November 8, 2006
BLACKSBURG - The season is winding down at Virginia Tech, and it hasn't turned out to be quite the train wreck it appeared to be a month ago.
The Hokies headed into their final three games on a three-game winning streak, which didn't seem likely when they were losing two straight - along with their cool - just a month ago.
With that as a backdrop, here are a couple of other unlikely story lines that have developed this season:
- Sophomore cornerback Brandon Flowers may be the team's defensive MVP.
That, in itself, isn't a terrible shock. Flowers has been a well-regarded prospect since he showed up. Oddly enough, he probably benefited from a leg injury that short-circuited his playing time as a true freshman in 2004. Instead of using a year's eligibility for sparse playing time, he was able to take a medical redshirt.
That Flowers has established himself so quickly is a surprise. He's on a defense with veterans such as linebackers Vince Hall and Xavier Adibi, rover Aaron Rouse, end Chris Ellis and others.
They're not doing a bad job. Yet it's Flowers who seemingly comes up with notable play after notable play. He had two interceptions and three pass breakups against Miami. He's now been credited with 13 PBUs on the season. That's a dubious stat, sure, with no clear definition. But the fact that Flowers has three times as many of them, whatever they are, as any other Hokie says he's doing something right.
The Miami game was particularly fun for him, because he did it not far from his Delray Beach, Fla., home in front of family and friends who don't see him play that often. The Hurricanes seemed insistent on challenging Flowers much of the night.
"They did," Flowers said. "I don't know why. I guess they wanted me to show that I could play. I don't mind it when teams come after me. It gives me a chance to show what I can do."
He's having an All-ACC kind of season. He's not one of the more hyped Hokies, so he may not make that team. He should.
- Frank Beamer won't win his third straight ACC coach of the year award.
He's done a pretty good job of getting things straight after they threatened to slide away, and he deserves some credit for that even if he does rank about fourth or fifth on the list of those who should be considered.
The image of his program as thug-filled really bothered Beamer, friends say. It was easy to see where that image was coming from, given a rash of arrests and suspensions and personal foul penalties during the early and middle part of the season.
That appears to have been cleaned up, and Beamer handled it in the understated way he's handled a lot of problems during his long career. He let the team take care of it.
Worried that his oft-repeated message wasn't getting through, Beamer sat the team down and let his players listen to the commentary delivered during some of their more miserable performances. Is that what you want people saying about you, he asked? Then don't give them reason to say those things.
For the past three weeks, it hasn't. Tech has played its best football of the season and its cleanest football. It had only three penalties at Miami, for 15 yards. Tech appears to be behaving itself off the field as well.
Again, that's not coach of the year stuff. Beamer will have to give up that trophy this year. But it's still a strong job of shrinking a growing problem.
- Branden Ore has done so well as the Hokies' featured back that there's now some concern that this season may be his last in Blacksburg.
Ore is a redshirt sophomore, which means he's been out of high school for three years and thus eligible to make himself available for the next NFL draft.
Let's say he finishes in the neighborhood of 1,500 yards and makes All-ACC. Then, Ore will have little choice but to explore the pro possibility. The opinions on whether it would be time to go are going to be sharply divided.
Ore has had a spectacular season, after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery. Given that he got to 1,000 yards before any other Tech back got to 100 for the season, he's clearly been able to handle a big load. He's strong, and he's durable. He has great vision and great instincts. He has speed and power, the key combination for a successful back.
But won't he be much better with one more year, the critics to leaving early will say?
Ore's answer will depend on where he projects to go in the draft. He can take out an insurance policy if he wants to continue his collegiate career, but if he's told he'll go in the first round, he probably ought to go ahead and turn pro.
Other Hokies who could consider leaving early but almost certainly won't include offensive tackle Duane Brown, receiver Josh Morgan and linebackers Hall and Adibi. All could improve their draft status with a strong senior year.
Should Ore and all of the others elect to return, the Hokies could be pretty strong in 2007. They're on track to win 10 games in 2006, pretty good considering that Ore and Brown were their only proven commodities on offense and the defense was breaking in five new starters.