All last week leading up to Virginia Tech's season-opener against to-ranked Alabama, coach Frank Beamer praised his opponent as the best team the Hokies had ever faced.
Beamer saw a good team in the Crimson Tide, but what he didn't expect to see was one of the worst special teams efforts Virginia Tech had ever had. Thanks to poor coverage and missed assignments, Alabama returned a 72-yard punt for a touchdown as well as a kickoff, 94 yards for a score.
Much of it, Beamer chalks up to youth, but it's still a far cry from what the Hokies expect, especially for a program that's coined the phrase, 'Beamer Ball,' for its special teams prowess. Special teams play was also bad enough that a number of veteran players, mostly on defense, volunteered to play on special teams as well.
"When you have youth in special teams play, it can get you," Beamer said. "All special teams play, it's in wide open spaces and they're big, big momentum plays. Whichever way it goes, it's a momentum play. It just takes good people and experienced people, sometimes, to play those special teams. We're trying to get some younger guys, in some cases, the chance to do that, but they just need a little more time. They're gonna be good, they're gonna be fine, but we just wanna get our most experienced, capable guys in there."
This is the second straight season that Virginia Tech has been forced to play a number of inexperienced players. Thinking about it, Beamer said a couple of factors have been the culprit.
"I think we have in the last few years, missed on some people recruiting-wise," he said. "Then, if they're not good enough, it doesn't take long for that to show up. I think that's been part of it, I think injuries have been part of it. I think it's just a combination."
"I'll say this, I think we've got a lot of good, young players," Beamer said. "I really like the young players that we've got. You take the two corners that played in the game, Facyson and Fuller, they're what you're looking for."
Of course, it helps that the Hokies are now past what will likely be their toughest opponent this season. It was a chance for their young players to get many of the jitters and nerves out of the way.
"They were very good and going into the thing, we certainly didn't plan on the number of injuries, the number of people we'd be playing without," Beamer said. 'But I think we have a chance to be a really good football team. We've got some work to do, some execution to do, but I think the central parts are there to be a really good football team."
Beamer hopes that was the worst of the special teams and overall youthfulness he'll see this season.