BLACKSBURG ——As Virginia Tech's aspirations of becoming a team worthy of at least being mentioned among the nation's top 25 programs started to dwindle early in the fall of 1995, Jim Druckenmiller decided he had kept his mouth shut long enough.
Druckenmiller, a junior quarterback then, already had witnessed a roll call of nightmare scenarios in Virginia Tech's first two games. He'd helplessly stood by watching more than a handful of boneheaded miscues by linemen, and a few too many missed blocking assignments by running backs.
Druckenmiller understands where Virginia Tech's players minds are as they enter today's game against East Carolina (2-0) with nary a victory to their credit after the first two weeks of the season. He has been there before.
So, when yet another lineman whiffed while attempting to block on a goal line drill four days before No. 17 Miami was slated to come to Blacksburg in '95, Druckenmiller finally blew his top. Ripping off his chinstrap and slamming his helmet to the practice field, he let his teammates have it.
"I remember just losing it at some point," said Druckenmiller, who now lives in Memphis, Tenn.
"I remember standing back there and saying 'You know who the hell we have coming to town? This is Miami. It's time to get serious.' I remember the o-line coach (J.B. Grimes) looked at me later and said 'You kind of lost it there.' I said 'I don't care what it takes. We have got to get serious.' I think that's the only time during that stretch I really lost my cool."
Who knows if it was Druckenmiller's tantrum that motivated a change? Whatever the impetus, something started to click that week for Virginia Tech.
The Hokies squeezed by the Hurricanes 13-7 for just their fifth win against a ranked team in 27 tries under coach Frank Beamer, who was in his ninth season in Blacksburg. Tech went on to win 10 games in a row, finishing the season with a Sugar Bowl victory against Texas.
"I can't say we knew when we were going to turn it around, or how we were going to turn it around, but we knew we were good," Druckenmiller said. "It was a lot like this year's team. There's talent out there, and I don't know what the problem is."
East Carolina may not be akin in terms of talent to the Miami team featuring All-American linebacker Ray Lewis and All- Big East running back Danyell Ferguson and wide receiver Jammi German, but the importance of today's game is on a similar level.
Though Virginia Tech can lose today and still have as good a chance at winning the ACC as any other program in the league, the Hokies can avoid some negative history with a win. Tech can sidestep its first 0-3 start since '87, which was Beamer's first season as coach. Of the 11 teams that started 0-3 last season, only one — Nevada — made it to a bowl game.
After Virginia Tech's losses to No. 3 Boise Boise and Football Championship Subdivision opponent James Madison last week, East Carolina doesn't present the easiest opportunity for the Hokies to finally get on the winning side. Ruffin McNeill brought six former Texas Tech assistant coaches with him when he left the Red Raiders' defensive coordinator post to become ECU's coach this season.
Now, ECU's offense looks an awful lot like the one McNeill's defense practiced with in Lubbock, Texas, boasting the nation's 13th best passing offense (318 yards per game) behind Boston College transfer quarterback Dominique Davis, 18th best total offense (481.5 yards per game) and an average of 50 points per game.
Even with the situation getting desperate in Blacksburg, and despite multiple missed tackles and critical errors in the first two games, Tech's defensive coaches and players have remained surprisingly calm. There's only talk of getting it turned around.
"Whoever their No. 1 (wide receiver) is (Dwayne Harris), whoever (Tech defensive coordinator Bud) Foster and (secondardy coach Torrian) Gray assign me to, my goal is for him to have nothing," cornerback Rashad Carmichael said. "No catches, no reverses, no nothing. Just try to delete him from the game."
Based on Druckenmiller's own experiences, it'll take more than one player adopting that kind of attitude to get back on track.
"Everybody has to decide it's time to strap up now," Druckenmiller said. "All the fun has to go to the side. It's time to get serious. That's the only way they're going to turn it around. If you start winning, then you'll breed happiness and breed fun, but you have to win first."