One game down, 11 to go (of course, that's just the regular season...we're hoping for 12 or more, including a bowl bid). After Monday, it hardly feels appropriate that the Hokies will be hosting FCS Austin Peay on Saturday. But, as much of a letdown as that might be, the Hokies had better be ready to avoid a letdown anywhere near the one they suffered just two years ago in the opening week to James Madison. There has been lots of talk this week about how that one is fresh on their minds and they will not allow that scenario to repeat, but the only thing that counts is what is done on the field. So we will see.
Searching the internet for an Austin Peay blogger, I found (with some assistance) The Leaf-Chronicle's Austin Peay beat reporter, Luke Thompson. Just an extra tidbit, Luke is planning to go out on the town on Friday night and will be tailgating on Saturday. So if you have any suggestions for him, or would like to extend an invitation for him to tailgate with you, please feel free to do so in the comments section. Luke will also be doing an interview about the game with ESPN Blacksburg, so look out for that in Saturday's pre-game coverage.
For the full Q & A with Luke Thompson, continue reading after the jump.
During the Q & A I refer to myself as CM (ChicagoMaroon) and to Luke as LT to differentiate the questions and the answers. Ladies and gentlemen, without further ado, here's my Q & A with Luke Thompson:
CM: As we discussed in our e-mail correspondence, I doubt many among our readership (including myself) know very much about Austin Peay. In fact, in an interview on Wednesday, one of our players even thought the Austin part of the name indicated that the school was in Austin, Texas. So briefly, tell us everything you can about the university. Go...
LT: It's funny you would mention the Texas thing, because I had a conversation recently with senior Devin Stark (the Govs' No. 1 receiver and probably their best player) where he told me that when Austin Peay State University started recruiting him out of high school in Memphis (only 3 hours south), he also assumed they were in Texas. I think this happens a lot.
In reality, APSU is a public university in Clarksville (the one from the Monkees song) and is named after a former governor of Tennessee. It's also the fastest growing university in the state, with an enrollment of nearly 11,000 this year. I had an incoming recruit tell me once that Austin Peay "isn't a terrible academic school," but obviously it's not winning any awards. As far as any I can tell, they're best known for their business school," but obviously it's not winning any awards. As far as I can tell, they're best known for their business school, but today is my one-year anniversary at the newspaper here, so I don't really know.
CM: And the football team. Go...
LT: Well, Austin Peay is a basketball school, as evidenced by the fact that longtime men's basketball coach Dave Loos is also the athletic director. It doesn't take much more than one look at the 66-year-old Governors Stadium (which even the president of the university has called an "eyesore") to realize football has hardly ever been more than an afterthought. To be fair, a $16 million renovation is planned for the end of the 2013 season, and there has been some effort to make things better since a 9-year period of non-scholarship football (the Washington Post article claiming 2006 was the first year APSU gave out scholarships was wrong) ended in 2005. This will be my only plug, but if for some reason you want to learn more about the revival of APSU football, I wrote a big story on it two weeks ago.
As you may know, this game is happening because of the many friendships between the coaching staffs. Head coach Rick Christophel knows Coach Beamer a little bit from various connections, and Austin Peay's wide receivers coach is Marcus Gildersleeve, a Clarksville native who played at Virginia Tech from 1996-98. He graduated with Coach Beamer's son and still know a lot of the people at VT. It should be a real nice reunion after the Hokies finish their beatdown.
Christophel somehow managed to lead the team to a 7-4 record in his debut season in 2007, but they haven't won more than 4 games in one year since then, and they're generally worse than that. All but one of the sports information directors and coaches from the other eight teams in the Ohio Valley Conference picked Austin Peay to finish last this season, despite the fact that the Govs are bringing back 16 players from a team that tied for 7th a year ago. You won't see many newcomers this week, except for juco defensive end Malcolm Goines, Navy transfer J.J. Rutledge (a kick returned who may be the fastest player on the team) and backup offensive lineman O.C. Brown, a transfer from Southern Miss who you might recognize as the star of the Manassas football team in the Oscar-winning documentary, "Undefeated."
CM: Okay, now down to serious things (I promise I won't just say "Go" again). The Governors struggled a week ago against Western Kentucky (and I'm being nice), losing 49-10 and being out-gained by 442 yards. What went wrong for Austin Peay, or was there just a gap in talent?
LT: Yes, there was definitely a gap in talent, but there were some other issues too. WKU got the ball inside the 10 only to come away with no points twice in the first half.....and they still took a 35-0 lead into halftime. Quarterback Jake Ryan was 2-for-10 for 11 yards because his offensive line lost three starters, and the new guys didn't give him any time to throw at all. It didn't help that Stark dropped a couple passes as well.
Defensively, the pass rush was nonexistent and the secondary could be seen falling down or just completely blowing coverages all night on its way to giving up 276 first half passing yards. The lack of size and depth you'll definitely notice on Saturday became more noticeable as the game went along, and frequently WKU runners would get stuck at the line of scrimmage then bounce outside one or two seconds later when they realized no one had tackled them yet. I find it hard to believe the Govs defense could be that bad for two straight weeks.
CM: Now I mentioned the game at Western Kentucky above, which some realize is an FBS team. This week they have to travel to Virginia Tech. That's two FBS teams in a row, something that seems unusual to me. But looking back, the Governors also opened last year at Cincinnati and Memphis. I know games like this fund FCS teams' seasons, but is the Austin Peay program/athletic department really strapped for cash? Is this wise scheduling?
LT: I don't know all the specifics of the financial situation, but I do know the money is an inevitable topic of discussion whenever I'm reporting for a story on nonconference schedules or new coaching hires. The men's/women's tennis coach left for a quality Division II program in Indianapolis earlier this year, and he told me he now makes three times as much as he did at APSU. So, yeah, it certainly doesn't hurt that Austin Peay's athletic department is getting $200,000 for the WKU game and $325,000 from Virginia Tech.
As far as whether it's wise scheduling, I think that could be argued both ways. Sure, the Govs haven't won a game yet, and have been absolutely slaughtered by Wisconsin and Cincinnati. But when they were semi-competitive with Middle Tennessee State and Memphis, they seemed to gain some confidence that translated into wins the following week. Plus, the prospect of playing at Virginia Tech is a hell of a recruiting tool. Junior linebacker Josh Carroll told me yesterday that playing Wisconsin two years ago was one of the fondest memories with Austin Peay, and they lost that game 70-3.
CM: If you had to highlight a player or players to watch for this game, who would it/they be? Why?
LT: Offensively, look out for starting running back Wes Kitts. He's a fifth-year senior replacing the best running back in school history, and he has a surprisingly good combination of size and speed that he used for 104 yards on 10 carries against WKU, including a 68-yard touchdown run to start the second half against the first string defense. The big issue for him is stamina and injuries, which is part of the reason why junior Terrence Oliver led APSU in carries last Saturday despite the fact that he hasn't played tailback since he was a sophomore in high school.
On defense, watch for Antwaun Majors, the strong safety with the long dreadlocks. He had a sack last week and is always all over the field, though he'll be the first to admit he was out of position a ton and even missed a few tackles against WKU. Part of that can be attributed to his transition from free safety to strong safety, so he should be more on his game Saturday.
CM: What should Hokie fans expect to see from Austin Peay in this game?
LT: Not much. The way VT handled the GT running game is a big problem for the Govs, as their offense definitely starts on the ground. Despite finishing near the bottom in total offense and defense, APSU led the league in time of possession a year ago, so expect them to grind the clock as much as possible. The quarterback is a four-year starter who should at least be smart enough not to heave up a prayer as he's being tackled, but he does generally throw a lot of interceptions and a lot fewer touchdowns.
CM: As we all know, the Hokies are somewhat infamous for suffering one of the biggest upsets of all time just two years ago to FCS James Madison. What would Austin Peay need to do to replicate a win like that?
LT: Pray for a miracle and kidnap Logan Thomas, for starters. That James Madison team would beat Austin Peay by at least 40, and I'd say that loss helps VT more than APSU, since it provides the Hokies with the motivation to show up. At least the Govs are better than Savannah State.
CM: Okay, pick time. Who do you have and by how much?
LT: Austin Peay has an unlikely streak of 74 games without being shut out and supposedly these two coaching staffs are on very friendly terms, so I'll go conservative and say 59-3.
Thanks once again to Luke Thompson of The Leaf-Chronicle for doing this Q & A Preview with us. For complete coverage of Virginia Tech football and the 2012 season, make sure you're honed in to Gobbler Country.