Spread(s) The Word

The odds makers hit it on the head: Virginia Tech will beat West Virginia.

It must. It's a face- and program-saving game in Blacksburg, the kind not seen around these parts in a long time.

There is little question the Hokies have been media darlings in the past. Respect came even with its Boston Collegesque 11-10 Big East record the past three seasons. But the initial recruiting boost from the 10-win seasons is gone. Add in the Vick scandals and Frank Beamer's proud program has been dragged through the mud to the woodshed by Pitt, BC, the ‘Hoos and Mountaineers over the last three years.

The role reversal is simply startling. Tech, 2-2, must defeat undefeated WVU or its collective season is nearly over. A difficult Atlantic Coast Conference slate waits with trips to Georgia Tech and Miami and home games with Maryland and Virginia.

If the Hokies lose to WVU, they must win all other games and beat one of the aforementioned opponents just to be bowl eligible.

If not, it is home for the holidays for the first time in 11 seasons.

And this year there is no horizon game. Last year then-No. 3 Tech looked past 1-4 West Virginia to Miami the following week and was upset handily. Not now: The Mountaineers will get the focused Hokies' best punch; they better be able to hit back.

Problem is, West Virginia has been uninspiring in its four wins, and needed five turnovers to defeat Maryland on the home field in overtime. For its part, Tech has lost five of its last seven, and only an overtime win over lowly Temple saved it from being seven of nine.

The swagger is gone. What has replaced it is more dangerous.

Virginia Tech knows it is beatable. It knows West Virginia has more experience and talent. The days of BCS-or-Bust are bust. The jig's up, fellas, and the No. 6/7 Mountaineers are comin' to town.

A quiet, scared-for-its-season team remains. And it will fight and claw and eye-gouge to the end. That's West Virginia football, and the Mountaineers will taste their own style on the grass at Lane Stadium Saturday.

Tech scaled back the signature Bud Foster blitzing, big-play style to avoid getting beat deep. West Virginia has shown little intermediate passing game, only beating teams deep or with huge rushing bursts.

The Hokies lack a big-play back like Lee Suggs or Kevin Jones. Mike Imoh will start, and must carry some of the load, for QB Bryan Randall has but frosh wideouts at which to throw.

Randall is 55 of 92 passing for 700 yards and four scores this year. But he was sacked 10 times during last weekend's loss to North Carolina State as the o-line resembled a sieve. Nobody should compare WVU's cover-oriented, stuff-the-run stack against the Pack's No. 1 ranked attacking style, however.

Said WVU's Pac-Man Jones after WVU recorded just its second, third and fourth sacks of the season versus James Madison: "It's a D-IAA team. We're supposed to do that."

Great, but where's the rush against lesser teams like East Carolina and Central Florida? One sack in three I-A games. Marshall was sacked three times alone against JMU.

And flat or not, the run was bottled up by James Madison's eight-man front, the same front a more talented Tech team will run.

In special teams, eight of Tech's nine blocked kicks against WVU have come in Blacksburg. A disaster awaits with WVU's three-man second-line allowing teams to get closer to the punter.

West Virginia keeps insisting it has not played its "A" game. It is 1/4 of the way through the season. When do we see it? Last year it was against Virginia Tech, though as WVU head coach Rich Rodriguez said, those games do not come around very often. The Mountaineers needed perfection and got it.

The last time West Virginia beat the Hokies three times or more in a row was 1981-85. It was also the last time it won two consecutive games in Blacksburg.

Question is, which team can impose their rushing will on the other? In that matchup I like the mentally tougher team, the one that has been through difficult games and played solid competition. That team is not West Virginia.

Kay Jay Harris is nursing a twinged hamstring, and nobody has shown the north-south rushing of Avon Cobourne or Quincy Wilson needed to defeat Virginia Tech. This is a trench game, won in the very heart of the gridiron. And it will take having the very grit from which the Black Diamond trophy's namesake comes.

It's gut-check time for West Virginia at some point Saturday. Tech can play comfortably from behind. If West Virginia is losing, it will tighten up with the noise and more on the line.

WVU keeps insisting it belongs in the Top 10. Prove it, Mountaineers.

This 50th meeting earns Beamer his third win over a top 10 team in 25 tries. Va. Tech, 21-17.

Matt Keller is a former Blue & Gold News staffer who isn't afraid to take heat for his opinions. Contrary to what you may be thinking, he was not fired for penning columns such as this.

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