There are games in the course of any football season that you look back on and realize it ended up defining who you really are.
I can't help but think that for Virginia Tech, one of those games is coming up Saturday.
It’s not that West Virginia is some awesome super power in the mold of an Alabama or Ohio State. The Mountaineers just happen to be the next game on the schedule where the Hokies are going to have to battle a confluence of factors that usually try one’s soul.
Today’s news that James Mitchell is out for the season is just one more factor. He statistically hasn’t been that important to the Hokie offense in the first two games, but that’s badly misleading. He is a strong presence on the field that draws a defense’s attention so when not individually making plays, the double coverage he draws opens up an opportunity somewhere else on the field.
He’s also the guy you don’t notice when a running back makes a great run, blocking the downfield safety who might have come across the field and made a touchdown-saving tackle.
Then there is presence as a leader in the locker room. If you’ve ever played with someone like that, he’s the guy that shows you how to be a complete player by example, makes you smile when you get down on yourself, and is always talking in terms of “when” the team succeeds, not “if.”
He’s also the guy who stares at you in the huddle when you’re thinking about coasting on a play, and his eyes simply communicate to you the message “don’t.” His absence in some ways changes the entire chemistry of Virginia Tech's offense.
This comes at a time when I really couldn’t tell you how good the Hokies are. Their offense showed in the second half they can make big plays, but they have yet to show me they can do it consistently. The defense is much better than I hoped, from their coverage to their tackling, but they have not faced a high-powered offense like West Virginia showed in its loss to Maryland. For that matter, both West Virginia and Maryland played non-major teams Saturday, and West Virginia scored 66 while Maryland scored 62.
As Leonardo Caprio once said in a movie, you had my curiosity; now you have my attention.
Then there’s the whole matter of the national rankings. Both the writers and the coaches have the Hokies as the 15th best team in the nation. If you’re a Hokie fan, relish it. Celebrate it. Brag to your friends. But this is a year where it’s not so much the ranked teams are that good. It’s that all the name brands are that bad and both coaches and writers are scrambling to figure out who to put in what position.
I mean, do you feel good the No. 15 Hokies could whip up on No. 16 Coastal Carolina or No. 17 Ole Miss? I don’t. But I also don’t think after two really subpar efforts that Miami is worthy of No. 24. Rankings don’t mean much until we get to October, and the deadliest poison out there for college football teams is the thought that you’re better than you really are.
So this is the week we should see who the Hokies really are. I’d like to see a team that rallies around the loss of James Mitchell, knowing everyone is going to have to watch each other’s back and figure out a way to win without him. I’d like to see a team who has a chip on its shoulder and decides they’re going to prove they’re worthy of that No. 15 rankings and not just rest on their laurels.
I’d like to see a team go into Morgantown and not be the least bit bothered by playing on the road for the first time this season against a hostile crowd.
In short, I’d like to see a team effort that shows when it has to, it’s capable of playing consistently on offense and defense.
Saturday should provide compelling evidence, one way or the other.
So I've had an intense dislike (I hate to say hate) for WVU that I inherited from my father. However, that dislike was intensified and cemented into place after years of observing them in contests against our Hokies. A significant percentage of their fans act like low life trailer trash. They've done everything from hurling obscene invectives to actual batteries at our players. When Hokies got to Morgantown, inevitably someone will relate a bad experience at the hands of 'eer fans. Their idea of fun is to burn a couch on the dirt patch in front of the house. We should not reward these uncouth louts with our presence. When you lie down with dogs, you get fleas.