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The Weekend

Well, there have been worse weekends. There were no Mexican jails involved, or pneumonia. No draft notices or divorce papers were waiting upon return. The weekend involved only games, not a funeral. It was a great trip spent with good friends. All things considered, life is still pretty good.

Of course, there was the little matter of the games. Neither turned out particularly well, causing a bit of grief for those of us who probably take this whole business of young men playing kids’ games entirely too seriously. But, as always happens, we will get over it.

I’m assuming that most are aware that this past weekend saw both the Virginia Tech football and basketball teams lose. They were tangling with what have long been considered the ACC’s dominant programs in each sport. That Tech lost by a grand total of seven points in two games to people with the football pedigree of Florida State and the basketball lineage of Duke says much about what is going on these days in Tech athletics and how far the stature of the programs have come in a relatively short period of time. It also says a lot about the sort of expectations that have been created in Blacksburg , especially in one sport.

Tech went into Saturday night’s inaugural ACC Football Championship Game a two-touchdown favorite over Florida State , the nation’s most consistently solid program over the last two decades. Tech made a stirring comeback in the Fourth Quarter, one that came a yard short on an onsides kick of perhaps being even more sterling. As it turned out, Tech is not going to win every ACC football championship.

Tech did not win the 2005 ACC football championship in large part because they were out-coached. Frank Beamer’s continuing 0-fer against Bobby Bowden can mostly be distilled to Bobby’s continuing ability to stay one step ahead of Frank. The most glaring difference seemed to be apparent when Tech was on offense. Coming into the stadium, FSU Defensive Coordinator Mickey Andrews stuck Bryan Stinespring in his back pocket and that is where Bryan remained.

Andrews was able to flat shut down Tech’s previously-vaunted running game cold. Things get considerably easier for opponents when that happens and this was no exception. It didn’t seem to help, either, when Stinespring elected not to take advantage of what Andrews was giving him, namely passes underneath the Noles’ Cover Two. Perhaps Frank’s Christmas present to Stiney should be a copy of ‘Attacking Cover Two For Dummies.’

Frank will be able to afford it. For those concerned about Frank’s financial health, be advised that his fat raise was not dependent on earning it in this game. He will still get his. No one should be worried that ticket prices will not go up next year to pay for it.

This game should also be remembered the next time Frank deflects all credit for his success and large salary to his staff. The credit for this loss can certainly be laid there. Of course, there was a time when Frank used to personally take blame for all losses, especially bad ones such as this, but that was several million bucks ago. You don’t hear that too many times these days.

It should also be noted that for all of the good Frank Beamer has done for Virginia Tech, and he has done plenty, that he and his coaches can be so easily out-smarted by the top coaching outfits indicates that maybe he hasn’t quite earned mention in the same breath as guys named Bear and Bobby just yet. It is one thing to out-think the John Buntings and Chan Gaileys of the coaching world or even the blowhard in Hooville, but the really good ones seem to be a tougher nut to crack.

There were eyebrows raised when Bryan was promoted to Offensive Coordinator following a rare staff departure, that of Ricky Bustle. They arched even higher when Stiney offered early evidence that he was in way over his head running Tech’s offense. Certainly he has improved over the years, but the ease in which Andrews befuddled him would seem to indicate that there is still a bit of an arc to the learning curve.

There was a conversation at our tailgate after the game and the same was held with a fellow Hokie traveler Sunday afternoon at an I-95 gas station. The gist was that with as highly-paid coaching staff as Tech has, why hasn’t the money been spent to go out and purchase the services of the sort of first-rate Offensive Coordinator that the salary scale would seem to dictate? Certainly when it came time to hire a new QB coach after Bustle left, one of the best around was employed. Bryan Stinespring may eventually grow into a top coordinator and probably will, but it ain’t happened yet.

So Tech is now 10-2 and ACC runners-up instead of repeat champions. The reward for that is a trip back to Jacksonville in a month to face our old friends from Louisville . One does wonder how many of those Hokies who were making Orange Bowl travel arrangements and weauxfing about finally getting a crack at notorious Tech-dodger Joepa will be up for the Gator Bowl. The answer is probably somewhere below the usual Tech travel standards.

Presumably those running the Gator were aware that the Consolation Bowl might not hold great appeal for a few thousand Tech fans. It didn’t seem to matter. That they would be getting a rebounding Tech team and perhaps fewer hotel reservations out at Baymeadows sure didn’t stop them from applying a serious slap in the face to Miami for the second straight year. ACC expansion may have been all about the Canes and big television markets, but the Gator sure wasn’t buying.

Gator Bowl Executive Director Rick Catlett pointed out in Friday’s Jacksonville Times-Union that the last time the Canes were invited to the Gator, back in 1999, it resulted in the lowest percentage of filled stadium in the entire history of that bowl. He was most definitely not enthused about the prospect of a repeat. Catlett was good to his word.

When selection time came, the Canes were snubbed in favor of a wounded Tech team, foisting off Miami on the Peach, again. A saving grace to the loss is the thought of the consternation level in the Coral Gables office of the Dwarf Dyke of Miami. Tech just continues to be a pain, eh, Donna?

It was also fairly amusing to notice the bowl destination of Tech’s other former Big East mate. The Canes may have been passed over by one bowl, but three more wanted no part of the thousands of empty seats and hotel rooms that go along with inviting the Eagles to your bowl. Not much has changed bowl-wise since the BE, eh, Fredo? No matter their record, O’Brien’s team is always going to be the one of bowl last resort. They at least should be used to it by now.

Between the ACC Championship and Bowl Week there will be some basketball games played. That certainly was a doozy Sunday night. This game was not a Tech team bumbling its way to a loss against a two-touchdown underdog, but one that was battling big dog Duke tooth and nail in that holiest of basketball shrines, Cameron Indoor Stadium. Seth’s guys almost pulled off a stunning upset.

Immediately after Josh McRoberts and Sean Dockery gave their Grant Hill/Christian Laettner impression, I thought about what was said by legendary Kentucky radio voice Caywood Ledford after Duke’s last Miracle Shot back in 1992: “That is why they are Duke.” Yep.

For all of the anti-Duke hysteria and various loon conspiracy theories, one thing that is true is that the Blue Devils are a battle-hardened group that knows how to win tough games one way or another. In the end, that is what they did.

Tech played a terrific game. Things went just a bit different than they did when Tech visited Cameron last year. Seth Greenburg devised a marvelous game plan that this time confined the disturbing roughhouse tactics of last year to one player, JJ Redick. This is most definitely not an admirable way to play the game and at least Seth resorts to rough play only when the opponent is Duke, but it worked, at least for a while. The Roanoke Rifle was thrown off his game the First Half and even out of the game for a good chunk following his frustration with being knocked around translating into a technical foul. He did go off in the Second Half but at least the damage he can inflict was somewhat minimized.

It will be interesting to see what, if any, damage has been done to the psyche of what is a fragile Tech team. To stay in games and hopefully win their share, Tech will have to play with high intensity and execute excellent game plans to near-perfection. That is what they did against Duke Sunday night. It wasn’t quite enough, but it was close enough to give them many positive feelings to carry into the remainder of the season. They will face no tougher challenge than they did at Duke.

What the Tech-Duke game also seemed to demonstrate was that this is a flawed Duke team. Basketball expectations on Methodist Flats are nearly impossible to meet and that will likely be the case again this year. Tech’s football expectations have risen to the point where a 10-2 record and a Gator Bowl bid are considered a bitter disappointment. The basketball ones at Duke are even higher.

Anything less than a national championship is considered a down year at Duke. Get ready for a down year, Devils. Coach K’s gang has serious defensive issues. Zabian Dowdell and Jamon Gordon will not be the only backcourt that will easily break down Duke’s once-vaunted perimeter defense.

Redick may be an All-American, but he is also a painfully-slow defensive liability who could not hang with whichever of Tech’s guards on whom Coach K tried to hide him. The guy JJ guarded was the guy blowing past him heading to the basket. Dockery is a good defender but could not guard both Dowdell and Gordon simultaneously. Greg Paulus is a freshman with much to learn. One thing that even the terrific Duke staff will not be able to teach him, however, is speed. This is a tape that will be studied by many coaches, including those with stronger guards than Tech’s. Duke is likely to see one of them somewhere around Sweet Sixteen level.

It was a weekend that began around 6 am Friday morning. There were many miles driven along I-95 sandwiched around ACC football festivities. It was a fun Hug-A-Hokie Friday night at the Landing and not a bad fireworks show, either. We enjoyed another great Clubhouse Tailgate in Chamber of Commerce weather. There was a football game, always a plus in my book. Things ended shortly after 10 pm Sunday night when Dockery made Tech 0-for-the-weekend. The outcome of both games could have been better and the girls working the early Sunday afternoon shift at the Café Risqué in Georgia could have been a little closer to those on the A-List roster, but all in all, it wasn’t too bad. There will be more football championship games and basketball games against Duke. I have a pretty strong feeling that Tech will win some of them.

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