2007 Monday Thoughts: East Carolina

Saturday was an emotional day for the Hokie Nation, and fortunately, the
Virginia Tech football team, coaches and fans got through it with a victory. ECU
is a good, well-coached team that will make some noise in Conference USA — they
might even win it — and they threw the Hokies a couple of curves that slowed
Tech down. In the end, VT got a win, and though there are reasons for concern,
getting the W was the end result.

I did close to a dozen radio interviews leading up to the game, and in almost
every one, I was asked how the emotion of the April 16th buildup would affect
this team. Would it inspire them to achieve greater heights, or would it be a
distraction that weakened them? My answer was always the same: “We don’t
know. Until they get out there and actually kick off and start playing, we won’t
be able to tell. In the end, though, emotion only takes you so far, and you have
to execute the game plan to win.”

Time will tell for sure, but as far as Saturday goes, I think I got my
answer. I thought the Hokies looked a little listless. VT was beaten in the
trenches, which wasn’t so surprising on offense but was surprising on defense.
Branden Ore and the running game didn’t look sharp. In some ways, VT didn’t look
ready to play, and that’s understandable.

I don’t recall the month of August ever being this hard to get through. The
pre-first game buildup is always a lot of work and hysteria, as the media ramps
up and fans scramble for tickets and information, but this year, it was
particularly difficult. Virginia Tech beginning its fall semester was a national
story that drew coverage; the team is highly ranked and has high expectations;
the ECU game had the biggest build up of any season opener in a long time, and
tickets were hard to get, causing emotions to run high among the fans. Around
the TSL office, the work load was uncharacteristically heavy, and it was hard to
stay ahead of things. All this and more led to an August that was an exhausting
sprint to the September 1st finish line.

The hubbub built to a climax, and that climax wasn’t the game itself. The
climax was 11:44 a.m. on September 1st, when the pre-game ceremonies honoring
the 32 victims of the shootings began. So many people were so spent by the time
those ceremonies were over that I think it was hard to keep the emotion going
for the game.

Even the pre-game ceremonies were different. Receiving the $100,000 donated
by ECU, running out of the tunnel along with the Pirates, and sending all
seniors (instead of just game captains) out to the middle of the field for
pre-game handshakes were all things that were a departure from the norm. It was
a weird, emotional buildup, and some sort of letdown was inevitable, in
retrospect.

Joel Kelly, who put together The
Run for 32
, nearly exhausted himself with the massive effort, which wound up
with him accumulating a race team of 150 members and dealing with organization
and PR efforts that consumed his every waking hour towards the end. I found
myself wondering how in the world Joel was going to do all that and then
run a half-marathon. What Joel went through was analogous to what the Tech team
and fans went through, I think, and it made running the race, or playing the
game, a difficult effort at the end of everything else.

A message board poster compared it to the 2005 Miami game, and the tremendous
media buildup to that clash. By the time the actual 2005 Miami game arrived,
everyone was worn out, and there wasn’t much left in the tank for the game
itself.

That’s a great comparison, I think. The Hokies played well enough to win in
this game, but putting forth the effort and keeping themselves mentally in the
game was tougher than normal, because of all the pre-game hype and buildup.

The Game

I always leave the technical analysis for guys like Raleigh Hokie and Phil
Martin — that’s why we pay them to write for us — so it’s up to Raleigh to
give his take on the performance of VT’s offensive and defensive lines. The
stats point to the Hokies getting beat in the trenches, though:

  • ECU 142 net yards rushing, VT 33
  • ECU 4.1 yards per carry, VT 1.1
  • ECU 4 sacks for 19 yards, VT 0
  • ECU 10 tackles for loss for 39 yards, VT 2 TFLs for 6 yards

It’s not a big surprise that VT’s offensive line was beaten in the trenches
by East Carolina, but it was surprising how little surge Tech’s

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