Small Pleasures: Syracuse
by Kevin Cuddihy, 10/13/03

Welcome back to another Small Pleasures, after a huge victory over the Syracuse Orangemen to start the Revenge Tour 2003 foursome off on the right foot. Small Pleasures takes a look beyond the long quarterback keepers or multiple special teams scores to highlight the supporting plays, players, and events that can be the cornerstones to success, or sometimes just fun to notice. Everyone stands and cheers for the big plays; by noticing the Small Pleasures you too can increase your already saturated enjoyment of Hokie football!

As those who've been with us for the duration know, we start each Small Pleasures off with a tip of the 7 5/8-inch fitted VT cap to the opponent as a measure of Hokie Respect. I have to admit, it was much tougher this week than any other week so far. I mean, we held their offense under 200 yards; we kept their alleged Heisman candidate, the running back their players loudly proclaimed should be getting Kevin Jones's media attention, to 130 yards under his average; their quarterback, who mouthed off all week, gave a game-long demonstration of his inability to throw on the run; we ran all over their defense; and we humiliated them on special teams. It was a thorough loss for Syracuse.

However, one bright spot emerged for the bloody pulp. After their only score (set up by what's happily now an uncharacteristic mistake by Jones), the Syracuse mascot started at one end of the end zone and proceeded to somersault over the entire width of the field. Over and over again, bowling from one side the other in a continuous loopy roll. I laughed, and took pleasure in that minor bit of enjoyment from their mascot. Thank you, Mascot!

On to the Hokies! As I touched upon above, this was truly a three-pronged attack from the Hokie team--the entire Hokie team--and Small Pleasures demonstrates that with kudos from all three areas of the game. Let's start on what got the rout started, special teams. The Hokies kept Cuse pinned deep in their own end of the field numerous times, and a large chunk of that credit goes to Carter Warley. How? Simply getting more height under the ball on his kickoffs. Just like in Major League, "too high" isn't necessarily a bad thing, as the height allowed Carter's teammates to get downfield, get into their lanes, and on many kickoffs (and we had lots!) the tackler actually had to stand still in his lane and wait for the return man to come to him. All of it goes back to Warley. Pray for his back, those of you who make a habit of praying.

Speaking of coverage, Vinnie Fuller again downed a punt inside the ten yard line, sprinting downfield past where he gauges the punt to land in order to play the bounce and touch it down. This after Vinnie Burns boomed it 62 yards on the punt after the Hokies series resulting from a blocked field goal ... a field goal blocked by Vinnie Fuller. Just call him Mr. Pride and Joy.

Lastly on the special teams side, Mike Imoh once again appears in this space thanks to a heads-up play. DeAngelo Hall had already returned two punts for TDs and sat out the ensuing defensive series to get some well-earned rest. Beamer kept him on the bench for the Syracuse punt as well, putting Mike Imoh back deep. Somehow a Cuse player went unnoticed on the left side, but Imoh gave up the return (one of few he's likely to get) and sprinted up to protect against an easy fake for a first down or more.

Onto the defense. Last year against Syracuse the defense was extremely undisciplined, with some young players in there and the others trying to do too much and giving up big plays. The theme of the day this year surely was discipline, and the defense remained extremely disciplined and as a result shut down the powerful Orangemen and the nation's leading running back (at the time, of course). Michael Crawford showed some superior tackling twice in a row on the series that led to Hall's first punt return TD. Twice in a row he was able to shed a blocker to pick up a tackle for loss, once simply waiting for the running back to hit what he thought was a hole before sliding off and making the solid tackle. Faced with third-and-18 as a result of those two plays, Syracuse failed to pick up the first down, punted, and the rout was on.

The Hokies have been burned by the Syracuse option in the past, but with discipline on their mind the defense wasn't about to let that happen this year. Late in the second quarter Syracuse tried a counter option, faking to the left with one back before heading to the right with a second back ... right into Aaron Rouse's waiting arms, as he stayed home on the play and tackled RJ Anderson for a minimal gain. Then midway through the third quarter Vegas Robinson helped end Syracuse's first drive after their only touchdown by playing Walter Reyes on the option pitch perfectly, meeting him almost immediately after Anderson pitched the ball and dropping him for a four yard loss on second down. That led to a third and long, three and out, and a loss of any momentum Syracuse had from their only score of the game.

Tech played the pass with just as much discipline. With a minute to go in the first half and Syracuse desperate to put some points on the board before the break, Anderson called a screen pass that looked destined to go for big yardage--if only the ENTIRE defensive line hadn't sniffed it out, kept their positions, and forced Anderson to throw the ball away. There was lots of green space on the other side of the DL, but ya gotta get past them first.

On the offensive side of the ball, Doug Easlick doubled the Small Pleasure by doubling his fun from the fullback position. This year we've seen Easlick turn into a more complete fullback, and he showcased his varied skills against Syracuse. Just like DeAngelo Hall did last week against Rutgers, Easlick noticed Randall scrambling in the pocket and adjusted his route. While Hall came back to Randall for a completion, Easlick noticed his defender coming up to play Randall, snuck behind him as Randall waved him on, and picked up 36 yards on the pass. Later in the third quarter Easlick played the traditional fullback role and picked up two blocks in succession leading to D-Lo's touchdown on the reverse, almost single-handedly clearing a lane on the sideline for Hall.

I singled out Ernest Wilford last week for his downfield blocking, and this week I want to highlight his blocking again. This time, however, it was actually his interior blocking that drew a Small Pleasure from me. The Hokies put Ernest Wilford in motion (remember the phrase "Motion on offense opens holes"?) and left him at the end of the right side of the line. Thus it was Wilford who blew a defender ON THE LINE off of his position and muscled open a hole for Jones to rumble 11 yards. If you've got the game on tape check out the play before KJ's 33-yard touchdown, at about the 11:40 mark. That's a wide receiver sealing the hole, and that's a sign of quality blocking. The NFL can't help but notice things like that.

By the way, this just in: Cutbacks work. Both DeAngelo Hall and Bryan Randall owe a touchdown to that theory, cutting back against the grain past overpursuing would-be tacklers ("Bryan Randall is leaving the Syracuse would-be tacklers DAZED," said one Bill Roth on Randall's touchdown run). That speaks to great field vision by both players. Watch Randall on his touchdown, how his head doesn't stop moving until he's past the goal line. His field vision has improved a thousandfold since last year.

And finally, I know this Small Pleasure is the longest one yet but I don't want to be accusing of piling on, of running it up on an opponent. Thus we'll end with a show of class, applauding Eric Green for his reserve. A minute into the fourth quarter Green was on the punt team and made his way past the line in position for a potential block. The punter got off a low line drive, and if Green had his hands up it looked to be an easy block. But by this point Beamer had called off the dogs and like Nathaniel Adibi had earlier, Green abandoned serious pursuit and allowed Syracuse to get off the punt. A classy gesture, and I think a classy way to end Small Pleasures.

We'll see you in a few weeks as the Hokies take on West Virginia University in a midweek game on October 22. Got your own Small Pleasure from the Syracuse game? Talk about it on the board!


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