Role reversal: Has Georgia Tech replaced the Hokies as favorites?
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
It started with a call from a disgruntled Virginia Tech fan on the "Hokie Hotline," coach Frank Beamer's weekly radio show:
"We talk about winning 10 games a year and winning ACC championships, but who are we kidding?" the caller said. "We're not going to achieve our goal of winning a national championship in football with the offense we've seen over the past seven years."
It ended with Beamer telling the caller he was "out of whack." You could almost hear his blood pressure rising.
Not only have expectations taken a nosedive in Blacksburg after just two games, but fans have been firing darts this week, and Beamer has been firing back. Offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring has been publicly questioned, and the message boards have lit up like a Vegas casino. Meanwhile, Georgia Tech, a team picked to finish fourth in the Coastal Division this season, will strut into Lane Stadium with a 2-0 record and a realistic chance at knocking off the team that was favored to win the division not too long ago.
It was a complete role reversal that suddenly makes this game a little more interesting.
Despite the Yellow Jackets' recent success, Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said it's too early to heap too much credit on his young team. Of the 44 players listed on Georgia Tech's two-deep, 26 are freshmen or sophomores, and the offense is still learning the triple option.
"We understand that if we don't come in there and play our best game we're going to get embarrassed," Johnson said. "We're not at that stage, I can promise you. ... We've got a really young football team. When we started out, the expectation level, nobody really had a good idea of what to expect. We're still in the process of that."
Still, Georgia Tech got off to a strong start by handling unheralded Jacksonville State with ease and making former LSU quarterback Ryan Perrilloux look average. The Yellow Jackets really opened some eyes last week, though, when they went to Chestnut Hill, Mass., and knocked off Boston College for their first league win.
"I feel we gained a little bit of respect with the win, but we're still flying under everyone's radar," Georgia Tech defensive end Derrick Morgan said. "That's how we like it because we can talk about it all we want to, how we can be a surprise team, but we've got to go out there and do it. That's the bottom line."
Virginia Tech fell off everyone's radar (and out of the rankings) following its loss to East Carolina, a defeat that doesn't look as terrible now that the Pirates have also knocked off a talent-laden West Virginia team. But the Hokies didn't look too impressive in their 24-7 win over Furman, scoring just three points in the first half and none in the fourth quarter.
Everything from fundamental tackling to play calling and Beamerball has come under scrutiny in the opening weeks.
"The expectations around here from our fans, they expect a great defense no matter who's out there, whether you have a group of seniors or a group of freshmen," said defensive end Orion Martin. "That's something we know and we're going to get better at."
Their struggles really shouldn't come as too much of a surprise, considering how much the Hokies lost:
- Eight players who were taken in the NFL draft.
- Their top four receivers from a year ago and then their top two replacements.
- Their leading rusher from a year ago.
- Their starting right tackle on the first series against ECU.
- Seven starters from last year's defense.
"They're not excuses, but at the same time we understand what we have to go through, people outside really don't know and don't care to be blunt about it," quarterbacks coach Mike O'Cain said. "They only see one thing -- wins and losses and how many points you score."
While some outside the program have been quick to criticize, those within it have been focused on one thing: Georgia Tech.
"If you're in this profession you've got to be able to handle that," O'Cain said. "... Now, if we're loaded with talent and we're loaded with seniors and we're not getting the job done, that's one thing. When you've got a bunch of raw rookies out there trying to play ... we understand where we are, but we're still striving to get better.
"Now, within the staff I don't think there's any tension," he said. "We have enough stress. We're used to winning around here. That pressure is always there we put on ourselves. Nobody outside will put more pressure on us than what we put on ourselves."
With a plethora of young players and two quarterbacks in a rotation that's been kept under wraps this week, Virginia Tech is still trying to find its identity.
"We understand we need to be a better football team," Beamer said, "There's no question about that."
"We've been used to winning," he said. "We're one of two teams that's won 10 games in the regular season over the last four years. The other one is Southern Cal. [The fans] are used to that. I appreciate our fans. They want us to be successful. Some of them are more vocal than others."
And some are simply "out of whack."