The ACC Kickoff (aka media days) is fast approaching, something we media members consider the unofficial start of the football season. That’s not until July 21, however. In the meantime, it’s as good a time as any to start taking a closer look at Virginia Tech.
This isn’t a list of the 25 best players on the Hokies’ roster. It’s a list of 25 things/people/ideas that will determine whether Virginia Tech’s 2013 season is a success or not. Next up is …
No. 22: BeamerBall
This phrase has been so ubiquitous around Virginia Tech football that it’s starting to lose its meaning. (And its spelling is a constant frustration. I’ve seen BeamerBall, Beamerball, Beamer Ball, “Beamer Ball” and so forth.)
The conditioned response is to say it just has to do with special teams, but it really has to do with the special teams and defense helping put points on the board, a total team effort, be it from forcing turnovers, blocking kicks, returning punts, etc.
And it’s no secret it has been lacking in recent years.
There was a resurgence in the return game last year. Kyshoen Jarrett, when not nicked up, was a boon to on punt returns, taking one back for a touchdown against Pittsburgh. Demitri Knowles did likewise on kick returns, scoring a touchdown against North Carolina.
But the other parts you’d expect to see from BeamerBall have been lagging. Virginia Tech has not blocked a punt against an FBS foe since the Boise State opener in 2010, nearly three full seasons ago. Frank Beamer has said he’s shifted from putting an emphasis on blocking punts — and focused more on returns — because of new formations setting up better protection, but that’s still a pretty glaring streak for a team that used to pride itself in that area.
The defense was average at best at forcing turnovers, with only 21 last season. That put the Hokies 66th nationally, square in the middle of the FBS.
But what makes that number more troublesome is that those turnovers didn’t seem to lead to many points — certainly not directly. Virginia Tech’s last defensive touchdown came on Jeron Gouveia-Winslow‘s interception return against Florida State in the 2010 ACC championship game.
That’s a streak of 28 games, by far the longest of the Beamer era. In fact, there have been three years in Beamer’s 26 at Virginia Tech in which the defense has not scored a touchdown: 1990, 2011 and 2012. Defensive touchdowns are sometimes a perfect marriage of opportunity and luck, but that’s still a strange and worrisome pattern.
I don’t know if it has to do with a more conservative team approach, but at BeamerBall’s height in 2003, Virginia Tech scored 11 defensive and special teams touchdowns, momentum-turning events that could alter a game in an instant. With an offense that will be trying to find its sea legs this year, even a fraction of those non-offensive scores would go a long way in helping the Hokies rebound this year.
Coming Sunday: You can identify him by three initials.