Hokies-LSU Tilt Is One of Resistance
Saturday, September 8, 2007
BLACKSBURG, Va., Sept. 7 -- This week has been tough on Virginia Tech linebacker Vince Hall, because he hates comparisons between his defense and others. The Hokies' unit has been No. 1 for two years running, so Hall doesn't think it's right to contrast others with his.
But the problem is Virginia Tech is playing LSU on Saturday night, which has invited endless dissection and juxtaposition of the two teams' skull-thumping defenses. By now, Hall's tired of it.
"I feel like the way we play, can't nobody match that," Hall said. "Talking about it ain't nothing. We're number one. Y'all are number two. You got to go out there and show it."
There will be no better time to show it than Saturday night, when No. 9 Virginia Tech travels to No. 2 LSU for the most high-profile college football game so far this season, and perhaps the best nonconference regular season showdown of the entire year. Both teams hope to contend for the national championship, and the game will be the first to truly sharpen the title picture.
LSU and Virginia Tech are so well regarded because of their defenses, both of them fast and aggressive. The Hokies finished last season ranked first in total defense; the Tigers were third. Saturday night's game likely will be a hard-hitting, bone-jarring, first-team-to-10-points-wins slugfest.
Nothing has dented the quality of the two units this season. No fewer than six all-American candidates will be on the respective defenses: LSU's Ali Highsmith, Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson; Virginia Tech's Xavier Adibi, Brandon Flowers and Hall. In Week 1, LSU shut out Mississippi State on the road, allowing 10 rushing yards and forcing seven turnovers. The Hokies' defense scored more touchdowns (one) than it allowed.
"You get a lot of talk about our defense and their defense," said Dorsey, a defensive tackle. "It's real important for us to come out and put our best foot forward. I think they finished last year number one. They kind of got us at the end. We want to come out and establish our defense."
Those defenses will confront offenses still trying to find an identity. LSU quarterback Matt Flynn is starting the third game of his career. Against Mississippi State, the Tigers scored 45 points, but that could largely be attributed to the field position granted by LSU's defense. The struggles of Virginia Tech's offensive line against East Carolina have been well documented.
Adding to the national implications are conference bragging rights. The Southeastern Conference has become the unchallenged king of leagues, while the ACC is widely regarded as the worst BCS conference. The ACC went 1-7 against the SEC last season, including Virginia Tech's 31-24 collapse against Georgia in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Tonight's game is the first this season between the two leagues, and a Virginia Tech victory would increase the cachet of the ACC.
"We've got to represent for the ACC," Hokies defensive tackle Carlton Powell said.
Standing in the way is perhaps the nation's most athletic team. Kick returner Trindon Holliday won the silver medal in the 100 meters at the U.S. track and field championships this year. Flynn runs the 40 in 4.5 seconds. Frank Beamer, coaching his 21st season at Virginia Tech, called LSU the fastest team he has ever seen.
"I'd probably agree," Virginia Tech quarterback Sean Glennon said. "As far as any game I've prepared for, watched film on, I can't remember a group as talented across the board as these guys are. I don't think I've prepared for a more talented defense."
The Hokies have historically played their best in an underdog role. In the only game they were not favored in last season, they clobbered Clemson, 24-7.
"I think anybody gets juiced up a little bit when they're the underdog," defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. "I know I like playing that role. That gives you a little extra motivation when people are expecting you to go down there and get your butts whipped."
The Hokies also are an above-average road team. In the past three seasons, Virginia Tech is 12-1 on the road. In the past five seasons, the Hokies have played three nonconference road games: In 2005, they beat West Virginia, 34-17; in 2003, the year before they joined the ACC, they lost to Virginia, 35-21; and in 2002, they beat Texas A&M, 13-3.
But this will not be any road game. The Hokies will play in front of 92,000 loyalists who will have nothing better to do for the nine hours before kickoff than sit in a parking lot sipping bourbon. Night games at Tiger Stadium have become the stuff of legend, such as the time the crowd's cheers shook the ground and caused a seismograph in one of LSU's geology buildings to register a small earthquake. ("That's a true story," Flynn said.)
All the challenges and the magnitude of the spotlight will make the contest a measuring stick for the Hokies program. The two defenses will make the margin for error small, but, for the victor, the payoff will be huge.
"This is a big national-type game," Foster said. "It's a great opportunity for us. This is what you come to Virginia Tech for, to play in games of this magnitude. I'm anxious to see us play and see exactly where we fit."