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Virginia Tech's slow starts continue

By Mark Giannotto

During the Boise State game, a 17-0 deficit seemed insurmountable for Virginia Tech. Against East Carolina, a 10-0 hole appeared to be season-ending. When North Carolina State went up 17-0 at home, it was like deja vu. So by the time the Hokies fell behind Georgia Tech, 14-0, last Thursday night, it almost felt normal.

This is how Virginia Tech has operated this season. It has seen the opponent score first in five of its nine games thus and yet in all five, the Hokies have regained the lead at some point. In four of those games, Virginia Tech has ended up victorious.

In the first quarter this season, the Hokies have been outscored, 69-56. In all other quarters, they've walloped opponents by the score of 268-112. In addition, Virginia Tech has been outgained, 898-817, in the first quarter this year. In the final three quarters, though, Virginia Tech has outgained opponents by close to 700 yards.

Frankly, even those first quarter numbers are generous considering they include the Hokies blowouts over Duke and Wake Forest. If we just included Virginia Tech's three toughest opponents thus far -- Boise State, North Carolina State and Georgia Tech -- the Hokies have been outscored 45-0 and outgained, 373-196.

The most interesting part in all this: Perhaps the most dominant first quarter Virginia Tech has played this year came against James Madison, when it outgained the Dukes, 109-19, and gave up just one first down. We all know how that ended.

"I think it's a little weird because in some cases it's almost like we play better when we're behind," tight end Andre Smith said. "I don't feel like there's much of a panic or exciting type feeling, I just think maybe that in some kind of weird way it just kinda pushes us to play harder or that sense of urgency to execute better. I just think it's just kind of a funny way the way it's worked out because it's kinda one of those things that we really can explain as well."

Now, the statistics are a bit misleading because of the strategy Coach Frank Beamer employs on coin tosses. If the Hokies win them, they always defer and receive the ball in the second half. In all nine games this season, Virginia Tech has begun the game on defense.

With such a big-play offense, it would seem starting on offense might serve this year's team well. Beamer said Tuesday the coaching staff has discussed that change in strategy recently.

"We've talked about that about three or four different times, but I still think [deferring] is the way to go," he said. "We've got a good kickoff guy. Most of the time he's, if he's got the wind, I think he can get the ball out of the end zone, so now you've given them the long field to go. I think when you play teams, you have a little more time to get settled if you give them a long field.

"I think offensively, handling the ball first, if there's any nerves, that might come up. Then people say, 'Well, you get one more possession,' but I always say, 'You get one more possession in the second half if you defer.' And the second half is where you're going to win or lose it, so I like having that extra possession in the second half. Again, we've talked about it several times, but I still think it's the best way for us to go."

On Wednesday's ACC teleconference, Beamer was again asked about Virginia Tech's penchant for comebacks this year and he said, "I think it all comes back to your quarterback." And as we've discussed in this forum many times before, quarterback Tyrod Taylor's ability to run and throw have been perhaps the biggest reason Virginia Tech is on the cusp of clinching the ACC's Coastal division.

The worry, though, is that Virginia Tech's luck coming back from such large deficits might run out, especially with road games against North Carolina and Miami upcoming. Linebacker Bruce Taylor attributed the defense's struggles -- in the fives games the Hokies have trailed early, they've given up 32 first downs in the first quarter -- to youth. But he was quick to point out that "we always settle down."

The defining quality of this year's Hokies, though, has become resiliency. Whether it's been recovering from an 0-2 start to this season to reel off seven straight wins or mounting the biggest comeback of Beamer's career in Blacksburg against the Wolfpack, there doesn't appear to be any challenge that's too daunting for this year's Hokies.

"The leaders and seniors on this team have been in a lot of situations early on in their career where they’ve had to face adversity and just overcome," Tyrod Taylor said. "We’re part of, every year we’ve won 10 games. That’s the goal every year. Motivationally, just to win and just bounce back from those first two losses was big on our part.”

By Mark Giannotto  | November 10, 2010; 2:02 PM ET
 
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