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.


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