Bowl Season

BCS vs. BCS Miami
Sun Life Stadium
Jan. 3
8:30 p.m.
Chris Hatcher of was nice enough to answer some questions for us.

BS: Virginia Tech started 0-2, but bounced back to win 11 in a row. How were they able to stay focused and what were the keys to success this year?

Chris Hatcher: You know, as much as I'd like to have a definitive answer for that, I'm really almost as puzzled as the rest of the sports world on this one. I knew coming into the season we'd have a VERY good team, possibly our best ever, but I wasn't buying into the national championship pick like many people (mostly Tech fans) were. Under Beamer Tech has consistently put out good to very good teams, and will continue to do so, but unless they are willing to adapt to changing trends, the Hokies will NEVER win a national championship under Beamer.

I guess you could say that the keys to success were motivation and perseverance (a little cheesy, but not too far from the truth) and a little luck. Any time a team wins 11 in a row a little luck is involved. Looking back, Tech REALLY had a tough first two weeks. We feel that we should have won the Boise game, but there were too many if's; If we hadn't spotted them 17 points before we showed up, if there hadn't been two piss-pore calls on the last drive, if the game had stayed on October 2nd as scheduled. You just can't let yourself get caught up in the if game because it's never-ending. Then after 1 day of rest the Hokies practiced for 3 days and played a game against James Madison on the 4th day. Now I'm not going to excuse the loss to JMU AT ALL, but I'm starting to wrap my head around how a team who had just lost such an emotional, energy-draining game that ended their national championship hopes could lose a game like that. It was a definition trap game and a game the Hokies never would have lost at 1-0. But, it is a game the Hokies did lose, and that really set the tone for the season. Tech was EMBARRASSED, as they should have been (It really was the most embarrassing moment in program history I believe). No way was the JMU team that finished 6-5 and 3-5 in an FCS conference better than the Hokies, but on that day they were the better team, and I think we can all agree with that.

Embarrassment wrought the 11-game win streak and was the motivating factor I mentioned. Perseverance is something I credit to Beamer. Having been a harsh critic of Beamer, I can admit the man just won't go away. For the first time since 2006 or maybe even the end of the 2003 season, the FIRE BEAMER sentiment was back in the Hokie camp. Yet like all the times previous, he stood tall, deflected criticism and managed to turn a rotten situation into something special. We shouldn't be surprised, after all he is the coach who had just one winning season in his first five years yet managed to keep his job. So in summation, for all the bad that the JMU game brought, if we hadn't lost it I think we would have lost somewhere else in a game that actually meant something. As much as it pains me to say, it was probably a blessing in disguise.

BS: Dual threat QB Tyrod Taylor had an excellent year. Comment on his importance to the team as well as his top weapons.

Chris Hatcher: Tyrod has been phenomenal. He has put together THE BEST season for a quarterback in Tech history. The season he's has is even more amazing considering we lost one of the nation's top-5 running backs in Ryan Williams for half the year (although our skill position players as a unit have never been better). I think I have been the absolute harshest critic of Tyrod. As a 5-star prospect I imagined he'd make a more immediate impact than he did. I think a lot of my ill-will towards Tyrod had to do with the way the fans treated him. They acted like he was GOD. Infallible. BETTER THAN MICHAEL VICK some said. Those are the new-age Hokie fans that never saw Vick play in college, because hearing that early in his career when Tyrod was as one-dimensional as he was almost gave me a brain aneurysm. But in 2009 he started to evolve and really became a dual-threat guy. You could see that it just clicked and his game really did an about face. So did I. The end result is a player who is more complete than Michael Vick, and a better pure quarterback.

As for his NFL prospects, I think he's a late round draft pick AT BEST, or maybe a camp invitee. I don't think he has an NFL-caliber arm, and he still is a little slow in his reads sometimes, missing wide-open receivers. Additionally, Tyrod is not really that fast. He may look it in college, but he is more Bryan Randall and Marcus Vick than Michael Vick when he pulls the ball down to run. He runs anywhere from a 4.6 to a 4.8 in the 40, and in the NFL that means defensive linemen can outrun you. What he lacks in speed he makes up for in agility. His agility is top notch. I'm just waiting for Sports Science to take a look at some of this guy's cuts at full speed! He's also a top-class leader, which can never be undervalued. You hear fans and commentators talk about how good a kid is all the time, and for the fans that is mostly bias. But bias aside, this kid is special off the field, and I'm sure he's got a special future ahead of him no matter what he does.

BS: The defense was again great, coached by defensive coordinator Bud Foster. What will be the key to stopping the Stanford offense and who are the key players on this unit?

Chris Hatcher: I will stop short of saying the defense was great. Unlike previous Virginia Tech defenses, this unit did just enough. They weren't dominant like some of their previous forms, but considering the youth, inexperience, loss of returning starters and injuries, I'd say they fared pretty well. This is by far the worst defense for the Hokies since 2003, which is probably scary for outsiders to think about, but we have just come to expect dominant defenses under Foster.

I'd surmise that the Hokies haven't faced a quarterback this good in Andrew Luck since Matt Ryan in 2007 (although Kellen Moore is pretty good too, we're not talking about the #1 overall draft pick). The key to winning this game is LIMITING Luck and forcing him into some bad decisions. Luck is not going to be shut down, so limiting him is about as much as we can hope for. To do that Bud Foster has to dial up some pressures that Luck hasn't seen yet, which is possible because of Virginia Tech's unique defense in which an outside linebacker (known as the whip) and a strong safety (known as a rover) are used almost interchangeably in blitzing and coverage packages and essentially gives them the flexibility to be a 4-4 defense or a 4-2-5 depending on the play call.

Making this more difficult is that starting backer Lyndell Gibson fractured his scapula in the ACC Championship Game. Gibson is nearly a two-year starter, and his backup is a redshirt-freshman who hasn't gotten the normal reps a backup linebacker on an 11-2 team gets because of the way Tech has had to win games, so expect there to be AT LEAST a little bit of a drop-off there. However, it looks like a contingency plan is in the works so that Tech will in fact move starting mike linebacker Bruce Taylor to the backer spot for Gibson and to start Jack Tyler, a walk-on linebacker who has performed way above his pay-grade, including the ACC Championship game after Gibson went out. There is also another plan afoot to bring back starting mike linebacker from the 2009 season Barquell Rivers (he finished that season with 96 tackles), who suffered a torn quadriceps tendon in the spring while weightlifting. Rivers was supposed to be back for the season opener, but when he continued to struggle and had a couple setbacks, it became apparent he wouldn't be back everything soon and coaches shut him down. Although he ballooned up to 250 pounds without the exercise, he has been cleared and is practicing well. Expect to see him in a limited capacity unless he REALLY wows coaches and forces them to put him in for longer periods of time. His presence and knowledge of the defensive schemes would be a BIG boost for Tech's defense in this one. Basically if it's a high scoring game it favors Stanford, although Tech has uncharacteristically won some of those games this year.

BS: If you could choose one player to have a breakout performance in the bowl game, who would it be?

Chris Hatcher: I'd really like to see one of the linebackers step up. I feel like that is our biggest problem area right now with the injury to Gibson is at linebacker, and to see one of our more inexperienced guys come in and play well is all I or any Hokie fan could ask. If not one of those guys I'd really like to see a member of the secondary like Kyle Fuller or Eddie Whitley have a statement game to improve their confidence.

Thanks a lot to Chris Hatcher. Check him out at

Elliott Almond, of the San Jose Mercury News was nice enough to answer some questions about the Cardinal.

BS: Stanford has gone from Pac-10 basement dweller to national contender in just 4 years under Coach Jim Harbaugh. How good a job has he done in his time at Stanford? Also, do you anticipate him staying in Palo Alto?

Elliott Almond: Harbaugh has done a masterful job. He has identified good players and then with an excellent staff nurtured them. His players reach their potential, which says a lot about a coach. Jim has instilled a family atmosphere where the players genuinely thrive.

Stanford folks say it’s debatable but it seems to most outsiders that he will be gone. The 49ers’ job just opened, and more NFL head positions should be available. Not to mention whatever happens at Michigan. He has yet to sign a good, long-term offer from Stanford.

BS: QB Andrew Luck has been outstanding this year for the 8th ranked offense in the country. How important is he to the Cardinal and who are the other top players on offense?

Elliott Almond: When you see Luck on the field you realize he means everything to the offense. He’s not just a great passer but a great runner and a winner. He does all the little things that turn teams into winners. He’s a true leader. He’s a blue-collar star quarterback who fits snuggly into the mentality Harbaugh has created at Stanford. This is the upper crust of society acting like it’s a bunch of working-class, put-your-head-down and don’t-complain types.

Not enough can be said about the offensive line. All five starters were named to the All-Pac-10 team, including three first-team selections in center Chase Beeler (also an All-American) and sophomores David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin. Add in Owen Marecic, whom Harbaugh calls the best fullback in the country, and you have the building blocks of a powerful offense. And Luck’s receivers, particularly Doug Baldwin and Ryan Whalen, and the tight ends, have been outstanding.

BS: The defense has also been scary good, giving up under 18 points a game. What do they have to do to stop the Hokie offense and who are some players to watch?

Elliott Almond: Tyrod Taylor might not be Michael Vick but he’s the ACC player of the year and has had quite a career. He is expected to present a challenge for Stanford’s defensive backs, which were much maligned last year and parts of this year. The Cardinal secondary is much improved, starting with left cornerback Richard Sherman, a fifth-year senior who converted to defense after being the team’s leading receiver his freshman and sophomore seasons. Players to watch are safeties Delano Howell and Michael Thomas and linebackers Shayne Shov and Chase Thomas.

BS: If you could choose one player to have a breakout performance in the bowl game, who would it be?

Elliott Almond: : If he is finally healthy, look for junior receiver/kickoff returner Chris Owusu to return to form after a great sophomore season.

Thanks a lot to Elliott Almond of the San Jose Mercury News.

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