October 11, 2005
BLACKSBURG - Through the first six games of the 2005 season, things could not have gone any better for Virginia Tech.
The Hokies won all six and zoomed up to No. 3 in the national rankings. They created a national buzz, becoming the trendy pick of many folks to get to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl. Perhaps they'll even be the team that finally ends Southern California's run as college football's top dog.
But winning the first six made nothing certain, other than the fact that the Hokies will be going to a bowl for a 13th straight season. Remember, Tech also started 5-0 in seven of the last eight years, and some of those finishes weren't pretty.
Yes, it's a long way to Pasadena. Tech hasn't won a championship yet, hasn't even earned a spot in the ACC championship game yet. All of the big dreams are possible. So, too, is the chance that they all could get derailed. None of the remaining five games is a gimme, though Tech likely would be favored in all five if betting lines were established today.
Here's a look at some of what needs to keep happening, and what needs to improve, if Tech is to find its way to the Rose Bowl. This factors in only what the Hokies can control. If USC and Texas stay on their unbeaten paths, the Rose Bowl might be a moot point.
Quarterback: Marcus Vick was remarkably efficient in his first half-season as the Hokies' starter. His on-field decisions have been good. Through six games, the Hokies had just two turnovers, and one of those came when a call on the field was reversed (correctly).
We knew he wasn't his brother Michael, but what's amazing is how much unlike Michael he is under center. Tech coach Frank Beamer used to say that Michael Vick was most dangerous when the play called didn't work and he had to improvise. Marcus Vick has been adept at making sure the play called does work. He hasn't shown any temptation to force a big play. When he's run, it's been because it was the right thing to do, not because he just wanted to run.
His brother was known as flashy. If Marcus becomes known as Mr. Efficient, he'll live with that.
"We have a lot of juniors and seniors on offense. Everybody's responsibility is to take care of the ball first, and that's what we've been doing," Vick said. "I'm very comfortable with the whole offense. It's everything I expected to do. It's no big deal."
Vick's solid start helped deflect some of the attention away from his off-field troubles that led to him being suspended from school for the 2004 season. His one poor decision this season came during the Hokies' victory at West Virginia, when he extended his middle finger toward the stands after being run out of bounds.
He issued an apology the next day. Some opined that he really needs to be careful about such things, given his past. Not exactly. He needs to be careful about such things because they aren't the right things to do, and that's the case for any player, regardless of his history.
With another five games like his first six, Vick could become the second straight Tech quarterback to win the ACC's player of the year award.
ORE MAY CHALLENGE LOYALTY ISSUE
Running back: This will be the most interesting area to watch over the second half of the season.
Loyalty is a great thing, and Beamer is nothing if not loyal. This is the fourth straight season where he hasn't had a single change among his full-time coaching staff. Do the job for Beamer, and you have a friend for life. This philosophy extends to players, too. A veteran who has performed is hard to displace at Tech.
The Hokies have two senior tailbacks with a good but not great history. Mike Imoh has the school's single-game rushing record, with 243 yards against North Carolina last season. Cedric Humes has been a reliable performer. But both get hurt - a lot.
Imoh was on pace for 1,000 yards last season after the UNC game, but he gained just 67 in the remaining four games thanks to a hamstring problem. This year, he's been slowed by a bad ankle, and Tech finally decided to rest him for the Marshall game.
Humes, whose start to the 2004 season was affected by a broken leg and ankle injuries suffered the previous spring, broke a bone in his right arm against Marshall. He could miss as much as six weeks.
With those two out, Branden Ore gained 146 yards against the Thundering Herd. It was the first 100-yard game of the season for a Tech back, and it put Ore just one behind Humes and two behind Imoh in career 100-yard games.
Many will tell you that Ore, a redshirt freshman from Chesapeake, Va., is Tech's best back - right now. Running backs coach Billy Hite said Ore reminds him of Lee Suggs, who went over the 1,000-yard mark in 2000 and 2002 and rushed for 49 touchdowns in those two seasons.
No one has ever compared Imoh or Humes to Suggs. They're good, solid backs. Ore is potentially a great back. How long will Tech wait to make him the primary carrier?
Defensive line: Actually, this could be the defense as a whole. It's working about as well as Tech could hope.
People look at the tackling statistics of the defensive front and wonder if those guys are having off years? Senior end Darryl Tapp is the top tackler among the linemen, and he ranks seventh.
Well, at Tech, that's the way it's supposed to work. The linemen tie up the blockers, and the linebackers zoom in and make the stops. The team's top three tacklers are linebackers Vince Hall, James Anderson and Xavier Adibi. Next come three members of the secondary.
What the line is doing so well is putting pressure on the quarterback without needing help. Because of that, coordinator Bud Foster doesn't have to go to the blitz too often, and he can use his linebackers in pass coverage. Of Tapp's first 16 tackles, four came behind the line of scrimmage. Of the Hokies' first 12 sacks on the season, 11 came from linemen.
Tech's sophomore inside linebackers, Hall and Adibi, are widely recognized as an excellent tandem, one of the best in the nation. They've done nothing this fall to discourage that line of thinking.
Often unrecognized when the linebackers are discussed is Anderson, the senior outside linebacker. He's the type of guy who often isn't noticed until he's not out there. Tech isn't particularly deep at linebacker, and losing any of the three would be a considerable blow. But Anderson is one of those quietly effective guys who is content to do his work and let others get the acclaim. He deserves plenty of his own.