I, like the rest of you, sat there watching our pathetic struggle against Duke, glued to the TV to see how we were going to screw this one up. I was at a loss for words. I felt that gut-wrenching sick at my stomach feeling that we all know as "Tech football." I was ready to spend the rest of the day in bed sulking, not ready to deal with the world in which Duke basketball fans would be able to say "JUST LIKE FOOTBALL!" Then we won, and before we move on to the next one, here's this post to remind us of what we'd like to forget.
Yes, we won. It was a win. Big whoop. I didn't really feel much better winning a game we didn't deserve to win against Duke than having lost to them. To dodge a bullet from Duke was pretty much indistinguishable in my mind from dropping a game to them when the difference was their inability to make kicks. In other words, Duke controlled their own destiny in this one with their inability to make kicks (though you can also argue our inability to finish drives, but that doesn't guarantee points).
For me, the most disconcerting thing wasn't what was happening on the field. We have a banged up roster (defensively at least), and Duke isn't as bad as advertised. But that aside, our offense doesn't really have any excuses (aside from backup OL's being MIA) and Duke was able to prevent us from scoring more than 14 on them. Still, the big issue to me was the sideline. What was going on over there? Was ANYBODY up!? Was ANYBODY encouraging our kids, telling them we were going to turn it around and take some names, or get on them for being in a game with DUKE!? Not that I could tell, and THAT is what concerns me. In a game that is eerily similar to James Madison, look to the sidelines and you can tell exactly why. Looking back at my post-JMU post, you can see we struggled with the EXACT same problems in that department.
This is disconcerting especially because it's one of the things we thought Beamer had realized and had changed. By bringing in new blood to the coaching staff, Beamer added enthusiastic, youthful voices to the sideline. And by taking the clipboard away from dinosaurs like Hite and Cavanaugh (no disrespect to their coaching abilities), one would think we'd have a more fired up and energetic sideline. But I didn't see it against Duke Saturday. Did anyone see Duke before the fourth quarter!? They looked like the fans at Lane Stadium when Enter Sandman came on during the Miami timeout. They were "losing their minds" as Mike Patrick put it.
I'm not saying our sideline needed to be jumping up and down to that degree (especially since we're losing), but if I'm Frank Beamer and I see that happening on the opposing sideline, I am not sending my kids out there to face that without making sure they're up for it as well. Military history teaches us that the battle cry before the battle is sometimes the deciding element in battle. It can tip the scales. If you have a group of kids the likes of Duke on Saturday who were THAT inspired, you had better make sure your kids know what's at stake too and that they will not be outdone, one way or another.
Additionally, the Duke game result reflects on how we practiced for Duke. The coaches CANNOT lose sight of the fact that ANY team can beat any other team on any given day. When I was playing high school football, the week we played the team we haven't lost to since I've been alive, starting on Monday our coaches would start to drill into our head that we were playing a team that would beat us into the ground if we didn't give it our all. That the team we were about to play was the hardest-working team they had ever seen. We prepared in practice like we were going to be in the state championship. Then we would go out there and pitch a shutout. The coaches MADE SURE we didn't take ANY GAME lightly, especially ones against lesser foes. Virginia Tech's coaches HAVE to do that. Without that realization, and the realization that it requires energy and passion from the sideline to get your players to play like they should out there, even against Duke, these slip-ups/near slip-ups will continue to haunt this program.