This article kicks off my fifth year writing Slept On It for The Key Play, a journey that has given me an opportunity to reflect on some pretty amazing victories and some incredibly demoralizing losses. Some games are a blast to recap, while others can be arduous. I'm sure you can guess where this one falls. When I woke up Tuesday morning, I took a look back at the second Slept On It column I ever wrote, the day after Tech upset Ohio State in The Horseshoe. Trying to put Monday night's win in context, I couldn't help but recall the delirium of that Saturday night in 2014 where a plucky Hokies team shocked the eventual National Champion Buckeyes on the road.
No one is confusing the 2018 Florida State Seminoles with that Buckeye squad. Sure, both rosters ooze talent, thanks to years of recruiting at an extremely high level. But on the heels of a 7-win season, new FSU head coach Willie Taggart was tasked with rebuilding the program's culture while integrating new offensive and defensive systems. Unlike that Week 2 trip to Columbus four years ago, knocking off the 'Noles in a hostile environment never felt like an impossible task.
In that 2014 column, I tried to identify what the win meant for the rest of the Hokies' season. The win caused me, and probably a lot of you, to re-evaluate what we thought the team was capable of. It all turned out to be a fool's errand, as the Hokies went on to lose the next two games to ECU and Georgia Tech, infamously lost a battle of futility at Wake Forest, and needed a win over UVa to keep the bowl streak alive. In my defense (and probably all of yours, too), it's hard not to get caught up in the hype after a big win. The commentators wax poetic about the impending "statement win" as the game clock slowly ticks toward zeroes. Fans rapidly refresh message boards, amplifying the echo chamber. But most importantly, your brain has trouble comprehending the fact that the team can win a big game like that and toss a total dud the following week against lesser competition.
Allow me to throw a bucket of cold water on you. Stop trying to put this game in context. Fight the urge to forecast the rest of the season after this win.
Flash back to Monday afternoon, when most people had no idea what to expect from the Hokies, especially the defensive unit. After watching such a lopsided victory, I can't help but feel like the win provided more significant questions than answers. For instance, did we underrate the Tech defense, or did they play a solid game against a subpar offensive line, a quarterback taking his first snaps in twelve months and an offense learning a new system? Is Josh Jackson markedly improved over Year One, or is he benefitting from a deeper and more talented supporting cast?
Take the victory for what it was: a signature road win against a storied program that many perceived as superior. It didn't suddenly erase all of the inexperience on defense, depth issues along the defensive line or the inconsistency of the rushing attack.
What it did reinforce is that the Hokies are blessed with a coaching staff that has an incredible ability to put their players in positions to succeed. The offense's opening drive illustrated how surgical Fuente and Cornelsen's system can be. And the performance confirmed that Bud Foster is the best defensive coordinator in college football. Against a team full of freak athletes and highly regarded prospects, the Hokies rolled into Tallahassee with little fanfare and thrashed the 'Noles on their home turf.
The irony was that Tech hardly fielded a team of formerly unrated recruits. The youth movement that simultaneously excited and struck the fear of God into the hearts of Hokies everywhere marked the beginning of a new era of Hokie football, one characterized by the prevalence of Fuente-era recruits. The skill sets and physical makeups that the coaching staff labored over on the recruiting trail came together on national television, and lordy was it a beautiful sight. After a decidedly pro-Florida State pregame show and early broadcast, Kirk Herbstreit finally began singing the Hokies' praises by halftime, commenting on how Tech finally "looked the part" after fielding a team full of "long and athletic players." It was as though the Hokies had been running a bunch of weebles out there the past three decades and lucked their way to 25 straight bowl games and seven conference titles.
[Producer: Mr. Herbstreit, I've got Tremaine Edmunds on Line 1]
For all of the attention that the coaching staff is receiving in the wake of their big win — most notably Foster — the coaches can only do so much. Credit the players for executing the game plan and, to be frank, balling out on a big stage. To highlight the defensive performance: 9 of FSU's 15 drives went for 10 yards or less, and 35 of FSU's 63 offensive plays went for zero or negative yards. The staff prepared their squad well, but it was up to the players to consistently win at the point of attack and they did so in spades.
There were so many standout performers on Monday night that it's hard not to find one highlight play from each offensive and defensive contributor. The veterans were steady all night long, and the newcomers were incredibly dynamic. There was this beautiful combination of deadly execution and sheer athleticism on display more often than I can ever recall. I cackled like a maniac multiple times after guys like Khalil Ladler, Caleb Farley, Trevon Hill and House Gaines made electric plays. Despite its frustrating moments, the game was a joy to watch.
It's impossible not to be excited about the future of Hokies football after Monday night's performance. Whether it's near-term success against William & Mary or East Carolina, or long-term success on a national level, there's a heck of a lot of promise. Tech's domination of a perennial power showed what this team is capable of when playing at a high level. The challenge will be replicating that successful formula on a weekly basis while avoiding substantial injuries at key positions. Given the lack of experience across the roster, there will be mistake-laden games and head-scratching performances.
But as you continue to reflect on your Labor Day euphoria, resist the urge to bet your kid's college fund on a 2018 Hokies national championship. Do not take out full page ads in the Washington Post to officially announce Caleb Farley's Heisman campaign. Lose the call-in number for The Paul Finebaum Show to avoid associating Virginia Tech fans with the imbecilic (albeit entertaining) SEC diehards.
Let's take this one week at a time.