Friday, December 30, 2011

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Curfew violation puts stain on Hokies' game plan

NEW ORLEANS - Frank Beamer stood on the Superdome field and held up his daily practice plan. He pointed down at each of the boxes and rattled off all the moments during Thursday's workout when the kicker would be tested in a gamelike setting.

"Right here we have a field goal," he said. "And right here we have a field goal. Right here, in this two-minute situation, we kick a field goal if we can get there. We've got our second down, third down - kick a field goal there.

"I think the more you run out and do the one kick in front of the whole team, the more confidence they build to knock it through the middle."

The itinerary was detailed, and it did put a lot of much-needed emphasis on special teams.

Strange, though: The entire left side of the page was covered in a giant yellow stain.

"That's where I spilled my coffee this morning," Beamer said.

The coach could be forgiven if he'd done a spit-take when he heard the news.

Another kicker? Now? On the first night?

Yes. Virginia Tech's biggest question mark coming into the Sugar Bowl just turned into an exclamation point. "Can Tyler Weiss get it done at place-kicker?" has morphed into "You've got to be kidding me!"

Weiss is no longer in New Orleans with his teammates. He missed curfew in the early hours Thursday, the first night the Hokies were in town. That's also just hours after the coaches and local city officials gave an hourlong -presentation on the perils players might face this bowl week - and the potential consequences of bad decisions.

The message, apparently, did not resonate with Weiss, who you have to believe had waited his entire career for this chance. The Murray State transfer was set to be the guy on short and intermediate field goals following last week's arrest and indefinite suspension of starter Cody Journell.

Now he's another cautionary tale.

There are no court dates connected with this one, fortunately. Only a 26-hour bus ride (with three connections) from the Big Easy to Blacksburg that Beamer promised any curfew violators.

If nothing else, this incident shows the rest of the team that Beamer's not kidding when he gives the Greyhound spiel every year. The joke, of course, is always that you're more likely to get sent home if you're some backup walk-on.

Probably some truth to that. But Tech actually needed this backup walk-on.

If you were to make a list of 10 players the Hokies really couldn't afford to lose this week, Weiss' name would be on it. He wasn't experienced, but at least he'd done something, connecting on 7-of-10 field goal attempts and 32 PATs as a Murray State freshman.

"As much emphasis as we have put on this," Beamer said, "it shouldn't have happened."

Beamer wouldn't say whether his strategy would change against Michigan now that he's down to his third-string place-kicker, Justin Myer. Let's assume it will, though. Fourth-and-2 from the 18? Strap it up, Logan Thomas. The Hokies are going for it.

Myer, meanwhile, becomes the unsuspecting recipient of the Sugar Bowl spotlight. Two weeks ago, his job description for this game was pretty simple: Trot on, boom a few touchbacks, maybe make one saving tackle on coverage if need be.

Now he's the focal point of all those moments on Beamer's stained itinerary.

He seemed a little nervous talking to the media on Thursday. But that's understandable; it's his first time in this situation.

"Not too much now," he said, when asked if he had some jitters. "I've had experience out in front of the crowd with kicking off, but this is going to be a little bit different. I'm sure nerves are going to hit me a little bit here later."

They'll probably hit Beamer, too, right about the time he's got to make the decision to kick it or go.

"He's got the capabilities," Beamer said of Myer, "and I think he's got the maturity to step in, and we need him to."

More important, the Hokies hope he has the maturity to step away from the kinds of decisions that have decimated his position in the span of seven days.

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