In frank beamer's 23 years of coaching, no stretch was tougher than the last 10 days of October. It started when his third-ranked Virginia Tech team let a potential undefeated season slip away for the fourth time in as many years, losing 28-7 at West Virginia on Oct. 22. Then, having been caught on camera slapping receiver Ernest Wilford on the helmet during the game, Beamer was ashamed and apologized for his uncharacteristic behavior. Finally there was the intense preparation for last Saturday's game against Big East nemesis Miami, which hadn't lost a regular-season game since September 2000 and hadn't been beaten by a conference opponent since November 1999.
"I was embarrassed by the Ernest situation, and I must be taking losses harder than I did when I was younger, because I wasn't sleeping," said Beamer. "It was an awful week."
What a difference beating the Hurricanes can make. By demolishing Miami 31-7, the Hokies moved back into the national title picture, jumping five spots in the AP poll to No. 5 and moving up to No. 6 in the BCS standings. Virginia Tech got back on track by playing Beamer's signature brand of football: opportunistic defense and momentous special teams play. Among the highlights: junior cornerback Eric Green's blocked field goal in the first quarter, junior cornerback DeAngelo Hall's fumble recovery and 28-yard return for a touchdown in the second quarter, and Green's 51-yard interception return for a touchdown in the third quarter. Hall's and Green's scores gave the defense and special teams a combined 10 touchdowns this season, the most in the nation.
Virginia Tech had strayed from Beamerball against West Virginia. The defense allowed tailback Quincy Wilson to rush for 178 yards, and the special teams did nothing special. Before the game, Beamer had noticed a lack of spark in his players, so after bringing them together for an emotional team meeting, during which he apologized to Wilford and challenged the players to reclaim the season, he gave the team two days off. Then preparations for Miami began in earnest. "We have never watched as much tape of ourselves or of our opponent as we did last week," said Green.
Bolstered by an outpouring of support—Beamer received numerous calls last week from colleagues, and the team was met by an especially large throng of cheering fans on its traditional pregame walk from the bus to the locker room—the Hokies took the field with renewed confidence. Green's block 12 minutes into the game set the tone, and Virginia Tech held Miami to its lowest scoring output since October 1997. "We knew that if we played with emotion and got back to good defense and special teams, we could beat anybody in the country," said Green. "It's Virginia Tech's thing." The win was the school's first against a team ranked higher than No. 9.
The game ball could have gone to any number of Hokies, including the ubiquitous Green, who also had 11 tackles; junior tailback Kevin Jones, who ran for 124 yards and a touchdown; or even freshman quarterback Marcus Vick, college football's most scrutinized little brother, who stepped in for a struggling Bryan Randall and tossed a 43-yard scoring strike to Wilford. But the players awarded the ball to Beamer, who, after not having cracked so much as a smile for 10 days, grinned widely. "I've been through a lot here," he said, "but that moment will be my most memorable."