BLACKSBURG, Va. — Lane Stadium roared as Virginia Tech stuffed Miami's fake field-goal attempt in the first series of last Saturday's game. Then, Alonzo Tweedy saw something sobering: teammate Jeron Gouveia-Winslow limping toward the sideline.
He injured his left foot while combining with cornerback Jayron Hosley to tackle Spencer Whipple when the Miami holder tried to run for a first down on fourth-and-1 at Tech's 14-yard line. It was a critical play in the game and, as it turned out, a more critical play for Tech's defense.
Gouveia-Winslow hobbled toward the bench. He sat down and told Tweedy, "You might have to go." Moments later, defensive coordinator Bud Foster approached Tweedy and said, "Tweedy, are you ready?"
That is the question everybody is wondering now as Tweedy takes over for Gouveia-Winslow, his fellow junior whip outside linebacker. Gouveia-Winslow is done for the year because of a mid-foot sprain that will require surgery, leaving one of the most important playmaking spots on Tech's defense to Tweedy, a Hermitage High graduate with precious little experience.
Wake Forest's offense will test Tweedy during Saturday's game in Winston-Salem, N.C. The Demon Deacons are averaging 34.6 points, No. 32 nationally, and gained 391 yards in last Saturday's 35-30 home win over Florida State.
Tweedy played well in the win over Miami, registering eight tackles and a sack. But while Miami's offense relies on "hard ball," as Tech inside linebacker Bruce Taylor put it, Wake uses more read plays and sweeps out of the shotgun, misdirection aimed to confuse green players such as Tweedy.
He played 16 snaps on defense this season before the Miami game. Last season, he played just 10 defensive snaps while dealing with a nagging groin injury. But he is not alone in his inexperience on Tech's defense.
The Hokies also must replace end James Gayle (sprained left ankle). Tyrel Wilson will take over. Tech is still working on finding stability at the spot once occupied by tackle Antoine Hopkins (Highland Springs), out for the year with a knee injury. True freshmen Corey Marshall (Dinwiddie) and Luther Maddy are the primary options.
Tweedy, in his third year as a valuable special teams player, has a speed advantage over Gouveia-Winslow. Tweedy ran the 40-yard dash in 4.33 seconds. But he hasn't played nearly as much as Gouveia-Winslow, whose season ended after 150 defensive snaps.
"Tweedy is a great athlete," Foster said. "He's just got to be consistently good in his technique. He's really improved, one of our most improved guys. He's going to really grow a lot [as the starter]. We expect him to.
"I think sometimes you get guys, when they're still a backup, I'm not sure how much their focus and concentration is as much as you'd like it to be. Then, they're the guy and all of a sudden, 'Oh, I better have a little more sense of urgency.' He's done enough things to give us confidence or we wouldn't play him."
Tweedy's mind raced last Saturday when Foster asked him on the sideline if he was ready. He didn't expect to take over for Gouveia-Winslow, and he tried to quickly recall the whip's responsibilities from that week's game plan.
"I was thinking about what I had to do," he said. "I was thinking about it a lot, really. I was quite nervous at first when I first got in the game. But as the game kept going, I got comfortable playing my position."
Now, he has more notice. For the first time in his career, a starting job is his, with no safety net. Is he ready?
• Read Darryl Slater's Virginia Tech blog at vteffect.com