Tech should win, but they have to be wary if they want to keep winning and validate a No. 14 ranking in the initial BCS standings.   

Virginia Tech hosts Duke at 3:30 Saturday on ESPNU.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

A Look Ahead: Virginia Tech vs. Pittsburgh

By Justin Cates

The Hokies finally cracked the top 25 this week coming in at No. 24 in the Associated Press Poll and No. 25 in the USA Today Coaches Poll after defeating North Carolina 27-17.

That makes plenty of Hokies—this one in particular—more than a little nervous, especially with the Pittsburgh Panthers coming to town.

Pitt has beaten the Hokies four straight times dating back to 2001. I'm quite certain Ronyell Whitaker still has nightmares about Larry Fitzgerald.

Larry Fitzgerald had 3 touchdowns in 5 catches to help beat the No. 3 Hokies in 2002.

Last year of course, the 13th ranked Hokies were absolutely embarrassed as the Panthers thumped Tech 35-17 at Heinz Field.

That's not the only negative history heading into this one.

Saturday marks the first game I will attend in person this season and I'm in a bit of a slump myself.

Last season, the Hokies lost both games I saw in person (Cincinnati, Florida State) and they've stumbled in three of the last four. We have to go all the way back to Tech's 38-35 thriller over Miami in 2011 for a victory I've witnessed firsthand.

It's imperative for me to perform at a high level in this one. I'm already hydrating.

As for the men on the field, Pitt quarterback Tom Savage has been cleared to play after suffering a concussion in the Panther's win over Virginia.

Savage was sacked seven times in Charlottesville and the Wahoo defense has been suspect at times, especially against Ball State.

That bodes well for a Tech defensive front hoping to continue harassing quarterbacks. They'll need to in order to disrupt a potent Pitt passing game.

The Panthers have two outstanding receivers in Devin Street (21 catches, 445 yards, 3 TDs) and freshman Tyler Boyd (23 catches, 425 yards, 4 TDs).

Tyler Boyd hopes to keep flying high against the Hokie defense.

Tech leads the nation in interceptions, so this will be a fun match up to watch on the outside.

On the ground, Pitt freshman James Conner is off to a fast start. So far he's racked up 353 yards at a rate of 5.7 per carry.

It's a balanced attack, though they struggled against Florida State in the only real test this season. 

The Hokies rank fifth in the nation in total defense—two spots ahead of FSU—despite being on the field 85 more plays than top-ranked Michigan State.

The Tech defense has been asked to do a lot because of the oft-troubled offense.

Logan Thomas had a strong outing against Carolina, throwing for nearly 300 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.

Willie Byrn had the first 100 yard receiving effort of the season and Josh Stanford made some very nice catches.

Still, the Hokies can't run the football. They will have to keep passing until teams respect the run game. It's a frustrating, vicious cycle.

This might just be the game to break that cycle a bit. The Panthers are 66th against the run and 52nd versus the pass. It's a defense that has struggled in all facets which makes for a fine salve for a sputtering run game.

And if that doesn't work? Throw it all over the yard and hope.

Virginia Tech hosts Pittsburgh Saturday at Noon on ESPNU.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Bands You Should Know: Beta Radio

By Justin Cates

This one came to me courtesy of my dear friend Amanda who isn't entirely sure how she found it.

Beta Radio hails from Wilmington, North Carolina and is a kind of Americana/indie folk outfit that's decidedly up my alley.

Benjamin Mabry handles lead vocals along with some guitar, glockenspiel and harmonium—a kind of pedaled reed organ.

Brent Holloman plays guitar, bass, piano, glockenspiel banjo and sings a bit too.

A myriad of other musicians, including Hoffman's wife Amanda appear on the group's studio efforts as well as backing the band up at live shows.

Brent Holloman (left) and Benjamin Mabry (right) appear at home in the 19th century.

On a whim—I realized I had 40 bucks on an iTunes gift card—the deluxe version of Beta Radio's only full length studio album to date, Seven Sisters has been purchased and downloaded.

In addition to standout track "Either Way", the beautiful but brief "Hello Lovely" and the happier fare of "Where Losers Do" brighten the more somber notes of "Highlight on the Hill".

It's a thoughtful album that could easily be dismissed as "boring", but the tasteful banjo touches and other auxiliary instrumentation is just subtle enough not to distract. I have a feeling this will make a great winter listen on a quiet snowy day spent indoors.

Give them a listen and let me know what you think.

Friday, October 4, 2013

A Look Ahead: Virginia Tech vs. North Carolina

By Justin Cates

North Carolina (1-3, 0-1 ACC) was a trendy pick in the preseason to win the ACC's Coastal division while Virginia Tech (4-1, 1-0 ACC) was largely an afterthought.

Those roles have have quickly reversed as the Tarheels limp into Lane Stadium Saturday afternoon.

The Hokies surprised many by dominating Georgia Tech on a Thursday night in Atlanta. The 17-10 final score didn't tell the story.

The Hokie defense allowed the vaunted Georgia Tech rushing attack just 129 yards while Logan Thomas played his best game of the season on offense.

My last preview featured only one mildly optimistic note that Hokie QB's often play well in Atlanta and Thomas joined the list by completing 19-of-25 passes (including his first 9) for 221 yards and a touchdown.

He also toted the ball 16 times for 58 yards and a rushing touchdown despite nursing an abdominal strain and a mild ankle sprain late in the game.

It's no secret, the man is a tank but the Hokies will likely try to limit his carries a little more this week. That will of course be somewhat dictated by the defense.     

Outside of Thomas, Tech had absolutely no running game last week. The plan from the start was to throw the ball a lot because defenses are stacking the box and daring them to pass. Assuming that remains the case against a struggling Carolina defense, look for LT to keep throwing.

His receivers are finally stepping up and helping him out too.

Demitri Knowles had his best game of the season snagging five catches for 67 yards. D.J. Coles caught a touchdown pass on Tech's first drive of the game, Josh Stanford made some tough catches in big situations and Willie Byrn continues to be a reliable option as well.

Byrn is listed as probable for this weekend after suffering a knee injury against the Yellow Jackets.

The Hokie defense is playing simply masterful. It was nice to hear ESPN's Thursday night crew fawning over the defensive line, particularly Derrick Hopkins.

The defense stands to get a little better this week with the return of defensive back Antone Exum.

Antone Exum adds depth to an already talented and deep secondary.

Exum had offseason surgery to repair a torn ACL as well as his lateral and medial meniscus and a bone fracture all suffered during a pick-up basketball game.

In his absence, Tech has continued to see veteran Kyle Fuller play well and everyone has been wowed by his brother Kendall and fellow true freshman Brandon Facyson.

Facyson is currently tied for the national lead in interceptions with four and will continue to start at field corner with Exum getting time in spots.

There were rumors during the week about Exum starting and Facyson getting reps on offense (he got a few) but for now at least, it's just an idea.

The defense will look to harass UNC quarterback Bryn Renner who has struggled so far this season, but his top weapon, tight end Eric Ebron is always a match up problem.

Eric Ebron will challenge Tech's stout pass defense.

 At 6-4, 245 he presents a significant challenge for a linebacker but still has the speed to give defensive backs headaches. Tech has used 6-6 quarterback Bucky Hodges to simulate Ebron's size while receiver Austin Jones was used for speed in practice.

It's a must win game for the Tarheels if they have any hope of salvaging the season and it's a massively important recruiting day for the Hokies as a number of valued high school prospects will be in attendance.

The game kicks off Saturday at 12:30 and will be broadcast on the ACC Network—which isn't really a real thing so check you local listings for an affiliate in your area.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

U.S. Government Shuts Down

By Justin Cates

In a fateful twist the United States Government is in the process of a partial shut-down on the 123rd anniversary of Yosemite National Park being designated as such.

Yeah you guessed it, the Park is closed now.

So is just about every government agency—NASA is furloughing 97% of their folks—unless they're designated essential. In that case, the people are coming to work...they just aren't getting paid.

America! Breathe it in friends. That's the smell of good old fashioned red, white and blue incompetence.

Now there are some who will point out that the last two government shut-downs have occurred under democratic administrations; President's Obama and Clinton. They will say this implies that the blame lies with those on the more liberal end of the American political spectrum.

Still, there are those who will say it's the fault of the largely Republican Congress' in both instances who are to blame for such a lack of leadership.

Both sides of this argument would be wrong.

It's a collective blame that must be shouldered in this and every case of ineffectual governance by these supposedly "exceptional" American citizens who claim so boldly to be running our government.

Bad governing, and thus, bad policy is bipartisan.

There's no way around the fact that all American politicians are incapable of affecting meaningful change without simultaneously asking, "What's in it for me?"

President Obama made a statement yesterday that cut to the heart of the matter regarding the ongoing "negotiations" in Congress.

"I shouldn't have to offer anything," he said.

"They're not doing me a favor by paying for things that they have already approved for the government to do. That's part of their basic function of government; that's not doing me a favor. That's doing what the American people sent them here to do, carrying out their responsibilities."

Now, why President Obama didn't say this years ago is far beyond me to guess. Perhaps he thought it was painfully obvious, but it clearly isn't.

I won't begin to delve into the nitty gritty of this political tomfoolery, largely because it's below me to stoop to the level of our elected officials.

I'm not a politician. I'm not cut out for the work as I possess both a spine and a moral compass that responds as it should to magnetic north. 

Like most Americans, I believe that a representative government should work for the people. We don't always agree on what's best, but we agree the lights should always be on. It sets a bad precedent when government agencies don't show up to work.

It sends an even worse message when people deemed so vital to our nation's well-being that they must continue working during a government shut-down do just that, but aren't compensated for their efforts.

Sure, they'll most likely be paid later but that's part of the problem.

We've elected a government so focused on the now that they haven't the slightest concern for down the road. Our officials at present can't even agree on a short-term fix that won't actually fix anything.  There's no agreeing to delaying our biggest problems.

We're bearing witness to a full-on power grab and the scum-sucking greedheads in Washington claiming to speak for the people don't actually give a damn about any of us. 

They're focused on the future alright. Just not ours.

Monday, September 23, 2013

A Look Ahead: Virginia Tech vs. Georgia Tech

By Justin Cates

After hours of slogging through the rain-soaked mess Saturday in Lane Stadium, the Hokies were finally able to complete their Sisyphean task and edge out a very solid Marshall squad 29-21 in three overtimes.

Missed field goals were the order of the day for the second straight week, but this time with a different kicker.

After no indications of trouble during the week, Frank Beamer suspended Cody Journell Saturday morning for a violation of team rules. The coach wouldn't elaborate further only later saying his starting kicker would be back on Thursday for the Georgia Tech game.

As I pointed out last week, Journell has been very reliable on the field but this is hardly the first time he's run afoul of team rules.

Journell has essentially become part II of the Marcus Vick Story. It's the tale of a talented but troubled athlete given countless opportunities by a kindly old football coach. One would think Beamer had learned the hard way you only get so many second chances.

In this case, it put Ethan Keyserling in a really tough position.

Playing in his first college game, the backup kicker missed all three of his field goals in the tough conditions but it's hard to blame him entirely.

The snap on the first kick was poor and it threw the timing off resulting in the 36-yard attempt hitting the left upright. Another try was from 50 yards and was partially blocked at the line.

The snaps are a major issue going back to East Carolina. It needs to be cleaned up immediately or a change needs to be made at long snapper.

The best thing to come out of this game was some real old fashioned Beamerball.

The Hokies blocked a punt early and returned it for a touchdown then blocked a field goal that would have won the game for Marshall. The defense was on its heels early, but locked down in the second half.

That's the classic Hokie formula for success. Defense + special teams + ugly offense = win.

As for that ugly offense, well, I've coined the term "Power Slop" to describe it.

Quarterback Logan Thomas is once again taking the bulk of criticism this season, but he once again has the offense squarely on his massive shoulders.

He had two interceptions and struggled passing in miserable conditions. That's in stark contrast to Marshall QB Rakeem Cato who played brilliantly for most of the game despite the weather.

Still, Thomas scored two rushing touchdowns and ran in a two-point conversion in the third overtime. He once again gutted out a win in less than ideal circumstances. He's a frustrating player, but no one can questions his heart or toughness.

"I've always loved playing with Logan," said wide receiver Willie Byrn.

"He's going to put all 260 pounds on the line every single play. He's the ultimate competitor. If he has a bad pass or a bad throw, he doesn't know any better than to go out and work his hardest and do whatever he can to win."

Willie Byrn snags a game-tying touchdown catch off a tipped pass. There was much rejoicing. 

Frankly, that's all Virginia Tech can hope for right now. Give it your best and try to stay positive regardless of the results.

The road only gets tougher for the Hokies with the non-conference slate behind them.  

It's a short week with a Thursday night trip to Atlanta to take on the challenging option attack of Georgia Tech.

The Yellow Jackets are led by dynamic quarterback Vad Lee.

Vad Lee has the Yellow Jacket offense firing on all cylinders this season.

Lee is the best passer the Jackets have had under coach Paul Johnson and it adds a new variable to a tricky offense.

They still don't pass much, but when they do Lee is incredibly efficient. On the season he's completed 22-of-39 passes for 418 yards and seven touchdowns with just one interception.

Of course, Georgia Tech still runs the ball extremely well. So far on the season they've totaled 1,036 yards and 10 touchdowns as a team.

David Sims, Robert Godhigh and Zach Laskey are the primary runners with Dennis Andrews and Broderick Snoddy in reserve. The depth in the backfield is impressive.

In addition to the potent offense, Georgia Tech is presently 11th in total defense.

This is the best team Paul Johnson has had and with a win on Thursday they'll likely be ranked in the top 25.

Virginia Tech has a number of injuries from Saturday to watch for given the short week. Free Safety Kyshoen Jarrett and leading rusher Trey Edmunds are both nursing leg injuries sustained late in the game against Marshall.

Edmunds returned to the game for a carry but had to leave again and Jarrett also came back but was clearly still limping around. Both are crucial cogs in the Tech machine.  

Let's be honest, the Hokies are not a good football team. Maybe they will be by the end of the year, but right now they're nowhere close. A win in Atlanta is certainly possible, it just isn't likely.

The only bright spots I can find are that the Hokies are 8-1 with only five days to prepare for an opponent since Bud Foster has been the defensive coordinator. His unit is currently 5th in total defense so they stand a good chance of slowing the Jackets offense.

The best thing I can say about the Hokie offense is that Thursday nights in Atlanta have been a coming out party for Tech QBs in the past.

Sean Glennon's jersey was stolen from the Hokie locker room, so he stole the game.

Bryan Randall led a furious comeback in 2004 and Sean Glennon played the best game of his career in 2007—in a Georgia Tech jersey no less.

If he's going to step up and salvage both his draft stock and his senior season, this is a perfect opportunity on national television for Logan Thomas to assert himself.

The offense and the season depend on it. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

A Look Ahead: Virginia Tech vs. Marshall

By Justin Cates

Call me a broken record if you like, bu Marshall will be another tough test for the Hokies.

That's not even coach speak. Frank Beamer has made a habit over the years of making even the most average teams seem like world-beaters, but in this case he's entirely correct.

East Carolina proved to be just as difficult as I expected. Tech's 15-10 win in Greenville was in doubt most of the day but it could have been a lot easier with some made field goals—more on that later.

The biggest thing to come out of that game is that the Hokie defense is real, and they're spectacular.

Currently ranked the number two overall defense in the nation, Tech gave talnted Pirate quarterback Shane Carden all kinds of trouble. Carden was sacked seven times and intercepted on three passes, two from true freshman corner Brandon Facyson.

As good as the secondary is, the line is playing outstanding football too.

Defensive tackle J.R. Collins is playing at a very high level. Saturday he had five tackles including two sacks and a QB hurry.

Fellow lineman defensive end James Gayle (pictured up top) also had an interesting day.

Early in the game, his left shoulder popped out and the trainers popped it back in. He kept playing and finished the day with two sacks—one of which stripped the ball in the endzone and forced a safety—and two more quarterback hurries en route to being named the ACC's defensive lineman of the week.

That's some extreme toughness, something the entire team seems to have in abundance this season likely thanks to a very tough summer camp. It's a stark contrast to last year's campaign already in that department.

Freshman Brandon Facyson is proving to be a terror in the defensive backfield.

The Hokie offense struggled but took some steps forward. ECU stacked the line and sold out all day to stop the run with great success allowing just 53 yards on 34 carries.

That's what teams will do the rest of the season until Logan Thomas shows he can beat teams through the air, and there were positive signs there.

Logan still missed a couple of easy passes but made much better reads throwing the football and was very good on third downs. The receivers are also starting to step up.

Demtri Knowles had a big day with eight catches for 99 yards and a touchdown. Willie Byrn—nicknamed 'The Paperboy' by Scot Loeffler because he always delivers and looks like the coordinators paperboy—is becoming a reliable target after seven catches for 67 yards and a lot of nice yards after the catch.

D.J. Coles caught a touchdown for the second straight game but his snaps will be limited going forward due to the health of his knee.

For the second game in a row, the Tech defense will be tested by a strong passing attack.

Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato was the leading passer in the FBS last year and is off to a fast start this season. Through three games so far, Cato is 68-of-108 for 849 yards and seven touchdowns.

The Thundering Herd passing offense currently ranks 21st in the nation and they're 12th in scoring with the 5th ranked total defense. Those numbers are certainly inflated based on competition, but the offense played well against a good Ohio team, nearly leading the comeback.

Rakeem Cato and the Herd hope to pull an upset in Blacksburg.

 The defense just needs to keep doing what it's doing and the offense needs continue taking steps forward. Running the ball won't get any easier as J.C. Coleman has once again been ruled out against Marshall.

The good news is that Chris Mangus has shown some nice things as the backup to Trey Edmunds. Tech will need to find some creative ways to run the ball facing another defense that will likely load the box with eight guys almost every play.

I'd like to see a couple of reverses and some outside runs that utilize Edmunds' speed.

As for the Hokie kicker Cody Journell, well he had a miserable day in Greenville.

He missed an extra point, then overcompensated and missed a field goal and then another field goal. He missed one more but it was negated by a roughing the kicker penalty.

Kicking is a bizarre mental game as much as it is the physical striking of the ball. The last thing you want a kicker doing is thinking. Hopefully, Tech can get him a field goal attempt early and he can make it and put everything behind him.

Over his career, Journell has proven to be very reliable—on the field at least—and there's no reason to start doubting him now. I felt much better after hearing he received a phone call from Shayne Graham after the game. I'm sure the Hokies' greatest kicker had some good advice for a reeling protégé.

For fun, here's the biggest kick in school history. Few things make me happier than seeing ery very sad West Virginia Mountaineers.

So as the air turns crisp and the Hokies don yet another "interesting" uniform for military appreciation day, Tech sits at 2-1 and in good position for a home victory. It will be tough, but there won't be a single easy game the rest of the way.

The Hokies take on Marshall Saturday at NOON on ESPNU.

Friday, September 13, 2013

A Look Ahead: Notre Dame vs. Purdue

By Justin Cates

For whatever reason (Blogger sucks) my ND-Michigan preview didn't post last week despite me making an extensive effort to do so in a timely fashion.

Today, I'll reuse bits of that preview and tie it in to what should be a cakewalk for the Irish against Purdue.

The Boilermakers are one of the worst teams on college football. They got absolutely blasted in their opener 42-7 by Cincinnati and barely edged out lower division foe Indiana State 20-14 last week in West Lafayette.

For reference, Indiana State allowed 73 points to Indiana in their first game.

Basically, Purdue can't stop anyone (79th in points allowed) and they can't score themselves (116th in points scored).

This should be an easy win for the Irish, which gives them an opportunity to address some concerns.

Before Michigan, I attempted to say this:

"Touchdown" "Interception" Tommy Rees played almost perfectly in the opener completing 16-of-23 passes for 346 yards and three touchdowns. Against the Wolverines, he and the rest of his offense have to let things come to them and not force the issue.

When I've watched Rees play in the past there seemed to be a tendency to press too much. Now that he isn't battling for a starting job, that may well be a thing of the past.

This proved to be fairly accurate with Tommy reverting to forcing things. Rees played well for the most part but threw two interceptions and was very close to a third. The biggest mistake came on a pass picked off in the endzone. I'm fairly certain it was on first and goal making it a rookie mistake. That ball needs to be in the stands.

Another area I had concerns about was the running game.

One thing I'd like to see from the Irish is one of the running backs stepping up and seizing the bulk of the carries....Even though this can clearly be a pass-heavy offense with Rees at the helm, it's nice to have a go-to-guy at tailback in your back pocket. 

Clearly, the Irish are pass-happy and quite good at it. The problem is the offense is one dimensional.

Notre Dame's leading rusher Amir Carlisle has just 19 carries through two games and right behind him is George Atkinson III with 13 carries. The two have combined for just one rushing touchdown.

That's not sustainable if you want to keep defenses honest.

The good news is Carlisle is averaging 6.9 yards per carry and Atkinson is sitting at 5.5. The Irish need to use this game as an opportunity to establish the run and ideally find a reliable go-to tailback.

I think it's Carlisle based on his more aggressive running, but he needs to grab the job by the throat and make a statement.

The defense struggled against Michigan, but that's perfectly understandable.

All quarterbacks should wear outrageous numbers like Devin Gardner's new 98.

Wolverine quarterback Devin Gardner is an impressive talent—even if he did throw the dumbest pass in the history of organized football—and the Irish defense won't have to worry about stopping anyone quite as dynamic the rest of the season.

Based on that variable, I tend to think this performance was an outlier. The defense can go a long way to putting any fears to rest by dominating a very poor Purdue offense.

There are clearly flaws with Notre Dame, but it's still very early in the season and we've seen nothing that can't be fixed.

No one likes losing, but I'm sure Brian Kelly enjoys being able to so easily get his team's attention regarding their flaws. Now it's time to fix them.  

Thursday, September 12, 2013

A Look Ahead: Virginia Tech vs. East Carolina

By Justin Cates

Editor's Note: J.C. Coleman will not travel with the team after tweaking his ankle against Western Carolina. 

People will think I'm nuts, but East Carolina's offense will test the Hokies more than Alabama's did.

The Crimson Tide were breaking in new starters on the offensive line and Tech largely dominated. 'Bama also runs the ball most of the time, waiting to burn you with play-action passes later on.

East Carolina passes, a lot.

Quarterback Shane Carden is off to an absolutely amazing start. In two games, the junior has completed 63-of-79 passes for 638 yards, seven touchdowns and no interceptions.

You read that correctly, he's completing 80 percent of his passes (technically 79.7).

They run a very high-tempo offense and throw the ball around to everyone. The Pirates will spread the defense and hope to get Tech on it's heels in the Hokies' first true road game of the season.

Shane Carden hopes to continue his hot start against the Hokies.

It's similar to what Oregon and now the Philadelphia Eagles try to do. They get one-on-one match ups in space and force the defense to make difficult open field tackles.

ECU won't run things quite as fast, but they'll push the tempo as much as they can.

"To be honest, I don't like to go down there to play them, just because it's so hot and is so high-tempo," defensive end James Gayle said this week.

The weather will be milder than normal this week, but it's clear the memories of Tech's narrow 17-10 victory on the last trip to Greenville persist.

ECU almost always gives Tech trouble and this time will be no different.

The Hokie offense has to keep getting better. Against Western Carolina, there were spurts of great execution but then the same inconsistencies would crop up.

Things are still a work in progress, but the young receivers are starting to step up, particularly in the form of Joshua Stanford.

True freshman Kalvin Cline had four catches for 46 yards against the Catamounts, but he did drop a fairly routine touchdown.

Cline is extremely raw, but he's vaulted to the top of the tight end rotation due to his pass catching ability.

Yes, Kalvin Cline knows the thing about his name.

It gives Logan Thomas another option and hopefully gives offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler the ability to use some of his tight end plays that were largely scrapped when Ryan Malleck was lost for the season. 

Tech needs to keep making progress in the passing game against the Pirates and keep running the football effectively.

Shane Beamer and Loeffler will look to begin establishing the specific roles of each running back now that the top four are likely available.

J.C. Coleman's status is still unclear after getting banged up in his first action against Western Carolina. I'll update after we see how he's listed on Thursday's injury report. 

This game will likely be very close unless the Hokie offense takes a giant leap forward. More likely, expect a positive step in the right direction with occasional moments of sloppiness.

Or, exactly what you would expect at this point with a brand new offensive system.

The defense will be challenged in the air but will look to stop the run as they've done twice this season.

Look for a fun and surprisingly interesting game NOON Saturday in Tech's first game on Fox Sports 1.

“To be honest, I don’t like going down there to play them, just because it’s hot and is so high-tempo,” - See more at:

Monday, September 9, 2013

Reflections On Beers and Bills Fans

 By Justin Cates

I spent this past Sunday embedded at a bar in upstate New York watching professional football with a particular focus on the Patriots-Bills game.

I've not witnessed Buffalo fans truly in their element, that is to say drunk in a bar convinced against all odds of a victory.

To be fair, for most of the afternoon they looked like they were onto something. Much to my surprise rookie E.J. Manuel performed quite well and the Bills—as they often do in September—looked like a team with promise.

And this is why every fall just as sure as the turning leaves, Bills fans flock to their local watering holes to load up on Labatt products and chicken wings in the hopes that these timeless fuels will propel their boys to victory (Ed. note: I legitimately counted at least thirty gallons of Frank's RedHot in the kitchen of the particular bar I was sitting in. I would assume there was an additional oil drum somewhere in the back in accordance with New York state law).

It's admirable and depressing that a group of such passionate fans continue to subject themselves to the same kind of torture every season.

We all make mistakes, but...damn that's a poor choice.

'It's a new era,' they tell themselves. Indeed, there's a new coach and a new quarterback and maybe this time will be different. Right? I mean, it can't happen every time can it?

I do like E.J. quite a bit. I remember laughing at the remarks of the fans on the other end of the irrationality spectrum last year when he beat the Hokies in Blacksburg.

A group of very pleasant Florida State fans sat behind one of my lawyers and I, and we had lot's of good discussion throughout the game. The weird part was, they couldn't stand their quarterback or their head coach Jimbo Fisher because they weren't always perfect.

I kept thinking to myself that I would love to have either man leading my team (Ed. Note: No disrespect to Frank Beamer or Logan Thomas, I just think Manuel and Fisher and both very good) and that these fans were crazy.

And that's what I'm driving at here. Fans are supposed to be crazy. As you've likely heard many times between binge drinking sessions, the root word of fan is fanatic.  

Fans are people so fundamentally committed to their causes that they are in no way governed by logic or reason. They can't be persuaded or cajoled to believe they are even remotely wrong and this is fine.

It's why I excused the comment by a lonely Raiders fan consoling a group of Bills backers when he said, "You guys are alright, C.J. Spiller is the best running back in football."

It's also why I found nothing out of the ordinary when grown men were screaming at the TV wondering aloud in complete seriousness, "How does Brady always do this? He SUCKS!"

Fandom rots your heart from the inside out and turns your brain to jelly. Accountants paint their chests and go shirtless in December winds while the innocent little octogenarian down the street turns into a subhuman beast when her hate-filled eyes spot a Wes Welker jersey at the mall.

While I might prefer a little less vitriol, I must also embrace it. It's part of what makes being a fan so much fun.

There's nothing quite like being showered with insults as you walk into an opposing stadium only to emerge three hours later having witnessed your team win by seven touchdowns.

So here's to the diehards! Fans of the Bills and Browns and Rams and Jaguars. These hearty souls deserve all the support they can get.

But really, they probably need a beer.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

A Look Ahead: Virginia Tech vs. Western Carolina

By Justin Cates

Virginia Tech dropped its opener 35-10 to No. 1 Alabama which surprised no one, but most were taken aback by how that score came about.

The Tech defense largely overwhelmed the Crimson Tide, holding the offense to just 14 points. Quarterback A.J. McCarron was limited to 110 yards passing and the Tide managed just 206 total yards.

Everyone paying attention knew Tech would have a stout defense, but even I was surprised at just how dominant the line was and how good freshman corners Brandon Facyson and Kendall Fuller played.

The Hokies also managed to run the ball with 18-year-old redshirt freshman Trey Edmunds. He broke off a 77-yard touchdown for Tech's only real offensive highlight and finished with 132 yards on 20 carries.

Critics will point out the bulk of his yards came on that one carry so it's not as impressive as it looks, but that's like saying if you take away two special teams touchdowns and a pick six, the Tide only won by four.

So what does Virginia Tech need to accomplish against an outmatched Catamounts squad Saturday in Lane Stadium?

While the offensive line and running back situation are far more solid than anyone expected, the wide receivers have a long way to go.

They managed to squeeze just five passes against 'Bama and dropped between six and nine balls depending on how you classify a few borderline plays.

The receivers have to improve and simply make the plays they're capable of making this week. That's why first year receivers coach Aaron Moorehead has his guys working after practice with the JUGS machine, a device that launches footballs—in this case at 40 MPH.

This guy will play a big role the rest of the season.

I'd like to see the running backs get a bit more involved in the passing game as they continue to get more comfortable. It will help getting J.C. Coleman (ankle) back healthy and that may happen this week.

The tight ends need to step up as well. They did a good job in protection against Alabama but failed to catch any passes. It's clear that the loss of Ryan Malleck for the season will be a tough injury to overcome.

As for the quarterback, Logan Thomas needs to just keep doing what he's doing. I know, I know, he completed just 5 of 26 passes but factoring in the drops, the five throwaways under pressure and the fact he only took one sack when he missed a check-down near the end of the game it's very difficult to fault him for his play.

The Hokie receivers will look to improve against Western Carolina.

As offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler pointed out on the Tech call-in show Monday night, "There's times when the outside world's criticizing you, 'You didn't have this type of game,' when in actuality, I graded you out in a very positive manner." 

"There's times where he goes 18-for-21 and everyone is going to tell him he did a great job and I'm going to come in and say, 'You didn't play well at all.' ...There are things that are in your control and out of your control at the position."

Special teams will receive a personnel overhaul during practice this week to shore up the obvious deficiencies that were on display in the Georgia Dome.

Several veterans went to Frank Beamer during the week and volunteered to play on more units, among them Kyle Fuller and James Gayle. The kicking game looked good in the opener and hopefully more seasoned players on the coverage teams leads to a stronger unit. 

So the keys this week are to keep plugging along and get better. Not revolutionary, but that's all you can do. Staying healthy would be nice but unfortunately it's out of the team's control.

The best news is, you've already played the best there is. It won't get any tougher than the opener.

“There’s times when the outside world’s criticizing you, ‘You didn’t have this type of game,’ when in actuality, I graded you out in a very positive manner,” - See more at:
“There’s times when the outside world’s criticizing you, ‘You didn’t have this type of game,’ when in actuality, I graded you out in a very positive manner,” - See more at:

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Bands You Should Know: Cayucas

By Justin Cates

This group came to my attention via the good taste of one Luke Sweet.

Cayucas has a happy summer vibe to their songs that makes it virtually impossible to feel down while listening.

The song "East Coast Girl" particularly leaves my head filled with images of a red convertible—driven by me of course—racing along a winding, coastline island road at maximum speed with the top down.

If you're looking to get in on the ground floor with a band, these guys are perfect. They released their first album, Bigfoot April 30 of this year and have only been releasing songs to the public since 2011.

The group consists of twins Zach and Ben Yudin (Ben plays bass), Banah Winn on keys, Casey Wojtalewicz on percussion and Christian Koons on guitar.

In addition to making pleasant tunes they've cranked out a number of quirky videos to back tracks like "Cuyucos" and "High School Lover" which you can see below.

They're also signed to a label called Secretly Canadian which makes me chuckle. Don't be ashamed Canada.

So as we ease our way into fall, here's one final grasp at the last threads of summer.


Monday, August 26, 2013

A Look Ahead: Virginia Tech vs. Alabama

By Justin Cates

Frank Beamer has made a living flying under the radar. The biggest successes he's had have come when no one expected his team to do much.

Starting with the improbable 1993 campaign that began a series of 20 consecutive bowl appearances, the Hokies have thrived on no expectations. It's when they were expected to win a big game that things often go awry—just ask Boise State, Cincinnati or Michigan.

The Hokies blew countless chances to beat Boise State at FedEx Field in 2010.

Tech has had a number of near misses in the kind of neutral site season-openers they'll participate in Saturday against No. 1 Alabama.

The last time Tech met the Crimson Tide in the 2009 opener, few people gave them a chance to win. Tyrod Taylor and Ryan Williams made a game of it and 'Bama won 34-24.

In the 2004 opener against No. 1 USC at FedEx Field—seriously never play there again—the Hokies were unranked and overmatched according to everyone, yet they led at halftime and were looking good until a phantom offensive pass interference call swung the momentum allowing the Trojans to edge out a 24-13 victory.

Pictured:The Hokie defense briefly confuses Reggie Bush for his Heisman Trophy.

There are other examples, but these were chosen to illustrate the opportunity the Hokies have opening the season against an outstanding opponent.

Alabama is of course the greatest thing that has ever happened to college football. They are an unstoppable force, Nick Saban is Bear Bryant reincarnate, and the Hokies are just lucky to share the field with them.

That's all well and good, but how much of a mismatch is it really?

The truth is no one really knows.

Virginia Tech is coming off its worst season in two decades and there is an entirely new offensive coaching staff in Blacksburg.

This is both good and bad. Tech's offensive woes have been well documented in recent years and a change was long overdue. The bad news is there is no immediate fix to the systemic problems that exist and now Tech has to break in a brand new scheme.

Logan Thomas and Scot Loeffler hope their good relationship produces good results.

 New offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler has an enormous task but he's already made significant changes. There is an incredible amount of secrecy surrounding the offense and the game plan for Alabama, so much so that a video of a closed scrimmage was almost instantly removed after being mistakenly posted by Tech's video department.

In the past, you could pretty much predict the first handful of offensive plays—in fact it was a game many fans played with a kind of masochistic relish. While it may well take most of the season for things to function smoothly, there is a refreshing unpredictability to everything.

Loeffler also quickly developed a strong relationship with quarterback Logan Thomas. The coach has raved about his intelligence and ability, he just needs it to come together on the field.

It won't be easy, the Hokies have been rocked by injuries and attrition during summer camp. The depth is razor thin at almost every position and unproven players will be tasked with stepping up and filling in.

It will be a tough season, in fact eight wins would be an impressive achievement, but it's an important transition and based on the attitudes of the players everyone is on board. The first test will come against the very best, and as they have repeatedly during the off-season. the Hokies are eager to challenge themselves.

"Sometimes you have runaway wins to start the season, you don't really find what you need to work on," Frank Beamer said during his Monday teleconference.

"Sometimes that's not as clear. But I think playing a team like Alabama, you become a better football team. And you understand what a task it is to go in there and beat Alabama."

This game will be a microcosm of the entire season. It will be an uphill battle that won't always be pretty, but it's a necessary part of improving the program.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Flaming Lips In Concert

By Justin Cates

I made a quick trip to Buffalo in mid-July for a highly anticipated live set from professional weirdos The Flaming Lips.

I enjoy their music for the surprising number of beautiful melodies often interspersed amongst 8 minute tracks of ambient noise. And that sums them up, you have to be willing to take the strange with the easily accessible.

As a strange man myself, both bits are enjoyable as I can indulge my own eccentricities while still catering to the musical needs of my more mainstream companions.

The Lips have long been known for their over-the-top stage performances featuring among other things front man and likely alien Wayne Coyne crowd surfing in an enormous plastic bubble or cradling a baby doll as pictured above.

Then there are the fantastic lights, smoke and confetti reminiscent of a New York City ticker tape parade.

Things were slightly subdued at Artpark in Lewiston, NY as they have been this entire tour. The band's most recent release The Terror represents a darker chapter in their catalog and so it's no surprise that some of the craziness has been tamped down.

But even so, "subdued" in this case meant Wayne Coyne clad in a green spacesuit perched atop a myriad of chrome spheres as umbilical cords of light emanated energy in time with the music.

It was a wonderful experience with few stones left unturned in terms of the setlist. About half of The Terror was played as the crowd was continually urged by Wayne to be happy and keep partying. 

They also dipped liberally into the back catalog with classic tracks like "Race For The Prize", "Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots Part 1", "Do You Realize?" and perhaps my personal favorite, "A Spoonful Weighs A Ton".

It was uplifting and mellow and colorful and unexpected. Everything one could ask for from a show was granted in joyful abundance.

As Wayne stated a while back in a Reddit AMA, "I think like all artists and musicians, we want to know that we disturbed the comfortable and comforted the disturbed."

On this night, they certainly did. 


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