The Hokies take on the... what?!..the who?!.....the Austin Peay GOVERNORS?! In the history of terrible mascot names that has got to be one of the all-time worst. And other than the Florida A&M Rattlers in 2004 (a game that yours truly attended and saw the first "do-over" kickoff ever when the Hokies recovered the live opening kickoff in the end zone and the refs, out of pity, made them kick it again), this is probably the worst team to ever come into Lane Stadium.
Austin Peay didn't even have scholarship football until 2006. They now have it, and probably want to give it back, after getting POUNDED 49-10 last week against the mighty Western Kentucky Hilltoppers. And if you want any indication of how bad Western Kentucky is, the score would have been worse except the Hilltoppers kicker didn't make ANY of his three FG attempts including shanking a 23 yard attempt.
The Governors have nothing to be ashamed of other than their nickname. In watching their game against Western Kentucky, they played very hard. Unfortunately their players are just not at the level where they are able to physically compete with Division I-A players. Unlike most Division I-AA schools who at least have some players on their starting squads who would make I-A rosters, the Governors don't have ANY players that I saw that would even play for Virginia Tech, much less start. I know this is going to sound insane (it sure as hell isn't the first time, if you're a regular reader) but it is not much of an exaggeration to say that I, in college, probably could have played for the Governors on the two-deep. Now, imagine me in college, going out and playing against the Hokies football team, and, assuming I survived (40% chance of survival), I sure would have had some stories to tell, but one of them would not have been about the final score.
So this game has nothing to do about the matchups and more about what Virginia Tech's approach to the game. Now before I get into that, I already know what you're thinking - assuming you haven't suppressed the painful memories - JMU, right? But the circumstances are completely different. The Hokies were coming off of one of the most gut-wrenching self-inflicted losses I had seen up to that point in time, the Monday before against Boise State at a neutral site. Both the defense and the offense had a chance to win the game at the end and both blew it, and the special teams sucked that night, too. The entire team was deflated and went into a game they thought was a gimme against one of those Division I-AA schools I mentioned above, where some of the players actually could have played at Tech, in JMU. And they just played as flat as a pancake and got their butts beat.
This is coming off of a huge, emotional ACC victory at home, Austin Peay isn't nearly as good as JMU was, and the final key difference is that JMU HAPPENED. Sure I want to deny that it did, but it doesn't matter. Some of the players on this 2012 team were on that '10 squad and they lived that defeat. I just can't envision under any circumstances, that they are going to let this team go into Saturday's game unprepared. And that's what I want to see.
The Hokies are banged up after the Georgia Tech game. Several players along the defensive line and linebacking corps are nursing sore knees and ankles, just like I knew they would be, fending off all those GT cut blocks. But I LOVE the Hokies response. Chase Williams is starting at backer for Bruce Taylor, and both Luther Maddy and Antoine Hopkins are probably going to get a grand total of two series in this entire game. In fact, the entire starting squad needs to be sitting after halftime. This is the game where you get the second and third teamers TONS of reps.
And that is the KEY to this game for me. The approach of the first string needs to be laser-focused to say "we need to play great, not to get a win but to BEAT THE PISS out of Austin Peay in the first half so that our backups can get plenty of reps". The reason this is so critical isn't just to keep the guys healthy in this game and get the sore guys on a quicker road to recovery, but because it's a long football season. During the course of the season, players at a wide variety of positions are going to miss time. Could be one series, could be a half, could be three games. The backups need live action. They need to feel the game, the crowd and they need to be running the entire offense and defensive schemes. This is more than garbage time where it's just hand the ball off a few times or play a vanilla 4-3.
I really put this on the coaches. Their intensity level needs to be high. I'm not worried about Coach Foster that much. He only has one speed. But he and his staff need to be coaching their asses off on the second and third string and make sure that those guys are getting important reps across the different defenses they could be running in a big game later in the year. Similarly, the offensive coaches, while not needing to fling open the entire playbook to give opponents film on, certainly need to run the bread-and-butter plays with the backup personnel. This is a game about strengthening the entire team across the board. If the coaches slack or back off, the players will pick up on it. It changes the complexion of the game.
From the opening gun, the team needs to be out there busting their ass and I look forward to watching this one on the internet (thank you, thank you ESPN3) and seeing the Hokies doing what Coach Beamer talks about all the time - Get Better!