Saturday, October 10, 2009

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Eagles will get Hokies' best today

They've faced better offenses, better defenses and more intense scrutiny than what they'll encounter today.

But for the Virginia Tech Hokies, this will be the best indicator since the opener of how good they are.

Here comes their hard-hitting, overachieving nemesis, a retooled Boston College team with wins over Wake Forest and Florida State. And there goes any need for psychoanalysis.

If the Hokies aren't good today, it won't be due to a lack of focus.

The veteran players at Tech speak in reverential tones about the BC program, and none of it is an act. The Hokies look across the ball and see a mettlesome team much like themselves, a team that's tripped them up three straight times in the regular season, a team that's been their final hurdle twice in claiming back-to-back ACC championships.

But rarely has a regular-season meeting against the Eagles set up more favorably than this.

Tech's grueling early season schedule has taught the players and coaches plenty -- most of it positive, but with enough negatives sprinkled in that overconfidence shouldn't be an issue.

Offensively, the Hokies have shown they can trample overmatched teams with their running game (Marshall). They've shown they can methodically pile up yards on the ground against a solid defense (Miami). They've shown they can pass the ball when the other team overcommits to the run (Duke). They've shown they can keep fighting, even during a frustrating day, and make plays when it matters most (Nebraska).

"I think we're getting closer to being a good, balanced offense," Tech coach Frank Beamer said. "We're able to run it. We're able to throw it. One helps the other out, and I think we're getting closer all the time."

But as they complete the first half of their season today, they also recognize how vulnerable they are. The overall offensive performances against Alabama and Nebraska were less than impressive. The Tech defense has been uncharacteristically susceptible to the big play throughout the early going, slipping to No. 47 in the country in total defense -- well below the unit's own lofty standards.

Coordinator Bud Foster already spent his best motivational currency in Week 4, and his players responded with an inspired effort against Miami. After another uneven performance against Duke last week, though, Foster is looking for that leadership to come from the rank-and-file against BC.

Odds are he'll get it -- most likely from the defensive end Jason Worilds or linebacker Cody Grimm.

"We know how good of athletes they have and that they can easily beat us," Grimm said of the Eagles. "We don't need to trick ourselves into thinking it's going to be an easy win."

Sophomore running back Josh Oglesby gave a refreshingly honest response -- and a glimpse into the team's mentality -- this week when asked about his first career touchdown.

Why, Oglesby was asked, did he simply flip the ball to the official after scoring against Duke? After all, even if you're supposed to act like you've been there before, Oglesby hadn't. Surely the maiden trip into the end zone deserves a little more enthusiasm, right?

"It was Duke," Oglesby said. "Showboating against Duke isn't anything you want to be proud of."

He's exactly right. Respect in college football has to be earned. Duke, while an improving program, doesn't command much from the Hokies or anyone else.

But the Eagles? You bet they do. In Blacksburg more than anywhere.

That's why they'll get the Hokies' best today. And for better or worse, we'll find out how good that really is.

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