THE ORANGE BOWL:
Virginia Tech (11-2) vs. Kansas (11-1), Jan. 3, 8 p.m., FOX
By Norm Wood
Newport News (Va.) Daily Press
December 18, 2007
BLACKSBURG Two days after Virginia Tech's 14-10 loss to Boston College in October, defensive coordinator Bud Foster was back on Tech's practice field. He was in no mood for chit-chat, because the Hokies had work to do to get back in good position to reach the ACC championship game.
After a group of reporters asked him how he was doing after the loss, he answered with a not altogether unexpected response. His eyes widened, and his neck craned backward and forward, as he spouted three expletives accompanied by the comment:
"I'm fine. Why shouldn't I be?" Foster said. "Nobody died."
In a way, his reaction could've summed up the attitude of the entire team. In the next five weeks, Tech proved that its quest to win the ACC title and reach a Bowl Championship Series game and even get back in the national title picture was far from dead. It just took some serious innovation and tinkering to get Tech back to that point.
Looking ahead, Tech could face a rebuilding season in 2008 if it doesn't develop some new stars on defense. But the Hokies' seniors have made the most of an amazing 2007 run.
With the help of a rejuvenated offensive line, a revamped quarterback approach and a resilient defense, Tech will enter its Orange Bowl matchup with Kansas on a five-game winning streak. The Hokies have a shot at their first 12-win season, which is a huge leap considering that such a goal seemed nearly impossible after the BC loss dropped them to 6-2.
When Tech gained redemption on BC with its 30-16 win in the ACC championship game, and Missouri and West Virginia lost their opportunities to sneak into the BCS title game by losing, Tech coach Frank Beamer and his players started to dream a little bit.
Did Tech, which entered the conference championship game ranked fourth in the BCS standings, suddenly have a chance to slip into the national title game? Tech came close, finishing third in the BCS, including a first-place finish in the computer rankings, but Louisiana State (which defeated Tech 48-7 in September) and Ohio State got the invitations to the big game.
"I didn't think we had any chance," Beamer said. "I never dreamed that (Missouri and West Virginia) would lose, but when it comes down to a lot of pressure in close games, things happen. I couldn't be more proud of our football program and our team, with the way we came back and won five ballgames (after the BC loss) against tough competition. We had to play hard throughout and answer challenges during the games."
Left tackle Duane Brown was more blunt in his evaluation of the BCS. Despite the team's loss to LSU early in the season by 41 points, he believed Tech deserved a chance to play in the national championship game.
"It's crazy you base that (LSU) game on our whole season," Brown said. "That was the second game of the season. We didn't have the offensive line that we have now. We'd just started playing with (quarterback) Tyrod (Taylor). We didn't have our dual quarterback threat. No one was really clicking and had that rhythm. It's crazy that they base that one game on our whole season, but that's the BCS."
Brown was the only offensive lineman to start every game at the same position this season. Though Tech gave up an ACC-worst 49 sacks, Brown watched the line improve its run blocking with the addition of right tackle Ed Wang and the shift of Nick Marshman from right tackle to left guard for the last seven games. After averaging just 119 yards rushing per game in the first seven games, Tech bounced back to average 150 in its last six.
Tech will return four starting offensive linemen, and top tailback Branden Ore, next season. Ore turned his season around after a slow start, averaging 84 yards rushing in Tech's last six games. A better offseason conditioning program than he had this past year will be critical for him.
Tech's successful use of quarterbacks Sean Glennon and Taylor, who often rotated in the midst of an offensive series, in the four games leading up to the bowl game took a lot of pressure off coordinator Bryan Stinespring. Never had the sentiment toward Stinespring from Hokie Nation been more caustic than it was in the first half of the season.
Though Tech entered the bowl game 99th in the nation in total offense (332 yards per game), the Hokies averaged 371 per game in the four games in which they rotated quarterbacks. Tech gained more than 371 yards in only three of its first nine games.
Stinespring said in mid-November that he would consider working with the two-QB system more in spring practice, but he wasn't ready to commit to the system for next season. Much of Stinespring's decision may depend on the offseason progress of the line and young wide receivers. All four of Tech's top receivers are set to graduate, which means that redshirt freshman Zach Luckett and sophomores Brandon Dillard and Ike Whitaker will have to become more dependable.
While Taylor was certainly the most dynamic young player on Tech's roster, a few more underclassmen made significant impacts. Sophomore linebacker Cam Martin had 77 tackles in the regular season. Sophomore safety Kam Chancellor, like Martin a first-year starter, had 72 tackles.
With as many as eight new defensive starters (depending on whether cornerbacks Brandon Flowers and Victor Harris return for their senior season or go pro) next season, Foster will have ample opportunity to prove himself again.
Foster, who was courted after the ACC championship game by Steve Spurrier for South Carolina's defensive coordinator position, has led Tech to one of the nation's top five total defenses in each of the last three seasons. Foster will need players such as Chancellor, Morgan, linebacker Brett Warren (43 tackles, 3.5 sacks), ends Orion Martin, Jason Worilds and Nekos Brown, and tackles John Graves and Cordarrow Thompson to continue developing.
Tech will miss the services of its 10 senior starters. No senior class has left quite the same mark at Tech. It's the only class in program history to win 10-plus games in each of its four seasons. That kind of will to succeed, which was never more evident than this season, had better rub off on some of the younger players.
"The ACC championship wasn't our only goal this season," senior receiver Eddie Royal said. "A lot of people think that, but our goal was to win the national championship. That's our goal every year. That's been our goal every year I've been here. With this (Orange Bowl) game, we get a chance to go out and prove we should've been in the national championship."
LB Xavier Adibi, DT Barry Booker, LT Duane Brown, PK Jud Dunlevy, DE Chris Ellis, LB Vince Hall, WR Justin Harper, WR Josh Morgan, FS D.J. Parker, DT Carlton Powell, WR/PR Eddie Royal
PK Jared Develli, LB Corey Gordon, WR Josh Hyman, DS Scott King, DS Bart McMillin, DT Kory Robertson, FB Carlton Weatherford
2008 RETURNING STARTERS^
Pos. Name Ht./Wt. 2008 Class
QB Sean Glennon 6-4/225 Sr.
RB Branden Ore 5-11/205 Sr.
TE Sam Wheeler 6-3/267 Jr.
LG Nick Marshman 6-5/357 Sr.
OC Ryan Shuman 6-3/314 Sr.
RG Sergio Render 6-4/310 Jr.
RT Ed Wang 6-5/312 Jr.
DE Orion Martin 6-2/256 Sr.
LB Cam Martin 6-1/209 Jr.
RV Kam Chancellor 6-3/220 Jr.
CB Brandon Flowers 5-10/200 *Sr.
CB Victor Harris 6-0/203 Sr.
Special Teams (1)
P Brent Bowden 6-3/213 *Jr.
- has utilized redshirt season
^ - six/more 2007 regular-season starts
- has utilized redshirt season
OTHER TESTED RETURNEES
TE Greg Boone, RB Jahre Cheeseman, OG Richard Graham, OG Brandon Holland, FB Kenny Jefferson, RB Kenny Lewis, TE Andre Smith, QB Tyrod Taylor, OC Beau Warren
DE Nekos Brown, DT John Graves, LB Cody Grimm, FS Davon Morgan, RV Dorian Porch, LB Purnell Sturdivant, CB Stephan Virgil, LB Brett Warren, DE Jason Worilds
Year BE/ACC Overall Postseason
1997 5-2 (2) 7-5 Gator Bowl (L)
1998 5-2 (2) 9-3 Music City Bowl (W)
1999 7-0 (1) 11-1 Sugar Bowl (L)
2000 6-1 (2) 11-1 Gator Bowl (W)
2001 4-3 (3) 8-4 Gator Bowl (L)
2002 3-4 (4) 10-4 San Francisco Bowl (W)
2003 4-3 (4) 8-5 Insight.com Bowl (W)
2004 7-1 (1) 10-3 Sugar Bowl (L)
2005 7-1 (1C) 11-2 Gator Bowl (W)
2006 6-2 (2C) 10-3 Chick-fil-A Bowl (L)
2007 7-1 (1C) 11-2 Orange Bowl
ACC: 27-5 (.844)
Overall: 99-28 (.780)
Team 2007 Record^
Duke 1-11 (0-8)
Georgia Tech 7-5 (4-4)
Maryland 6-6 (3-5)
Virginia 9-3 (6-2)
Furman 6-5 (4-3)
Boston College 10-3 (6-2)
Florida State 7-5 (4-4)
Miami 5-7 (2-6)
North Carolina 4-8 (3-5)
East Carolina 7-5 (6-2)
Nebraska 5-7 (2-6)
^ - before bowl games (conference)
Note: Finalized times/dates TBA.