No one at Virginia Tech was more downcast last week than offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring after the 17-16 loss to North Carolina State that featured 10 sacks of quarterback Bryan Randall. Instead of spending extended time afterward with his family, Stinespring, who also coaches the offensive line, opted to watch game tapes for several hours and was in his office at 6 a.m. Sunday after a restless night.
Stinespring also knows the basic rule of any competition -- chess, political debates and especially sports -- is to attack an opponent's weakness until it gets fixed. So on Saturday, he expects sixth-ranked West Virginia to be in blitz mode from the first snap of a pivotal game for both teams.
"Dang right," he said.
Stinespring expects the offense will give maximum effort but fears it may be too young at several positions to handle overly sophisticated game plans. The Hokies start a freshman at fullback, freshmen at split end and flanker and have three relative newcomers on the offensive line, including at center.
"You've got to keep that in mind, certainly," he said. "You try to get the game plan in earlier and not put things in late . . . we kinda pressed [against State], but not [always] the young guys."
Stinespring said West Virginia (4-0) presents "a little bit different style of blitz. They can bring three linebackers whenever they want and still be in a zone . . . it's the most physical defense I've seen in quite some time. They create havoc up front. I think sometimes [making] the tackle is the second thought. Collision is the first. If they make the tackle, that's a bonus."
Still, for all their offensive problems for the first three quarters against N.C. State, the Hokies (2-2) are slight favorites. They need a victory to settle a score from last season, when the Mountaineers knocked them from a No. 3 ranking with a 21-point victory in Morgantown. Also, three of Tech's next four games are on the road -- and after that comes season-ending tests against Maryland, Virginia and Miami.
With a victory over Tech, West Virginia would have a nice chance to sail through the watered-down Big East and end the season unbeaten. More than spoiling West Virginia's unbeaten record, revenge seems uppermost in the minds of Tech's players.
"I want to beat them a lot more than [arch rival Virginia] especially after last year," offensive tackle Jon Dunn said.
Randall has personal issues to settle with the Mountaineers. Two years ago here, with Tech positioned for a chip-shot field goal that would have sent the game into overtime, Randall was intercepted in the end zone from the 11-yard line. Last season, Randall was intercepted at the Mountaineers 10-yard line on Tech's first series and two other times.
"I'm not dwelling on it," Randall said.
Tech's tailbacks are in transition, with Mike Imoh bumped up to starter from third string after his 74-yard performance on 14 carries against State. Cedric Humes has been demoted from starter to third team but, when healthy, remains the team's best combination of power and speed.
Redshirt junior Justin Hamilton stayed at No. 2 -- and said he plans to run with more abandon when his chances come. A highly recruited running back in high school, he played wide receiver the last two seasons before moving to tailback when Humes suffered a broken leg and ankle damage that required surgery in the spring.
"It's time for me to turn loose and play like I did in high school," Hamilton said. "A lot of times I'd be worried if [running backs coach Billy Hite] would be upset at what hole I hit. If I make a mistake, does that mean I'll drop on the depth chart? Or if I drop a pass [in practice], does that mean I might not get in the game Saturday? I've got to cut loose. If I need to take criticism, I will."
Coach Frank Beamer and his staff faced renewed criticism this week about not making adjustments during games and not being able to overcome deficits. The Hokies under Beamer are 104-21 when leading at halftime but 14-50 when trailing. They are 119-14-1 when leading after three quarters but 6-57 when trailing.
Also, it wasn't until the fourth quarter against State that the Hokies tried measures against the constant blitzing that seemed obvious to many fans. A draw play to Imoh against the flow of the blitz on the first play of the fourth quarter fetched 41 yards. A middle screen to Hamilton later in the series gained 11 yards -- and Brandon Pace ended it with a 32-yard field goal.
To a caller on his radio show that complained about adjustments, Beamer mentioned the relatively inexperienced offensive line and said of himself and his staff: "We didn't suddenly get dumb.
"Some plays you'd like to change," he added. "What you'd really like to change is the execution: 'Block who you're supposed to block.' Now [trailing in the fourth quarter], you've got time to throw. People got open downfield and [Randall] hit 'em.
"Things looked pretty good."