Inexperience secondary to expectations at Virginia Tech
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
The fact that Virginia Tech won the Coastal Division again is not surprising. They were picked by the media in July to win it and they did. It's HOW they won it that was shocking -- with the youngest, most inexperienced roster coach Frank Beamer can remember.
The Hokies had to replace 13 players from last year's ACC championship roster who were either drafted by the NFL or signed as free agents. Their top four receivers? Gone. Seven starters on defense? Gone. We're talking a total of 6,139 career receiving yards, 43 touchdowns, 59 sacks, 32 interceptions and 153.5 tackles for loss.
They're numbers that have been overshadowed this season by one -- Virginia Tech's 103rd-ranked offense.
It's a miracle they're not 119th, considering the inexperience the Hokies have relied upon at the skill positions this season.
"We may not always play well, but I think we play hard," coach Frank Beamer said. "We're trying hard."
Of the projected 66-player dress squad for Saturday's ACC championship game against Boston College, 15 are redshirt freshmen, five are true freshmen, and one is a sophomore. Five of them -- flanker Danny Coale, split end Jarrett Boykin, tailback Darren Evans, right tackle Blake DeChristopher and quarterback Tyrod Taylor -- are starters.
"We've had to do some coaching here, but I've enjoyed the players and their attitude, how they work," Beamer said. "This is just a very gratifying, very thankful time, that we're able to get back to the championship game with all the things this football team has been through. Yeah, I think it does mean more to you, when it's hard like that."
Virginia Tech had nine season-ending injuries, including two that affected the offense significantly. Starting tailback Kenny Lewis Jr. and starting receiver Brandon Dillard both ruptured their Achilles, forcing underclassmen into key roles.
The inexperience at wide receiver caused inconsistency at quarterback. Without veteran hands to throw to, embattled quarterback Sean Glennon didn't look like as poised and productive as he did last season, when he won the MVP award in the ACC championship game.
"Very seldom do you have that much inexperience at one position," Beamer said of his receivers. "I wouldn't want a secondary full of freshmen. When you get all freshmen at that position, I just think it's hard. I like playing young guys, I like playing freshmen, but I like a couple of seniors around them, too. We haven't had that luxury there at wide receiver, but I think they're better now than they were when we started the season."
And without consistent play from the offensive line, shifty quarterback Taylor couldn't always get out of jams with his feet, and Evans was often stifled. The lack of playmakers was evident from the start, which is why Beamer decided to redshirt Taylor and bench Glennon.
Aside from cornerback Victor "Macho" Harris, there isn't really a nationally-recognized player on the roster, but it is stocked with future talent.
"We don't have a lot of name guys," Beamer said, "but I think we have a lot of hard-working guys."
The Hokies expect to play for the ACC championship. It's a trait that has become inherent in the players they recruit.
"We want to recruit kids that come here with the idea of winning championships, and most of our kids do," Beamer said. "I think we also know how fortunate we are to be in this ball game. With the scheduling we had, which I think is the toughest in some time, and young kids all at the same position, and then a couple key injuries we got, I think it's really a credit to our coaches and players that we're in this ball game this particular year."
After losing to Miami, the Hokies had no choice but to beat Duke and rival Virginia. They barely escaped both opponents.
"I knew if we just kept playing hard, kept practicing and keep our faith, I knew things would work out in our favor and it did," said defensive end Orion Martin. "We're happy to be here and we're going to take advantage of it.
"This one is more exciting. This year was a little different. We had a young team, and so many injuries and so many setbacks during the year that to finally fight through all of it and have the chance to play for the championship makes the ride even more enjoyable."
Martin, a fifth-year senior, said he's excited about the future of the program he'll leave behind.
"We have a great combination of youth and experience," he said. "Next year I think they'll keep going and getting better. We have some good athletic players who are going to help take this program to probably new heights."
After all, it's what's expected of them.