In 2010, Virginia Tech lost its first two games of the season before rebounding to win yet another ACC championship. In the run-up to the Hokies’ 44-33 win over Florida State that December, Coach Frank Beamer reflected on his team’s rough start, describing it as having been in “crisis.”
Quarterback Logan Thomas was merely a redshirt freshman backing up Tyrod Taylor during those demoralizing losses to Boise State and James Madison two years ago, which also represent the last time before this season that the Hokies suffered two straight regular season defeats.
But even though Virginia Tech is off to its worst start since 1992, Thomas said Tuesday there are no similarities between the two situations. These Hokies are not in panic mode just yet.
“I don’t see us in crisis at all,” Thomas said. “I guess we’d be in crisis if we couldn’t move the ball and if we couldn’t stop anybody. That’s not the case. We’ve been able to move the ball and we’ve been able to stop people. We just haven’t done it all in the same game yet. Once we begin to do that we’ll be just fine.
“There’s no sense of crisis or worry in our minds. It’s just a sense of urgency being able to get things done and going earlier and often.”
The mood was obvious at Tuesday’s physical practice, where even the running backs were engaged in physical Oklahoma-style hitting drills that featured position coach Shane Beamer chastising running back Martin Scales and fullback Joey Phillips for looking “like two old women” when they didn’t have appropriate pad level.
Before the Hokies stepped on the field, they also held an unscheduled team meeting. Defensive tackle Derrick Hopkins said the message was that “we’ve got to stay together. We can’t let the losses bring us apart.”
“We’ve only taken one ACC loss to a good North Carolina team, so everything besides the national championship is still in reach for us,” cornerback Antone Exum said. “Those were our goals coming into the season and they’re still our goals now. We’re not going to fold or lay down or anything like that.”
What Exum and the Hokies defense hope to avoid is “hero ball,” with players trying to do too much. That was an issue at North Carolina, especially in the second half when the Tar Heels pulled away, and it led to a lot of the missed tackles and poor gap fits that were the biggest culprits in the defense’s collapse Saturday.
“With this defense, you’ve got to do your job,” cornerback Kyle Fuller said. “You can’t try to make more than all the plays.”
Linebacker Bruce Taylor has been the leading force in trying to get Virginia Tech back on track. He and redshirt junior Jack Tyler called a players-only meeting last week that didn’t do the trick, and Taylor was miffed Saturday following the loss as to why his motivational ploy didn’t work.
But Taylor said Tuesday he learned in 2010 from his predecessors that “when there’s something you want to say and there’s something that you feel needs to be said to the team, say it. Don’t bite your tongue.”
So that’s what he did. Taylor said the missed tackles come down to “want to” and that the defense has fallen short in that department. He also wondered aloud whether his teammates are bringing enough emotion to the field at the start of games.
The early-season losses, he added, have made his final season in Blacksburg more challenging than expected.
“It’s been more work than play, I feel like, this senior year for me,” Taylor said. “But it’s what’s got to be done. Somebody’s got to be a leader. Somebody’s got to take charge. It’s not an easy job. It’s easy when you’re winning. Talk to anybody who is 5-0, 6-0 right now. They’ll probably tell you it’s going great, it’s easy. But it’s when you face adversity and things like that, your true character has to show when it’s a little tougher.”