Before the 2014 season began and before the Virginia Tech football team reset everyone else’s expectations with a surprising upset at Ohio State last month, Coach Frank Beamer always figured this year’s team would go through growing pains. There were too many variables, too many newcomers at key positions, to predict anything but unpredictability.
But this week, with the direction of his program perhaps hanging in the balance, Beamer took no solace in realizing his premonition had come true.
“We’re to the point in our season we should have grown,” he said Wednesday. “We’re at the point where consistency should become the way we play.”
The Hokies have reached a critical juncture as they prepare to host Miami in their first Thursday night home game in two years.
The circumstances are far different from the previous two decades, when this former Big East rivalry helped elevate both programs to levels they are struggling to recapture. This will be just the fourth time since 1992, when Virginia Tech and Miami began playing annually, that neither is ranked. The loser could fall into last place in the ACC Coastal Division.
Virginia Tech (4-3, 1-2) is coming off a 21-16 loss at Pittsburgh last Thursday, an anemic offensive performance offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler called one of the worst since he took over play-calling last season. It prompted the Hokies to restructure their offensive line — redshirt freshman Wyatt Teller will start at left guard, and senior David Wang will move to center — and reinstate wide receiver Josh Stanford, who had been on a leave of absence from the program for undisclosed reasons.
Miami (4-3, 1-2) had a bye week after sandwiching encouraging wins over Duke and Cincinnati with a loss to Georgia Tech, the sort of up-and-down results that have done nothing to decrease pressure on Coach Al Golden. A group of Hurricanes fans raised more than $1,600 to have a “Fire Al Golden” banner flown over Lane Stadium during pregame warmups.
Perhaps the best barometer for both teams will be the official attendance. Virginia Tech has sold out every Thursday night game it has hosted since 1995, but as of Wednesday, tickets were still available.
These are “two teams that have struggled at times. . . . Just a game that means a lot, and I think both teams are going to play it that way,” Beamer said, summing up the matchup. “Thursday night games, if you can win them, they’re great for the program. The one last week wasn’t great for the program.”
The Hokies are trying to shore up a litany of issues. They rushed for just 26 yards at Pittsburgh. They’re on pace to commit more penalties than any team ever under Beamer.
All eight penalties last week were on the offense. Their injuries are mounting on defense, with tackle Luther Maddy out for the season and senior linebacker Chase Williams doubtful to play Thursday with a knee injury.
On the bright side, leading rusher Marshawn Williams (337 yards) is listed as probable after missing the Pittsburgh loss with a sprained ankle.
“We’re moving forward as if . . . the running back situation is going to be a lot different than it was last week,” Golden said. “We’re getting ready for the offense we saw prior to last week.”
So, too, is Beamer, no matter how impatient he may be at this point.
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