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Virginia Tech has no clear answer for its slow starts

I discussed it briefly in my notebook for Wednesday's paper, but I wanted to take a closer look at the early-game struggles Virginia Tech has gone through in most of its games this year.

While much of the talk around the team this week is focused on the biggest comeback in Coach Frank Beamer's 24-year tenure leading the program and the turnaround this season has taken since it began with two-straight losses, the Hokies' penchant for digging a hole is not something to simply ignore.

In its come-from-behind 41-30 victory over North Carolina State last weekend, Virginia Tech fell behind 17-0 in the first quarter. As I'm sure you're well aware, that's a trend, not an anomaly. The Hokies trailed Boise State, 17-0, to open the season, and two weeks later found themselves in a 10-0 hole against East Carolina.

Considering Virginia Tech didn't exactly light the world on fire against James Madison and Boston College, should this be something the Hokies are concerned about? They've been outscored, 41-14, and outgained, 490-357, in first quarters this season.

"I think we had three teams that were very, very good and they came out hot," said Beamer during his weekly teleconference when asked about the slow starts. "That happens at times. I think it’s more them than us and I think as we go along, our coaches as far as adjustments and things and trying to see what’s going on, a lot of times when you look at it on film, it’s not what you’re getting on Saturday. You gotta be able to adjust some things and I feel like we’re very good at doing that. I think it kind of goes back to the other team, too. They’re pretty good at what they do.”

Maybe the coach's response wasn't an excuse, but that doesn't exactly inspire hope for this weekend against Central Michigan and beyond. Beamer, though, expanded on his answer when he was asked a similar question on Tuesday during his press conference at Lane Stadium.

"I think we were well prepared going into Boston College; I think we were well prepared going into N.C. State," he said. "I think we had two teams that were very confident and very hot and did some good things early. ... I think we made some mistakes against Boise. I don't think it was a case in any of the games where we came out flat, we came out not ready, I don't think it was that. I think you give credit to the other team."

Here's the real problem. The issues against Boise State and North Carolina State early had to do with turnovers and an inexperienced defense. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor fumbled a snap and the Hokies had a punt blocked against the Broncos, which made life miserable on a defense breaking in seven new starters in front of a national television audience. Against the Wolfpack, the Virginia Tech defense was burned early by North Carolina State's speed and Taylor didn't help matters by throwing a pick that was returned inside the Hokies 5-yard line.

But the other games, I'm not really sure and I don't think the Hokies are either. Beamer wasn't the only one who had an opinion on the subject, since it really was the one thing us reporters could nitpick at this week coming off that dramatic victory over the Wolfpack. Below is a selection of the responses I got, and judging from the variety of answers, it's a subject that might come up again in the future.

Offensive lineman Jaymes Brooks: "I don't think it has nothing to do with us being jacked up or prepared or anything like that. I think it's just the other team coming out with a good scheme for us and we've got to adjust to it. People have been throwing blitzes and stuff at us but we've just been working on that a lot lately, so that's helping us out, I believe."

Safety/Cornerback Antone Exum: "I think it's just one of these things, because against Boise they got off to a fast start and we had to play catch-up, and against N.C. State they got off to a 17-0 start and we had to play catch-up. It's something we need to fix because playing catch up isn't always going to work against some of these teams we're going to play in the near future. We need to come out with more urgency and tighten up on defense and put more points on the board."

Running back Darren Evans: “We definitely need to start faster so we don’t get ourselves in a hole like that. It’s hard to come back. I’d rather play ahead ... basically just score as many points as we can as fast as we can early on in the game. It just makes it easier throughout the game, to have a little room to spare.”

Cornerback Jayron Hosley: “I think we get a little anxious coming out for big games and we start off kind of slow. But I think we’ll be good. We just gotta work on the small things in practice, that’s key. The focus, and everybody on the same page, that’s key.”

Defensive coordinator Bud Foster: "I think it just shows a lot of character on the kids. We’ve done a good job as a staff of not panicking and letting the kids know it’s a long game and hang in there. That’s kind of what we did the other day and again, it turned around."

Safety Eddie Whitley: "I don’t know what’s going on, but we’re coming up with the W. I’m not complaining.”

By Mark Giannotto  | October 7, 2010; 12:39 PM ET
 
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