For the most part, words have been chosen carefully around Blacksburg this week. With a matchup against No. 14 Clemson looming, the status quo has been to play down Virginia Tech’s two losses to the Tigers from last season. On Tuesday, for instance, cornerback Kyle Fuller would only refer to Saturday’s trip to Death Valley “just another game.”
Hokies quarterback Logan Thomas would only concede losing to the Tigers twice provides “a little extra motivation.” But he also revealed his friendship with Tigers quarterback Tajh Boyd, forged when both were high-profile prospects coming out of the state of Virginia in 2009, has cooled since Clemson came into Lane Stadium and scored a 23-3 win last September.
Still, he was very diplomatic about trying to match Boyd given these teams’ recent histories.
“He was first team [all-ACC] and I was second team last year,” Thomas said. “I didn’t have a problem with it at all.”
The only problem is that most of his teammates aren’t as good at hiding their desire for some redemption this weekend. Cornerback Antone Exum wouldn’t “use the revenge word” but in the next sentence proclaimed that the Tigers “took something that was ours” in the ACC championship game.
“If I said I wasn’t looking forward to Clemson then I’d be lying,” defensive end James Gayle said. “I don’t look at Clemson how I look at other teams, because they did beat us last year. It’s definitely chips on shoulders around here.”
Virginia Tech and Clemson may not be a full-blown rivalry, but the two teams have certainly had their fair share of clashes in recent years. On top of what took place on the field last football season, the two schools have also been involved in a couple recruiting battles for five-star recruits recently. Back in 2011, Clemson beat out the Hokies, among others, and signed linebacker Stephone Anthony on National Signing Day. Coach Dabo Swinney then nearly wooed Good Counsel cornerback Kendall Fuller before he chose to join his brothers at Virginia Tech this past summer.
There’s also the saga of American war hero Daniel Rodriguez. He grew up a Hokies fan and originally wanted to walk on at Virginia Tech, but ultimately decided to go to Clemson. The Stafford native will carry the American flag and lead the Tigers onto the field Saturday as part of Military Appreciation Day.
Even on the basketball court, it was Clemson Coach Brad Brownell who originally lured assistant coach James Johnson away from the Hokies, setting in motion the series of events that led to former Seth Greenberg’s firing and Johnson’s ascension to Virginia Tech’s head coach.
To linebacker Bruce Taylor, though, there is a more personal side to facing Clemson. He spent his high school years in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and it will be the first college game his former high school coach attends. But he understands it’s also another chance for the Hokies to score their first road win and atone for their missteps to begin the 2012 regular season.
“The damage is done and we’ve lost some games that we probably shouldn’t have lost and haven’t played as well as we should have,” Taylor said. “I think we’re a lot better than what we’ve shown. . . . It would definitely look good for us to go on national TV and beat a ranked opponent so some of those people who were so high on us at the beginning of the year and then after those few losses wrote us off, maybe people will start talking about us again.”
Even Coach Frank Beamer, a “one game at a time” coach if there ever was one, realizes that beating Clemson “makes a great statement about your program.”
So is this simply another game? More like far from it. Just ask running backs coach Shane Beamer about that narrative.
“I better stick to the company line,” he said with a smile before thinking better of it. “I will say I spent four years at South Carolina, though.”