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Keeler: Fortunes dim for Hokies, Cavaliers

Tommy Keeler

By Tommy Keeler Jr.

It seems like just yesterday I was writing a column about how Virginia was closing the gap on Virginia Tech, and how strong both programs could be.

Well, it was actually two years ago. Time flies when you're having fun, or not having fun in the case of Virginia coach Mike London and Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer.

It turns out I was half-right on thinking the programs would soon be on even terms, it just turns out that was on the losing side of things. The two programs are now a combined 5-7 this season.

The records for both Virginia and Virginia Tech are bad enough, but I think what is worse is how badly they're losing to teams that aren't powerhouse programs.

This past weekend may have been the lowest point yet in what's been a season of disappointments for the two squads. Virginia lost 42-17 to Duke, while Virginia Tech was defeated 48-34 by North Carolina. The losses wouldn't be so bad if they were playing basketball.

For the Cavaliers, it's been a running theme -- the offense falls apart in the second half. In back-to-back weeks, the Cavaliers have seen halftime leads vanish and turn into devastating losses.

In a 44-38 loss to Louisiana Tech on Sept. 29, the Cavaliers led 24-20 at the half. They gave up 24 consecutive points before rallying to make the game close in the final minutes.

This past week against Duke, the Cavs led 17-14 but then once again struggled. They allowed the Blue Devils to score 28 points in the second half, while the Cavs' offense apparently left Wade Wallace Stadium. The Cavaliers had only two rushing yards in the second half. Two? A local Pee Wee football team could do better than that. They managed only five first downs in the second half.

To me, some of the Cavs' problems start with recruiting. I'm not a huge fan of any of Virginia's running backs that I've seen. Tailback Perry Jones seems like he would be better as a fullback than a tailback. He just doesn't have that explosive play-making ability that you look for in a top rusher. They also continue to have problems at quarterback. Michael Rocco started the season as the top guy, and this week they switched to Phillip Sims. The transfer from Alabama had respectable numbers (21 of 42 for 268 yards). However, he had no touchdowns and threw two interceptions.

I'm not really sure he's going to be any more of a solution than Rocco was. I really thought two years ago that London was on the right track with recruiting, but I'm starting to have some doubts now.

That brings me to Virginia Tech. The Hokies have been very uncharacteristic this season. The offense has been stagnant, but that's not a real surprise. Quarterback Logan Thomas is OK, but I'm not convinced he's as good as some of the hype on him. The running game is a mess, but some of that can be attributed to Beamer having several running backs leave early to go to the NFL.

The big shocker with Virginia Tech's problems have been with the defense and even special teams. The Hokies' defense has been shredded so far this season, especially through the air. In their three losses, they've given up an average of 36.7 points per game.

After a 27-24 loss to Cincinnati on Sept. 15, Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster got very testy with the media. Foster went on a tirade, which included a lot of swear words. That shows me that he's feeling the heat a little bit, and clearly things did not get better with their loss to North Carolina this week.

One problem I feel like Virginia and Virginia Tech have in common is I think both programs may need a change. I'm not talking about getting rid of Beamer or London, but if the season doesn't finish better than it it's started they may need to take a look at getting rid of some of the assistants.

Sometimes things can simply get stale, and you just need to shake things up to get everyone's attention. Virginia had a great season last year, but the Cavs were pounded in the Chick-fil-A Bowl game. In order to take those next steps, sometimes a fine-tuning of the staff may be necessary.

It's a little different for the Hokies, who have been the model of consistency in college football for years. However, they've only played for a national championship once, and let's be honest, Michael Vick had a lot to do with that. Beamer has been very loyal to his assistants over the years, but I think a change may be needed. Sometimes things can get just a little too comfortable, and a change could really help the program even more.

Certainly there's plenty of time for both teams to be successful this season. However, if they don't turn things around soon both programs may have to make some very painful decisions in what would be a very long offseason.

Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com

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