Virginia Tech 31, Clemson 11
by Will Stewart,, 9/23/99

Click here for the game recap with stats

Blacksburg, VA - September 23, 1999

                1  2  3  4  F
               -- -- -- -- --
Clemson         0  3  0  8 11
Virginia Tech   7  7  0 17 31

VT-Stith 3 run (Graham kick)
VT-Kendrick 24 run (Graham kick)
CU-FG Campbell 27
CU-Ciurciu 9 pass from Lazzara (two-point conversion)
VT-FG Graham 47
VT-Charlton 34 interception return (Graham kick)
VT-Moore 32 fumble return (Graham kick)

Attendance: 51,907

HokieCentral's Analysis

All right, before we get into this game report, I want all of you to get out of your chairs, kneel down on the floor, and bow in the direction of Blacksburg.

Because Corey Moore is THE MAN.

During the women's basketball season, as Bonnie Henrickson's troops played big in the big games, I talked often about how the great ones rise to the occasion. You can now add Corey Moore to the list of great competitors to grace the history of Hokie sports, if you haven't already.

As the Virginia Tech Hokies prepared for this game with Clemson, there was a lot of talk about the national spotlight and how everyone was going to be watching to see if the Hokies really were the #8 team in the country. After two snoozers over JMU and UAB, it was time to line up under the Lane Stadium lights and see what this team was really made of.

On a night when future star Michael Vick often played like the freshman that he is, and on a night when a much-maligned offensive line suddenly turned into a powerhouse and brought forth comparisons to some great offensive lines of the past, on a night when Virginia Tech and its fans acquitted themselves well before a national audience, Corey Moore stole the show with as dominating a performance as we have ever seen.

During the week, Corey talked the talk ("We will not disappoint, I guarantee you. We will not disappoint."), and on game night, he walked the walk. From the time the game started until he was helped off the field with a back spasm late in the second quarter, Corey Moore single-handedly dominated the game. Then Clemson went away from him for two quarters, stemming the Corey tide, but when the game was on the line, Moore once again took over and put the Clemson Tigers away.

You never know what's going to happen when you walk through the gates of Lane Stadium, but on this particular night, after it was over, 50,000 Virginia Tech fans and 2000 Clemson fans left the stadium knowing that they had witnessed one of the greatest single game performances ever registered by a defensive lineman. It was a performance that left ESPN commentator Lee Corso gushing, "Give him the Outland Trophy now!"

This game will be talked about for years to come, and for Corey Moore and Virginia Tech, his dominating performance on a national stage could not have come at a better time. Yes, the Hokies are the #8 team in the country - at least they were on this night. And Corey Moore may be the best collegiate defensive end in the nation.

The Game

The Early Going. After a bit of a slow start, the Hokies threatened to run away with this one. Clemson had the first scoring opportunity with ten minutes to go in the first quarter but missed a 37-yard field goal attempt.

The Hokies responded with a short drive that ended with Michael Vick throwing the first of three interceptions. The play was a fake end-around that Vick sold beautifully, standing in the backfield as if the play were dead. He then brought the ball off his hip and launched it far down field … right into double-coverage. The result was a pick, and ESPN commentator Kirk Herbstreit was quick to point out that in all fairness, that's the type of play where you hope the defense buys the fake and then just wing it. Vick just winged it, and the wrong guys caught it.

As the first quarter wore on, the Hokie offense started to get on track. On Tech's second drive, Vick threw a beautiful out pattern to Andre Davis that was set up by Emmett Johnson clearing out the safety on a fly pattern. Vick put the ball right on the money, and Davis caught it like a pro. The Hokies were running inside traps, and the offensive line was executing them perfectly, setting up the Tech running backs with gaping holes. The Hokies worked the ball methodically up field with a variety of plays, including a Vick-to-Stith pass out of the backfield, and Stith scored on a three yard run.

The drive consumed 11 plays and 80 yards. It was the kind of drive that the Hokies needed all year long last year and almost never got.

On defense, Corey Moore was already making his oppressive presence felt. Despite the presence of light, quick offensive linemen, Clemson couldn't block Corey any better than any other team has been able to the last two years. He pressured Clemson QB Brandon Streeter constantly and made phenomenal play after phenomenal play.

On Clemson's first drive after the Hokie touchdown, Corey buried a Clemson reverse attempt 11 yards deep in Clemson's backfield, and two plays later, he stuffed a third-down draw for a loss of two yards.

The Second Quarter. As the second quarter started, the Hokies came back with a two-play, lightning-quick scoring drive that featured a 32-yard run by Vick on an option, followed by Andre Kendrick sprinting in untouched from 24 yards out. The blocking on the play was executed with precision and power, as Dave Kadela, Matt Lehr and Cullen Hawkins blew a hole in the Clemson defense that I'm pretty sure my grandmother could have exploited for six points.

Just like that, it was 14-0, Hokies.

The next Clemson offensive series featured more abuse by Corey Moore, and Jamel Smith registered a hit on a Clemson receiver named Wofford that was reminiscent of Antonio Banks's savage blasting of a Southern Mississippi receiver years ago. The hit was so fierce that Tech radio analyst Mike Burnop lost his composure and blurted out "Whoa!" in the middle of Bill Roth's call of the play. Burnop never talks while Roth is calling a play, but Jamel's hit made him forget where he was and what he was doing.

At this point, early in the second quarter, the potent Clemson offense had run 15 plays for only 27 yards. They were totally stifled, and the Hokies were controlling the line of scrimmage.

The rout appeared to be on, but two plays happened that slowed down the Hokies' party. First, Shyrone Stith uncharacteristically fumbled on Clemson's 30 as the Hokie offense was rolling down field, and on Clemson's subsequent possession, Corey Moore suffered minor back spasms as he hit Streeter for the 823rd time in the game.

Corey had to be helped off the field, and Clemson took advantage of his absence by moving the ball down smartly to Tech's ten yard line. The drive stalled when Clemson rolled Streeter out to the right, whereupon he stopped and threw back across the field to his tight end. The play was eerily similar to Syracuse's game-winning TD last year, but on this occasion, Tech had it defended perfectly. Ike Charlton stayed home and nailed the tight end as soon as he caught it. Clemson kicked a field goal to make it 14-3.

At that point, although they hadn't gotten the TD, the Tigers were back in it. Where they had been staring at a potential 21-0 deficit, Stith's fumble and Moore's exit from the game let them collect themselves and put some points on the board.

The Slow-Down. Tech sputtered after that, offensively and defensively. On offense, Shayne Graham missed a 48-yard field goal wide left, and towards the end of the first half, Vick threw into double coverage again for his second interception, this one also on the Clemson goal line. On the play, Vick was totally unrushed but flicked the ball flat-footed. Although it traveled about 55 yards in the air, it didn't have the necessary juice to get over the Clemson defense, and they picked it off.

The game continued on deep into the third quarter. Clemson finally had their offensive legs under them. They were going away from Corey Moore, and Streeter was getting rid of the ball quickly for completions, but he was still getting hammered almost every time he released a pass.

Another promising Tech drive late in the third quarter stalled when Vick threw his last interception of the game. The Hokies had an 8-play drive going that consisted of 7 runs and a single pass when Vick once again threw flat-footed into coverage on the goal line. This play was a much shorter pass than his previous two interceptions, but the result was the same. Frank Beamer, who hates throwing the ball when his offense is near the opponent's goal line, was livid (you lip-readers might want to be careful when watching Beamer's reaction on your game tapes at this point).

There was 2:30 to go in the third quarter, and Tech still clung to a 14-3 lead.

Finally, the Tigers capitalized from a Tech mistake. Starting from their 12 yard line, Clemson picked their way down field, 4-8 yards at a time, and at one point, the Tigers even had an open receiver drop a pass in the end zone. When the drive ran out of steam and Clemson lined up for a short field goal, Tommy Bowden surprised everyone in the house with a fake, and it went for a touchdown.

I thought it was a questionable call, but it worked, so Bowden's a genius for calling it. The subsequent two-point conversion was ridiculously easy, and suddenly, with just under twelve minutes to go, the Hokies were in a dogfight, leading only 14-11.

Slamming the Door. Little did the Tigers know that their fun was over. It is times like these when champions are made, and a number of players stepped up for Tech in the final twelve minutes.

First, the offensive line stepped up. They continued to open holes for Stith, who would eventually accumulate 162 yards rushing.

Next, Vick shook off the turnovers and threw a clutch bullet to tight end Derek Carter on third and six from the Hokie 13 with 9:09 to go. Lee Corso said, "Do you realize what a great pass that was? That play may have won the game." He was not overstating it. Vick threw a perfect dart to a closely covered Carter, and the Hokie running game took over from there.

Lastly, Shayne Graham stepped up and made a 47-yard field goal, dead-on down the middle.

The drive may have ended in just a field goal and a 17-11 lead, but it ate more than six minutes off the clock. After Graham's kick, there were exactly five minutes to go. Not only was the offensive line grinding it out, but Vick worked the clock like a veteran, often snapping the ball with just one or two seconds on the play clock.

It was the type of drive that the Hokies needed on many occasions last year but couldn’t seem to get. A clutch, clock-eating, smash-mouth drive that wears the other team out and makes a statement. If that type of drive is back in the Tech repertoire, then I'm a happy Hokie.

But wait, there's more. Silent for almost two full quarters, Corey Moore suddenly roared back to life. On Clemson's next possession, he pressured Streeter into throwing an interception to Ike Charlton that Ike returned for a 34-yard TD, and 38 seconds later, with the Lane Stadium crowd rocking, Corey did the honors himself, sacking Streeter and turning the subsequent fumble into a 32 yard touchdown.

Just like that, it was 31-11, Tech, and that's how it ended. Corey had made his statement to the country, and he couldn't have picked a better time to do it. On the national Thursday night TV stage, the Hokies needed someone to stand up and take charge, and Corey did it. His performance in this game will be worth tons of invaluable publicity from the ESPN talking heads as this season unfolds and the continue to mention him as an Outland candidate.


The Offensive Line. Let's hear it for Tech's offensive line, which shook off its JMU/UAB doldrums and dominated a pretty good Clemson defensive line. The Hokies didn't fare very well in pass-blocking, giving up five sacks to the Tigers, but when it came to run-blocking, they were incredible.

Tech had 286 yards rushing on 51 carries, for an average of 5.6 yards per carry. And unlike the JMU and UAB games, it wasn't Stith getting all the yards himself with very little good blocking. No, the five guys up front simply opened up huge holes all game long.

A perfect example is Andre Kendrick's second-quarter touchdown run. If you've got it on tape, take a look at the blocks thrown by Kadela and Lehr on that play. Along with fullback Cullen Hawkins, they executed perfectly and blew open a huge hole in Clemson's defense, leading to what play-by-play announcer Mike Tirico called a "flag football touchdown," meaning that Kendrick wasn't even touched.

This went on all game long, but what was really encouraging were the holes that the line opened up right up the gut on Clemson. Looking to the future, if we want to beat UVa and Miami, it will take this sort of blocking from our offensive line. I didn't think they had it in them, but based on this game, it looks like they do. I sure hope we see this kind of thing again, and often.

The bad news is that Tim Schnecker, a Blacksburg native, former walk-on, and our backup center, fractured two bones in his leg and is gone for the year. That leaves the Hokies thin at the center position, where starter Keith Short is now backed up by Steve DeMasi. DeMasi, who is listed at 6-3, 278, is a Virginia Beach native who saw some limited action last year, and will probably have to step up into a key reserve role now.

Shyrone Stith. He just doesn't look that fast, but the fact is, Shyrone is explosive. His 162 yards on 28 carries (5.8 yards per carry) blow away his previous career high, and according to my calculations, Shyrone now has 408 yards in just three games, giving him eight more games to get the 596 yards needed to top 1,000 yards.

Not only is he quick, but Shyrone is a load, too. He lowered the boom on Clemson defenders several times, and met his match only when being hit by stellar Clemson linebacker Keith Adams (without Adams, the Clemson defense would have been totally lost in this game. They should retire his jersey for the effort he put in against Tech).

It's a pleasure to watch this man run. He's good enough without good blocking, but when the line blocks like they did in this game, he's unstoppable. Go for the grand, Shyrone - get the thousand yards!

ESPN's coverage. Wow, ESPN drooled over the Hokies and Corey Moore so much that it was almost embarrassing. A caller to the Tech post-game radio show said they were rough on us, but I didn't see it. At times, I felt like I was watching a three-hour long commercial for Virginia Tech football.

We used to play on Thursday nights, and during the Weekend Kickoff show that precedes the game, they wouldn't talk about us at all. On this night, they ran a feature on Michael Vick during the Weekend Kickoff show and talked about us a lot.

And how many times can you mention the words "Virginia Tech" and "national championship" in the same sentence? I'm not sure, but it appears to be at least 20, because the guys in the booth said it over and over. Me, I'm not comfortable with that kind of talk just three games into the season. I think you ought to shoot for that, yes, but to constantly talk about it is distracting.

But that doesn't stop the guys at ESPN, and the fact is, it's great publicity for Tech. As N2 told me after the game, you can't spend five million dollars over ten years and get the amount of publicity that Tech got in this game from ESPN.

As a sidebar, the Tech Sports Information Department did a better job than usual in this one. The ESPN commentators seemed particularly well-armed with the facts about Tech football and its tradition, including information about "What's a Hokie?" and the school colors. There was a shot of Corey Moore at Tech's war memorial, and there was talk about the 1995 Sugar Bowl victory. All in all, it was a nice job of feeding info to ESPN by the Tech SID.

It's too bad that Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese had to cancel his planned visit and that the Big East membership press conference didn't happen Thursday. It would have been the cherry on top to have discussions about Tech's Big East membership in the ESPN booth during the game.

And lastly, I have been pleasantly surprised by Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit in the ESPN booth. I thought that letting that clown Corso into the booth was a big mistake, but those two are actually pretty good, and I'm not just saying that because they're on the Hokie bandwagon right now. Several times when watching the tape of the game, I found myself thoroughly impressed with some of the things they noticed that I thought were pretty subtle and pretty important.

Tech's Defensive Execution. For those of you who were worried about the completions that Clemson was stringing together in the third and fourth quarters, and who criticized Tech's defensive backs for letting Clemson complete so many short passes, folks, let me tell you, the defensive game plan was executed almost perfectly.

Going against a quick passing team like Clemson, the philosophy is that they're going to complete some short passes, and as a defense, you have several things to do: (1) make the tackle after the catch; (2) don't get into a lull and give up a deep ball; (3) keep your composure, keep trying, and get the QB when you can.

Tech did it all almost flawlessly. The tackling was superb. The only missed tackle I can remember happened when Larry Austin let a Clemson receiver who had caught one in the flat get around him.

The Hokies only gave up one deep ball that I can remember. It happened on Clemson's field-goal drive in the second quarter, and to be honest, it was pretty darn good execution by the Tigers.

Nick Sorensen played well. He and Ben Taylor still aren't ball hawks who drive through the ball-carrier when they tackle them, but they're both getting better at getting into the proper position and making the play. The confidence to close on the offensive players quickly and hit them hard will come with time and experience.

I am very pleased with the overall defensive performance. Clemson ran 61 plays, including 44 passes, and only had 221 yards of offense, for only 3.6 yards per play. When you can hold a passing team to 3.6 yards per play, you're doing it right.

Contrast that with Tech's 374 yards in 68 plays (17 passes), for an average of 5.5 yards per play - and that's with an offense structured around the running game.

The Michael Vick Freshman Experience

Ah, what a roller coaster ride it is to watch Michael Vick play. His play Thursday night was symptomatic of a talented but inexperienced freshman. On one play, he makes a sharp cut back for a 30-yard gain on the option, and later, he throws flat-footed into double coverage. On another play, he throws a perfect dart to a tight end, but earlier, he tosses one up for grabs and it gets picked off. Sometimes he flies down the open field at 100 miles an hour, while at other times, he limps from the sideline to the huddle.

I think Vick is a great physical talent, and nothing he did in this game proved otherwise. He has an arm that is so strong that he can wing it over halfway down the field off his back foot. And we saw glimpses of leadership and a cool head in this game. His third down pass to Derek Carter deep in Tech territory was a great play, and he worked the clock on that drive like a seasoned veteran.

The biggest weakness I see in his game right now is a tendency to throw flat-footed or off his back foot, without stepping into the throw and using good form. Kenny Kelley down in Miami is battling this same problem, and only experience and coaching will cure it for Vick.

Vick threw one interception from a flat-footed stance that traveled 55 yards in the air and was picked off on the goal line by Clemson. The thing is, I think that Emmett Johnson, who was the intended receiver on the play, was open, and if Vick had thrown with a proper motion, he may have been able to hit Johnson deep in the end zone for a spectacular play.

It's very unfortunate that Vick missed almost all of the JMU and UAB games, because every minute he gets at this point is critical experience. I'm not sure we can survive three interceptions against a team like Miami, so it's important that Vick grow and learn quickly. Yes, I know we've got the guy for four years, but this year's team features a veteran defense, good special teams, and a great coaching staff, and I'd like to strike while the iron is hot. Vick's development and improvement is critical to the success of this year's team.

He was limping noticeably by the end of the game, so it appears that we're still in for more of the injured quarterback drama that we have suffered through the last two years. The good news is that the injury didn't seem to affect his performance a lot in this game. I thought any problems he had or errors that he made were more mental than physical, but nonetheless, I want the guy to be healthy, for obvious reasons.

Quick Notes

Clemson wears out the fans - if you were watching on TV and thought that the crowd was a little dead late in the game, I'll tell you why. A good crowd will make its noise when their team is on defense, and with the Tiger's no-huddle offense, it really wears you out to constantly yell. By the end of that game, even a 15-yard run from Shyrone Stith didn't get much of a cheer from me, because I was saving it up for Clemson's next possession.

What did you say, Bill? - speaking of noise, the crowd noise is really getting into the ISP radio broadcasts. On Tech's touchdown plays and big defensive plays, you could barely hear Bill Roth's voice above the din of the crowd. I think I heard Bill say on the post game show that the only microphones ISP has at the game are on the head referee and Bill and Mike's headsets, so its not as if they have a crowd mic that they can turn down. If it's that noisy with "only" 52,000 fans, what's it going to be like after we expand?

Bustle's play calling - Rickey Bustle finally pulled the wraps off of some new formations and plays last night, and I liked what I saw. He mixed it up very well on Tech's early 80-yard TD drive, and when he sensed a weakness in the middle of Clemson's defense, he exploited it mercilessly with the running game. Vick's last interception, a pass thrown from the Clemson five yard line, was arguably a poor call, because we were running it down their throats, and the pass resulted in a turnover, but otherwise, I thought Rickey called a good game. Those of you out there with a keener offensive mind than mine can give me your thoughts about this on the message board, because I'm interested in seeing if you agree.


All in all, I'm pleased with the way things went in this one. I wanted a blowout, and at first, I was disappointed that I didn't get it (the final score is deceptive). But after watching my game tape, which is the biggest Virginia Tech love-fest I've ever seen on ESPN, and after getting a real feel for how incredibly dominant Corey Moore's performance was, I'm happy with what went down.

I said in my preview that this game would tell us a lot about this Virginia Tech team, and indeed it did. It told me the following:

  • Corey Moore can be counted on to play a big game when you need him.
  • Michael Vick is a great talent that needs a lot of seasoning.
  • The offensive line can - and did - step up its play.
  • The Hokie defense can stop a prolific passing offense.
  • Shyrone Stith is as good as almost any running back in the country.

We turned some important corners in this one, and I feel good about the progress the team is making. The key now is to put it behind us, ignore the hype, and continue to keep focus on the next game, because one game does not a season make.

Of course, motivation won't be a problem with the next game. UVa is up next, and we owe the Hoos big-time for the 1997 whipping they laid on us and the big 1998 comeback. UVa has a good running game and an offensive line that is bigger and more experienced than Clemson's, but I think the real key will be how our offense, and in particular our offensive line, performs against a UVa defense that is severely depleted.

I'll return next week with a UVa preview. Until then, from where I sit, things are progressing nicely, and as I said, the key now is to continue focusing and taking them one at a time in Blacksburg.

Congratulations to Corey Moore and the Hokies for a huge win, and we'll see you in Charlottesville.

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