ATLANTA — For Frank Beamer, this is the beginning of the end.
It seems appropriate to start his brief farewell tour on a Thursday night in Atlanta.
Beamer used these non-traditional games to help draw attention to Virginia Tech as he was building the Hokies into a national powerhouse.
Over the years, Georgia Tech was often the opponent.
“That’s what this program is all about,” Beamer said. “It gave us our identity here that we were a total program and a football team that played hard and played well most of the time.”
In recent seasons, Virginia Tech (4-5, 2-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) hasn’t won nearly enough. Since 2011, when the Hokies last played in the ACC championship game, they are 14-15 in league games and just 26-22 overall.
Feeling the heat, Beamer announced last week that this season, his 29th in Blacksburg, will be his last. About the only thing left to play for is the nation’s longest active streak of bowl appearances, which is at 22 in a row.
“For somebody to do something 29 years at a place he loves, for the people he loves, for guys he loves, it doesn’t get any better,” said Beamer, the winningest active BCS coach with a career record of 277-143-4. “I’ve been fortunate they’ve kept me around here that long.”
Virginia Tech will be playing on a Thursday night for the 30th time. Only Georgia Tech, making its 31st appearance, has done it more. Often, they wind up playing each other, with the Hokies holding a 5-0 edge over the Yellow Jackets in this time slot, including victories on the last two trips to Bobby Dodd Stadium.
“I like playing at that stadium,” said Beamer, who owns a home about an hour’s drive away on Lake Oconee. “You look up and see the buildings and Atlanta. It’s got a lot atmosphere right there in a big city. I think our players look forward to it.”
Georgia Tech is tied for the nation’s second-longest streak of bowl appearances with 18 in a row. The Yellow Jackets (3-6, 1-5) face an even more daunting task than the Hokies, needing to close the season with a three-game winning streak to ensure their postseason eligibility.
That won’t be easy, considering Georgia Tech has lost six of its last seven games and could start as many as eight freshmen against Virginia Tech, the fallout from a rash of injuries and even some unexpected losses. While the team was off last week, starting receiver Micheal Summers suddenly quit without providing an explanation other than “he didn’t want to play anymore,” according to coach Paul Johnson.
Figuring he’s got nothing to lose, Johnson wants to play as many of his freshmen as possible over the last three games. If nothing else, he’ll get a jump on next season.
“It’s a good class, well balanced with some good players,” the coach said. “Unfortunately, we’ve had to play a bunch of them too soon.”
Here are some other things to watch for in the battle of the Techs:
MCMILLIAN STEPS UP: Virginia Tech freshman Travon McMillian has rushed for an average of 110.5 yards in the last four games, including two straight 100-yard performances. He’s seventh in the ACC with 665 yards.
STRUGGLING JUSTIN: Without much help around him, Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas has fallen off in both the running game (his 3.6-yard average is down significantly from last season’s 5.7) and through the air (completing just 43.6 percent of his passes). Redshirt freshman Matthew Jordan might get some playing time.
BREWER BOUNCES BACK: After missing five games with a broken collarbone, Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Brewer has come back to complete 39 of 46 passes for 450 yards in his last two starts, with four TDs and one interception.
BIG PLAY LYNCH: Redshirt freshman Clinton Lynch is coming off the best game of his career for the Yellow Jackets. The A-back scored on three big plays in Georgia Tech’s 27-21 loss to Virginia: a 49-yard run, a 30-yard reception, and a 22-yard catch.
KICKING GAME: Virginia Tech’s Joey Slye has made 15 of 20 field goal tries, his longest from 48 yards. Harrison Butker has missed only once in his last eight attempts for Georgia Tech.