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FSU knows to be wary of Tech's special preparations

The Hokies' efforts are renowned, but the 'Noles have been down this road before.

By BRIAN LANDMAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 31, 2001


JACKSONVILLE -- Florida State coach Bobby Bowden won't need a bug planted in the Virginia Tech locker room or a glass pressed against the wall to know what Frank Beamer will tell his players before Tuesday's Gator Bowl.

In the teams' last meeting, the 1999 Sugar Bowl, the Seminoles upstaged Tech's special teams by blocking a punt for a touchdown and returning a punt for another score to win the national championship.

So, Bowden can hear Beamer clearly, thank you.

"They've always prided themselves on they're going to outkick anybody they play," Bowden said. "I guarantee you he's going to work on that and challenge his guys, 'Ram that thing down Florida State's throat this year.' "

Like the Hokies need a pep talk.

Since 1987, the Hokies have blocked 46 punts, 23 field goals and 21 extra points in 173 games. That's an average of nearly one every two games.

"Our special-teams (play) is a differencemaker," said senior Wayne Ward, a former Plant City High standout who is a sparingly-used tailback but has contributed with two blocked punts this season. "We just go out there and think to ourselves, 'We can change the momentum of the game.' "

"I don't think there's another team in the nation that takes special teams as seriously as we do," added sophomore cornerback Eric Green. "Special teams has won us a lot of games. We go out with the mind frame that if we play well on special teams, we're going to win. It's a challenge for us and we look forward to that challenge every week."

It begins with Beamer, who unlike most of his brethren, coaches the special teams.

"Our coach takes pride in it and that makes everyone else take pride in it," said sophomore cornerback Garnell Wilds, a former Hillsborough High standout. "We practice it every day and when we do, we're very intense."

Rest assured Bowden has mentioned that to his punter, junior Chance Gwaltney. Although he averaged 40.1 yards, he had two punts blocked and the Seminoles finished 99th in the nation with a net average of 32.5 yards. Tech senior Andre' Davis is 17th nationally in punt returns.

"I'm not going to let it intimidate me," Gwaltney said. "Actually, I like knowing you have to be a little faster. It makes you more focused."

Like that's helped other teams this season. Of the Hokies' seven blocked kicks this season, two came against top-ranked Miami on Dec. 1 in Blacksburg, Va., and nearly forged an upset that would have sent shock waves through the BCS standings:

Senior defensive tackle David Pugh, starter, set up a field goal with a first-quarter block of a Hurricanes' field-goal attempt and a 3-0 lead.

Then down 26-18 midway through the fourth quarter, Green blocked a punt that freshman linebacker Brandon Manning returned 22 yards for a touchdown.

"I knew the situation in the game," Green said. "Early in the game, we weren't doing any rushes; we were doing all returns. I came up to Coach on the sideline and I asked if we could do this certain rush and he said, 'Okay. Let's do it.' I told the guys before, 'Get ready to pick it up and score,' because I was going to block it."

Green said he didn't run the play as designed. Instead of drawing the protection away and clearing a path for junior cornerback Ronyell Whitaker, he burst around the right end and threw his body toward the anticipated flight of the ball. He got it and paid a price, slightly hyperextending his left elbow when he crashed to the ground.

Virginia Tech's bid to tie failed when sophomore receiver Ernest Wilford dropped a two-point conversion in the end zone. The 'Canes held on 26-24 and play Nebraska in the Rose Bowl.

So the Hokies are playing for pride, and to gain redemption for allowing FSU to turn the tables on them two years ago in a 46-29 loss in New Orleans.

"That's something that doesn't happen to Virginia Tech," Green said. "That's what we do to other people. We block kicks. We return kicks. They played like us that game."

"It's definitely motivation because we're known as the best special teams in the nation and we didn't show it that game," said Wilds, who sat out 1999 as a redshirt and didn't play against the Seminoles. "We're working hard to guarantee that we show it at the Gator Bowl."

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