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September 6, 2010

Special teams specialists in spotlight

BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer is a special teams guru, and he gushes over the way Boise State excels at a part of the game that sometimes is overlooked.

Broncos coach Chris Petersen, meanwhile, is equally effusive in his praise of the Hokies' play on special teams.

Both go into Monday night's matchup between the No. 3 Broncos and the No. 10 Hokies at Landover, Md., knowing that one big special teams play could determine who wins the game.

Virginia Tech has blocked 124 kicks in 281 games under Beamer. It has scored 44 touchdowns on blocked kicks and punt returns, and last season scored three special teams touchdowns, all in different ways: a kickoff return, a punt return and a blocked punt.

Beamer said it's getting harder to find an edge when kickers are on the field.

"I think special teams have really improved in the last 10 years," he said this week. "Used to be you could outscheme some people, but not much anymore. You look at Boise State, I think one publication had them with the No. 1 special teams group in the country.

"They put their best people over there. They've got starters over there."

That's exactly how the Hokies have made their units stand out, and their success in that and in scoring on defense spawned a nickname: Beamerball.

But what might someday be known as Petersenball is pretty productive, too.

The Broncos have blocked 18 kicks in Petersen's four years and returned seven kicks for scores. Wideout Titus Young brought two kickoffs back for TDs of 100 and 95 yards last year.

The Broncos also converted a fake punt on 4th-and-9 from their own 33 yard-line in the third quarter in the Fiesta Bowl last year, keeping a drive alive for the winning score.

"They don't take a back seat to anyone," Beamer said.

But Petersen said the Hokies' schemes are more difficult "because you see it all," and the tradition of making things happen on special teams makes players eager to be involved.

"Somehow, some way, they get those guys to play harder than most," he said.

Beamer's punt block team - he calls it Pride & Joy - includes wideouts Dyrell Roberts, Danny Coale, Marcus Davis and D.J. Coles, and defensive backs Cris Hill, Davon Morgan and Eddie Whitley. The unit blocked three kicks in the Hokies' final two preseason scrimmages.

"I think we've got a good crowd," Beamer said. "We've got guys that have speed there. I like our potential. Now it's a matter of we got to get it done. With Boise, they come out in so many different sets, you got to be ready for that. They get you thinking a little bit."

While the good news for Beamer was the three blocks, the bad news was that his first-team punt protection team was getting beat too often. He thinks that has been fixed.

"You've got some new people there," he said. "They're doing it for the first time. Experience is a wonderful thing and we're trying to get them as much experience as we can."


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