Monday, January 03, 2011

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Smoke blown; it stops tonight

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Davon Morgan was on a roll. And when Davon Morgan is on a roll, you just let him go.

"A lot of smoke is being blown right now," the Virginia Tech cornerback said. "I feel like we're going to step up to the challenge and show them what the East Coast is like."

"Them" would be those people who are enamored with Stanford, Tech's opponent in tonight's Orange Bowl. In Morgan's mind, that squad's been getting a little too much hype this week.

"I can't speak for the whole team," he said. "But honestly, I'm taking it personally."

Okey-dokey. Let's see what he thinks about all-everything Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. This ought to be good...

"From watching film, I see a pretty smart guy back there," Morgan said. "He goes through all his reads. He makes sure he goes through his progressions, he knows what his check-downs are. Everything about him -- he's a good quarterback. That's why they have him rated as highly as they do."

Well, that's pretty respectful and harmless...

"But what they don't know is," Morgan continued, "somebody's coming for him. Know what I'm saying? I'm not going to say no names, but we're looking forward to this challenge."

I've been to a lot of bowl games with this team. I've heard a lot of comments like this from Tech players. Usually, this is my immediate thought: The Hokies are toast. They don't know what they're getting into. They're overconfident. They don't understand the quality of their opponent.

For a moment Friday, as Morgan was on his roll, I started thinking this again. But then I looked around the interview room.

Over in the corner was John Graves, the nice-guy defensive tackle who aspires to be an FBI agent.

In the other corner was Steven Friday, the defensive end who patiently waited his turn for four years before erupting for a team-high 8 12 sacks this season.

To Morgan's right was Jayron Hosley, the sophomore corner who burst out of obscurity to lead the nation in interceptions per game.

Across from Morgan was Chris Drager, who quietly put together a solid year.

And next to him was Rashad Carmichael, who might have made the most critical speech of the season after the JMU loss (more on this in a bit).

That's when it hit me: This is a good mix of talent with some great leaders. And sometimes, people lead in different ways.

In other words, it's one thing to have a dozen Davon Morgans chirping about how they're going to win, like Tech sometimes has had in the past. It's another to have one guy like Morgan who tosses some braggadocio into the blender because he feels like that's his job.

"I never lack confidence, man," Morgan said. "I'm always a positive guy ... I feel like if you've got a strong leader, everybody else will follow."

Nobody can question the leadership of this Tech team. Not now. And the thing is, they've taken turns with the talking stick. Graves has spoken up. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor has, too. And after the 0-2 start, even some guys who previously took a laissez-faire approach to guidance suddenly got tough.

"There was a lot of joking, a lot of playing, just guys not doing it the Virginia Tech way, pretty much, during camp and the season," Carmichael said.

"I even went to Coach [Torrian] Gray and I said something to him, and he was like, 'You're a leader. You've got to figure it out on your own.' I was like, 'I'm going to let them try to grow up on their own,' and it didn't work.

"When we lost those two games, I had to end it. I was like, 'This is how we do it. This is what we're going to do. If you don't like it, you can meet me at my locker, or I'll meet you at your locker, and that's it. If you can't follow, then you've got to go.' Everybody followed."

We know what's happened since. The Hokies have reeled off 11 consecutive wins. They got themselves another ACC title and Orange Bowl bid.

And tonight, they face Luck and Stanford. It's a big game. A lot of smoke's being blown.

But I think Morgan's right: Somebody's coming for them. And whoever Tech's leader is tonight won't have to ask his followers twice.

Weather Journal

News tips, photos and feedback?
Sign up for free daily news by email