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It is a dreary morning. Raining outside. Cool. Dark. Depressing.
And, oh yeah, Virginia Tech lost yesterday to ODU. The same ODU that was 0-3 and lost to national powerhouse Liberty by 42 a few weeks ago.
Life dictates you try to look at the bright side, put some lipstick on that pig, and put it all behind you. It gets easier over time, because the Hokies have a tendency to do things like this ever so often. An upperclassman in our dorm my freshman year at Virginia Tech jokingly told us “just remember, in the end, the Hokies will always break your heart,” and over the years I’ve determined he wasn’t joking: A brutal loss to Temple in 1998; an equally stunning defeat at the hands of James Madison in 2010; smaller, lesser ones that ended up stinging just as much in between.
This one didn’t hurt as much, I’ll admit, because of what it meant to ODU. Norfolk is my hometown, and this win was probably every bit as exciting to Monarch faithful as when the Hokies went to the Horseshoe and beat Ohio State. I even watched that upset in an ODU bar in 2014 (40th high school reunion) and some even said how cool it would be if ODU ever got to experience a win that big.
Now they have.
But this game also could end up serving as a fork in the road for the program. When the Hokies suffered that humiliating defeat to Temple – the Hokies were ranked No. 13 and undefeated while Temple finished the year 2-9 – they did bounce back, go to a bowl game and beat Alabama decisively. Given the storied program the Crimson Tide is, that’s a nice phrase to be able to repeat.
When the Hokies lost to James Madison, it ended up being the slap in the face that woke up the team. They went from No. 13 in the AP poll, dropped out of the rankings, then won 11 straight to win the ACC title and rise back up to No. 12. They lost to Stanford in the Orange Bowl, but still finished No. 16.
This team could do the same…or completely fall apart. It has had big questions on both sides of the ball since Day 1 and the opening game win over Florida State may have made things worse. The high ranking that came after the win was Fool’s Gold, as nobody really took into account how good or bad Florida State was. The team still had issues on defense with so many newcomers, it still had issues with consistent play at quarterback, and it still had issues with depth on both offensive and defensive lines.
ODU exposed all of those issues.
The biggest of those could end up being at quarterback. I am no doctor, but it seems I have majored in ankle and knee injuries all my life judging from the number of times I’ve had both in a cast. The way Josh Jackson appeared to react to his ankle injury looked exactly the way I’ve felt tearing ligaments in my ankle about 4 times. It’s a severe sprain, and back in the old days, you waited for the swelling to subside, then put it in a cast for 3 weeks. It took about 6 weeks before you could really start exercising to the point of what people would call “back to normal.”
Modern medicine can probably quicken that schedule, but he’s going to miss some games, and will put Virginia Tech coaches in a situation where they have to decide some things. Josh had become this season the classic quandary for a coach or manager: He was good, but as Jim Collins’ ultra popular business book points out, good is the enemy of great. Most coaches aren’t going to pull someone who is playing “good” because while the next guy up may move the offense closer to great, he may also – due to inexperience – move the team to interceptions, turnovers and a few losses.
That’s sort of what happened in 1998. Al Clark was a “good” quarterback, but when healthy he could have been much better. Fans clamored for a QB change and when injury knocked Clark out, they got what they wanted…but it was a guy named Nick Sorensen. Nick was a great all-around athlete who would end up playing in the NFL for a decade, but not at QB. The fans got what they wanted…and it was not an improvement.
Ironically, Clark returned from injury and finally healthy, had that “great” game he was capable of against Alabama. The next year, a guy on the sidelines who had been redshirted in 1998 – Michael Vick – took over and things turned out pretty well.
Virginia Tech could be facing the same situation. Ryan Willis could be great, could be good, could be anywhere in between. Hendon Hooker has impressed in his rare time seeing the field, but no one knows. Sitting on the sidelines is another redshirt quarterback by the name of Quincy Patterson. Some think he is the going to be the greatest thing since sliced bread.
So the Hokies could get up off the mat after this humiliating loss. They could refocus, get back to basics and still end up having a heck of a season. They could experiment with different quarterbacks and possibly find a different one for the future. They could still win the ACC, as the loss to ODU was a non-conference one.
They could also go out and lose to Duke and Notre Dame over the next two weeks and really make life tough for the likes of Justin Fuente and Bud Foster. Those last two bounce backs for the program were under Frank Beamer. This one’s a first for Fuente.
It’s a fork in the road for the program.
The next two weeks will show us which path they’ve chosen.
NOTE: About two minutes after I posted this, Fuente announced that Trevon Hill, one of the top defensive players for the Hokies, has been dismissed from the team. The hits keep on coming...