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September 10, 2009

Hokies fall in season opener - and hope history repeats itself

By: Jimmy Robertson

Ryan Williams was a bright spot for the Hokies, rushing for 71 yards and scoring two touchdowns against Alabama.
For those distraught over the Hokies’ season-opening 34-24 loss to the No. 5 Crimson Tide of Alabama, they need only to look at recent history for a little positive perspective on the situation.

In 2004, the Hokies opened the season with a loss to defending national champion Southern Cal at FedEx Field in Washington, D.C. – and then went on to win the ACC championship and earn a trip to the Sugar Bowl.

A year ago, Tech walked out Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte feeling despair following a loss to East Carolina – and then went on to win the ACC title and the Orange Bowl.

Whether history repeats itself depends on how Tech’s players prefer to tackle the situation following a game in which they led the fifth-ranked team in the country going into the fourth quarter, a game in which they staggered mightily throughout, but only succumbed when the Tide delivered a knockout punch early in the final round.

“We’ve just got to move on,” Tech whip Cody Grimm said matter-of-factly after the game. “When two good teams play each other, someone’s got to lose. That’s kind of how it went down tonight. It was a good game for a long time and we just ran out of gas at the end, and they broke some plays.”

None bigger than the one that came after the Hokies had cut the Tide lead to 27-24 on a terrific 32-yard touchdown run by tailback Ryan Williams with 9:22 remaining.

The Tech half of the noisy Georgia Dome stood on its feet and implored the Hokies’ defense to hold the Tide. But on the first play of the possession, Alabama tailback Mark Ingram ripped off a 39-yard run all the way to the Tech 35.

That seemed to take the sap right out of the maroon and orange. Five plays later, Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy found Ingram for an 18-yard knockout punch that rebuilt the Tide lead to 34-24. The Hokies never got off the mat after that.

Ingram turned out to be a tremendous pain for the Hokies all evening. He carries 215 muscle-packed pounds on his shifty 5-foot-9 frame, and Tech’s defense struggled to corral him. He finished with a career-high 150 yards rushing on 26 carries (5.8 ypc) and scored a touchdown. He added three catches for 35 yards and a touchdown from a receiving standpoint as well.

“He’s a big back. He’s a stocky guy and he’s fast,” Grimm said. “He’s a good back and has good moves. We expected him to get some yards. We were just trying to keep him contained.”

Behind Ingram, the Tide racked up nearly 498 yards of total offense. Alabama finished with 268 yards rushing, and behind the steady play of McElroy, added 230 yards passing.

It was an uncharacteristic evening for Tech’s defense, which gave up rushing plays of 39 and 34 yards and passing plays of 48, 35 and 19 yards. McElroy’s 48-yard pass to Marquis Maze set up Ingram’s 6-yard touchdown run, which gave the Tide the lead, 24-17, for good in the fourth quarter.

“We just had a little miscommunication with the calls,” said Tech safety Kam Chancellor, who, to the casual observer, appeared to have a long evening.

“On that one [the 48-yarder to Maze], there was supposed to be help over top, but I can’t always rely on my teammates. Sometimes I have to make plays myself.

“If you get different motions and stuff, there are different checks. Everybody’s got to make it and all communicate around. Everybody’s got to get the call. If they don’t get the call, it’s a breakdown on defense, and you see what happens.”

Not all of this fell on the defense, though. Tech’s offense finished with just 155 total yards, and most of those came from Williams, whose 32-yard run for a score and 43-yard reception that set up another of his touchdowns accounted for the majority of the offense. Tech’s offense couldn’t keep the chains moving, and Alabama thus owned the time of possession, accumulating a whopping 37:02.

“They were just out there too much,” Williams said of Tech’s defense. “We had a lot of three-and-outs, where the defense would run back out there. They stood strong as long as they could for us, but offensively, we couldn’t make the plays.”

“We played too many plays,” Tech head coach Frank Beamer said, agreeing with the assessment of his defense. “We couldn’t get off the field. They had too many good third-down conversions. It is a combination. We played a very good football team and we didn’t play well enough on our side to beat a really good football team. But I see hope that we can be a really good football team.”

He’s been in this position before. He’s seen this before.

He only needs to draw on past history for how to cope with it.

Roberts’ big return:

Dyrell Roberts scored the first touchdown of the season for Tech with a 98-yard kickoff return.
Tech receiver Dyrell Roberts provided a bright spot for the Hokies when he scored the their first touchdown of the season. The sophomore from Smithfield, Va., returned a kickoff 98 yards in the first quarter, fielding the ball at the 2, sprinting down the Tech sideline and breaking a tackle before heading into the end zone. His score gave Tech a 7-6 lead with 6:35 remaining in the first quarter.

“Once I got the ball and I saw the way my kick-return team had it set up, I knew something good was going to happen,” Roberts said. “I didn’t know if I was going to take it all the way. I had one man to beat. I put a move on him, broke the tackle, and got to the end zone.”

The kickoff return – the sixth under Beamer – marked the fifth longest in school history and the first since Macho Harris returned one for 100 yards against Clemson in 2007. Roberts became the 31st different player under Beamer to score a touchdown on special teams.

Williams atones for muffed punt:

Tech running back Ryan Williams muffed a punt early in the game, but responded by pacing the Hokies’ offense. Williams, a redshirt freshman playing in his first collegiate game, scored on a 32-yard run and his 43-yard catch set up his 1-yard scoring run. He finished with 71 yards rushing on 13 carries and caught two passes for 42 yards.

Williams’ muffed punt came in the first quarter when he let a ball slip through his hands inside the Tech 21. Alabama’s Brian Selmon recovered at the Tech 16, and that turnover led to an Alabama field goal.

After that, Williams took himself off the punt return team and true freshman Jayron Hosley handled the returns.

“I’m not going to say never, but until I start feeling like it’s second nature, like running back, then I’m going to step away from punt returns,” Williams said. “That was my decision. I took myself off punt returns. They wanted me to go back in, but I just didn’t feel comfortable enough.

“With Jayron [Hosley] back there, he’s done it all through high school. It would be cool having me back there because of my open-field advantages ... but if I’m not comfortable and it’s not second-nature catching the ball, then I’m not going to go back there and put my team in that type of danger.”

“It’s one of the toughest things to do in football,” Beamer said. “He came back and made some big plays for us on offense. He’s going to be a positive factor for this football team as the season goes along.”

Hosley figures to be the main guy returning punts the rest of the season. Beamer also plans on giving David Wilson and Danny Coale work in that role.

Hopkins’ interception:

Tech defensive tackle Antoine Hopkins recorded his first career interception in his first collegiate game. But the assist goes to defensive end Jason Worilds, who forced Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy into a poor throw right to Hopkins. The big 300-pound redshirt freshman from Richmond returned the pick to the Alabama 14, setting up a 28-yard field goal by Matt Waldron.

Hopkins’ interception was 179th by the Hokies since the start of the 2000 season, tops in the nation in that span.

Cadet makes first trip

Head Coach Frank Beamer and Cadet First Sergeant Scott Forsythe
The Virginia Tech football team and the Corps of Cadets have long been partners, but for the first time, a member of the corps will travel with the team to away games.

As most know, three football players receive the honor of carrying the American, state and team spirit flag, respectively, as they lead the team onto the field. They receive this honor based on how they performed the previous game. For home games, they carry them the length of the field and deliver them to three first-year cadets, who get selected for their performance during their training.

Now, for away games, the players will deliver those flags to a single cadet or two cadets who – like the football players – will be chosen based on his or her performance of duties. The first cadet chosen was Cadet First Sergeant Scott Forsythe of Allison Park, Pa., a junior majoring in political science. He was selected as the top performing cadre member during the cadre and new cadet training weeks, where he excelled in preparing and then training first-year cadets.