Living on the edge, Virginia Tech can't afford complacency against UNC

Our bloodiest falls, literal and figurative, occur when we're riding high and/or not paying attention. It happened to me as a kid, face-planting into cement steps while running mindlessly in the garage, getting pinched for cutting school after a decent report card.

"You just can't stand prosperity, can you?" my father often lamented.

Virginia Tech's football team last season learned the perils of such arrogance and inattentiveness.

Tech was 2-0 and ranked 13th nationally. Pittsburgh was 0-2 and had lost at home by 14 points to Youngstown State from the Championship Subdivision.


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Hokies faithful recall all too well what happened when the teams clashed at Heinz Field.

Pitt 35, Tech 17. And it wasn't that close. The Panthers scored the game's first 21 points, outrushed the Hokies 254-59 and intercepted Logan Thomas three times.

So began the Hokies' slog to 7-6, their worst record in 20 years, a decline that prompted Frank Beamer to restructure his coaching staff.

Why unearth this orange-and-maroon unpleasantness more than a week before Pitt visits Lane Stadium? Because Tech faces a similar situation this week.

The Hokies (4-1, 1-0 ACC) are unranked — hardly an outrage — but have won four straight since an opening loss to No. 1 Alabama. Moreover, they're fresh off their most impressive performance, a 17-10 road upset of Georgia Tech.

In short, Tech is feeling pretty spry entering Saturday's homecoming against North Carolina.

Conversely, the Tar Heels (1-3, 0-1) are reeling from a 55-31 home thrashing from East Carolina, the same East Carolina that Tech defeated on the road 15-10.

Now the Pirates are a credible bunch, and their spread offense baffles many Conference USA opponents. But after watching the Hokies limit ECU to 204 yards, I never imagined the Pirates hanging 603 on North Carolina.

ECU ran 101 plays, the most ever by a Tar Heels opponent, and had 36 first downs. Vintavius Cooper, who rushed for 28 yards on eight carries against Tech, had 186 on 35 versus UNC.

"The film didn't show us anything to make us feel any better about it, I can tell you that," Tar Heels coach Larry Fedora said at his Monday presser.

Even Beamer called it a "miserable game" for North Carolina.

The more the Pirates scored Saturday, the worse I thought it was for the Hokies. You could just picture them, chillin' after Thursday's victory in Atlanta, watching ECU dump-truck North Carolina, and thinking, "Man, we're gonna trample these guys."

But Virginia Tech's offense is too erratic, its margin of error too balance-beam narrow to afford a hint of complacency or overconfidence.

The Hokies' recent victories over ECU, Marshall and Georgia Tech mark only the second time in Beamer's 27 seasons that they have beaten three consecutive Bowl Subdivision opponents by a touchdown or less — the other stretch was in 2008 over Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Nebraska.

Such is Virginia Tech's life on the edge, and such is college football, where judging a team based on recent performances is unavoidable but perilous.

Case in point: Pittsburgh holding Virginia to three points a week after allowing 55 to Duke. Or, West Virginia beating No. 11 Oklahoma State a week after losing to Maryland by 37.

Virginia Tech has one asset Saturday against North Carolina it did not have last year against Pitt: memories of an embarrassing defeat — the Tar Heels smoked the Hokies 48-34 last season, outrushing them 339-40.

Think defensive coordinator Bud Foster recalls that afternoon? Think he's reminded his players?

"We only have to remember last year and how we got pounded down at North Carolina," Beamer said Monday before reciting the rushing stats.

Vegas likes the Hokies by about a touchdown Saturday and figures to favor them in subsequent games against Pitt, Duke and Boston College, the latter on the road. But beware of penciling them in for 8-1 and top 15 in the polls headed to Miami in early November.

"It's unpredictable," Beamer said. "I can't tell you the reason, but you better be ready to play every Saturday. We learned that last year. When you think things are about right, that's when they're getting ready to go wrong."

David Teel can be reached at 757-247-4636 or by email at dteel@dailypress.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/ teeltime and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP

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