Virginia Tech all-American defensive end Corey Moore is not known for mincing words. Ask about his thoughts on the Hokies' devastating 28-24 loss to Temple last season and he'll answer with a string of expletives. Ask about the notion of double-teaming him, leaving one of his counterparts on the defensive line unprotected, and he'll tell you it's a stupid idea. Ask about the Hokies' special teams unit, and he'll even let you in on a little secret.
"Let me tell you something about us blocking kicks," said Moore, scooting up to the edge of his seat and whispering slyly. "We're not that good at it. Other teams, they just get scared. That's not to say we don't have great coaches, great schemes and great players on our special teams unit, but the key is intimidation."
Perhaps Moore's understatement is part of that intimidation. Because the eighth-ranked Hokies are more than good at blocking kicks. They are the best.
In Coach Frank Beamer's 13 seasons leading his alma mater, Virginia Tech has blocked an NCAA-best 73 kicks--36 punts, 19 field goals and 18 extra-point attempts--over a span of 140 games. Twelve of those blocks were recovered or returned for a touchdown and 22 more led to a score. Since joining the Big East in 1991, the Hokies have posted at least two blocks against every conference foe.
Moore and his teammates have yet to block a kick this season in wins over James Madison and Alabama-Birmingham, choosing to focus more on setting up long returns than going after blocks. There is little doubt, however, that Beamer will send them after the ball Thursday night when Virginia Tech hosts Clemson. The Tigers are one of just four teams the Hokies faced last season against which they did not come away with at least one block. In all, Virginia Tech blocked a school-record 12 kicks in 1998, including eight punts.
"We take special teams very seriously here," Beamer said. "And when the players see the head coach out there working one-on-one with the special teams, they know they'd better take it seriously, too."
Beamer spends all day Sunday alone in the conference room adjacent to his office, a TV remote control in hand. He stares intently at videotape of the Hokies' upcoming opponent, fast-forwarding and rewinding, feverishly taking notes and searching for any weakness in the kicking game. He cuts no corners on the kick-block teams he has named his "Pride" and "Joy" units.
Beamer develops at least one new punt-block formation for each week's opponent to go with the half-dozen favorites he keeps in the playbook. He uses only his best players on special teams, saying he would rather have a player sit out the first down of an offensive or defensive series to catch their breath than not utilize their talents on special teams. And he personally runs the special teams in practices.
That is the way special teams are done in Blacksburg.
"You can't do it without good players," Beamer said. "You can have a great scheme, but if you don't have people out there who can make the plays then it won't work. We put our best athletes out there. And if that means all-American Corey Moore on our punt-block team--which it does--then so be it. Personnel is the key.
"Intimidation, I guess Corey's right about that, too. When you have a reputation for blocking kicks then everyone--from the snappers to the holders to the kickers--all feel the heat to perform. They know we're going to come after them."
During the offseason, Beamer displayed his special teams philosophies to coaching staffs from more than 20 college programs--including nationally-ranked Georgia, Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State. Each made the trip to Blacksburg to find out just what makes the Hokies so successful. Beamer shared some of his schemes, preached on the value of playing the team's best athletes despite the risk of injury and talked about how playing on special teams should be a privilege, not an obligation.
At least one of the guests was convinced. Last season, Penn State all-American linebacker LaVar Arrington did not play on special teams. This year, after assistant coach Larry Johnson's visit to Virginia Tech, he does. So do Penn State standouts Courtney Brown (defensive end) and Brandon Short (linebacker). The result: two blocked kicks in three games this season for the Nittany Lions, including Arrington's game-saving blocked field goal against Pittsburgh earlier this month. Penn State had blocked just seven kicks over the previous three years.
"They just have a different flavor for special teams down at Virginia Tech and we wanted to get in on it," said Johnson, who also coaches defensive ends at Penn State. "We're now trying to take that same approach by playing our best guys out there. It sets a tone and lets kids know its important.
"Everyone wants to imitate success, and I think their success has caused alert throughout the country. Coach Beamer now has everyone focusing more on special teams."
Blocks in the Beamer Era
73 blocks in 140 games (36 punts, 19 FGs, 18 PAT)
Type of Block
1 punt, 1 PAT, 1 FG
4 punts, 3 FGs
1 punt, 1 FG
2 punts, 3 PAT, 1 FG
3 punts, 3 FGs
5 PATs, 1 FG
4 punts, 2 FGs
2 punts, 2 FGs
4 punts, 3 PAT, 1 FG
5 punts, 1 PAT
2 punts, 3 PAT, 2 FGs
8 punts, 2 PAT, 2 FGs
Top Five Blockers Under Beamer
Year Player Blocks
'90-'93 Bernard Basham 6
'95-'98 Keion Carpenter 6
'96-present John Engelberger 5
'88-'90 Archie Hopkins 4
'97-present Corey Moore 4
Five Most Victimized Teams
Type of Blocks
3 punts, 2 FGs, PAT
3 punts, 3 PAT
3 punts, 2 PAT, FG
3 punts, 2 PAT, FG
3 PAT, punt, FG