North Carolina head coach Butch Davis knows that Virginia Tech will not lie down and relinquish its Atlantic Coast Conference title despite having a young team this fall. Davis anticipates a real battle on Saturday afternoon on the field at Kenan Stadium, and in Wednesday's weekly ACC teleconference, he broke down some of what he expects to see out of the visiting Hokies.
"When you play Virginia Tech, they're probably as challenging to prepare for as any team that you'll play throughout the course of the season. They're very, very good in all three phases. Certainly with Frank Beamer's reputation in special teams and the number of big plays that they've made over the course of many seasons, certainly your preparation when you play Virginia Tech starts with being fundamentally sound and doing a good job in special teams."
"Defensively, they are a very, very stingy defense that doesn't give up big plays. They're very aggressive, so you've got to do an excellent job of making sure that your (pass) protections are sound, making sure that we do the things we did last week that gave us a chance to win the game, protect the football and be very, very fundamentally sound there."
"Offensively, they've undergone a little bit of a transition and a change, although we saw Tyrod Taylor a little bit last year with him playing pretty much exclusively as the quarterback. He adds just an unbelievably dynamic element to their offense---very similar to the position specifics that they enjoyed with Michael Vick at quarterback - a young athlete that's got a very, very strong arm that can throw the football and create a lot of things with his legs. In every game, I'm sure he's gaining more confidence and more experience."
"They've got some talented, gifted wide receivers and a very big offensive line, so it's a game that for us, it's a great measuring stick to find out if we're making some progress as a football program and we'll find that out on Saturday."
Has there been any advantage to having an extra couple of days to prepare for Virginia Tech with the Thursday night game?
"Slightly so, although it wasn't as big of an advantage from a time standpoint, but it gave us an opportunity to kind of enjoy the victory after the Rutgers game on Friday, and then to grade the film and show it to the players, and put Rutgers behind us and turn our attention to Saturday. We encouraged the players---although they had the day off, to go home and watch the Virginia Tech-Georgia Tech game on television, which I think that probably a high percentage of them probably did that. It gave our coaches a little bit more of an opportunity to work on Saturday."
"You hedge your bets a little bit. You're always a little premature about making any final assessments about game plans and stuff until your opponent plays their game that afternoon. I guess probably the one advantage is that we gained maybe a couple of hours on Sunday afternoon when we got the players together and a chance to watch some film with them and start to introduce Virginia Tech's personnel and who they are and kind of a preliminary scouting report. So maybe a half-a-day advantage than what we enjoyed against Rutgers."
Will the Rutgers game have any impact on the Virginia Tech game?
"I actually don't know how much previous games impact (subsequent games). Where I think that you gain a little bit in a program is that the longer you're at a place, and you continue to do the things that you're doing, then there's some carryover value in that your players can learn from the successes and failures of previous years and it gives you those shared experiences that you can draw upon, that now when you start to introduce an opponent---and certainly this week it's Virginia Tech---and you can talk about here's their structure, here's their scheme, here's how they line up---There is a bit of a carry-over, but how the game unfolded, every game and every season is an entity of itself. How you played last year doesn't ensure one single thing about how you're going to play this year."
How do you create a 'game plan' for special teams?
"I think with all of your skill players, what you do is that you certainly game plan for an opportunity for every one of them---not just Brandon (Tate) or Hakeem (Nicks) or Brooks (Foster) and the tight ends and the running backs---you game plan for opportunities. You speculate how the other team within their structure, how do they play and where might opportunities occur---but teams tinker and they tweak with their schemes and their packages, and they try to do certain things to take certain guys away, and somebody that you think maybe their role was going to be the second option or the third option, they may all of a sudden suddenly explode, and they may get more opportunities just because a team is playing you a certain way. So I think that as the program grows---as we get fundamentally better and we start to develop explosive guys at all areas---that's kind of the way."
Thoughts about the depth he enjoyed during his time at Miami ..
"When I was at Miami, we were very fortunate that when we went into a ball game, you could say, 'Okay, if they're going to try to take away Reggie Wayne away, we need Andre Johnson or Santana Moss to have big games. If they're going to try to take away the passing game, then Edgerrin James or Clinton Portis or whoever the running backs happened to be, they needed to have a big game. Or if they're going to take the wideouts away, the tights ends have got to have a big thing, throw it to Jeremy Shockey or any of those guys."
"Hopefully that's kind of the direction that we're headed, that you don't just go into it and say, 'Come hell or high water, we're getting this guy, he's getting 20 touches,' and the scheme won't allow that,' and hopefully we're moving in that direction."
"I definitely think he's improved. I think that Brandon, he's worked very, very hard in the offseason. He's conditioned himself extremely well. I think he's worked on a lot of the intricacies of becoming a good receiver, as opposed to just having the label of being a good kick returner---learning how to run routes really well, how to set guys up, how to block."
"I think one of the greatest trademarks of any receiver is the ability to play well without the ball---that you know you may not be the No. 1 read in a given play---and I think that's the hallmark of really good players---that if you're the second guy or the third guy, you still run it like you're the primary receiver, because eventually you will be the No. 1 read in some plays. I just respect Brandon for the way in which he's approached this season."
Thoughts about Virginia Tech and the challenge they'll face on Saturday despite being so young ..
"I think we're smart enough to understand that every game is a challenge, and when a coach has been at a place as long as Frank has, you really don't rebuild---you just kind of reload---and they've enjoyed a lot of success there. The players that are playing this year look so similar to the players that have just departed. I mean, they've got the same athletic specifics."
"They're a big, physical front four on the defensive line. The tackles are massive, big guys and powerful guys. The linebackers are athletic. The corners, you can't tell the difference between Victor Harris and DeAngelo Hall. You don't rebuild---you just stick another guy in that's exactly the same. I think our guys are smart enough to realize that you look at film, you watch film, and the truth is the truth, and they're a good football team, and a very good defensive football team."
"I hope that our players realize that no one game defines a season, unless you're fortunate enough to run the table and you win the last game of the year---then that's a defining moment for the program---but during the course of the season, the season is so long, it's a marathon. It's not a sprint, and you've got to play well each and every week. You've got to make adjustments. You've got to grow. You've got to gain experience. Hopefully you stay healthy so that your kids can enjoy the benefits of gaining some experience. It's a big challenge. It's an ACC game, but you know, it's the next game on the schedule. It's game number three, and that's the way you have to approach it."
What do you think the game atmosphere will be like in Kenan Stadium on Saturday afternoon?
"I'd probably be a poor person to ask, because I haven't been out of the office since probably last Saturday, so I don't know. One thing that has impressed me since becoming the head coach (at North Carolina) is how much passion and enthusiasm and excitement that there truly, really is for Carolina football. Our students, last year they were phenomenal---the Tar Pit, going to the Old Well Walk, showing up at the stadium, being there early, being loud, getting into the game, being a part of the experience and not just a spectator." "When you looked at the rain delay that we had against McNeese, and when we came back out, the student section and the band were still packed. I mean, it was the one section of the stadium nobody had went home. I'm sure the student body on campus is excited about the game this weekend, and I know that they'll show up and be a part of it."