Virginia Tech 31, Virginia 7
by Will Stewart, TechSideline.com, 9/11/99
Charlottesville, VA - October 2, 1999
1 2 3 4 F
VT-Davis 60 pass from Vick (Graham kick)
I told a UVa fan on the Sabre.com message board last week that I quit making predictions the instant that the winning touchdown pass bounced off of Ricky Hall's hands in last year's Temple game. Those of you who have been around this site since last season remember that I predicted the Hokies would slaughter Temple in the now-infamous game that we all wish we could forget.
That did it for me. I've seen it all, and I now know that such predictions are the stuff of legend - the wrong kind of legend. If you can believe it, I received an email after that game from a Temple fan (yes, they do exist, and no, it wasn't Bill Cosby) who cut and pasted my quote and then threw some serious cheese at me for saying it. I bowed my head and took my lumps and learned my lesson that day.
Having said all that, I felt pretty good about this Tech-UVa game going in, and I heard my sentiments being echoed by the Hokie fans I talked to prior to the game -- and even some Hoo fans, although Sabre.com webmaster Mike Ingalls remained stubborn up to game day, talking as if UVa had a pretty good chance to win. I humored him with conversation about the game as I took the free ticket he was offering, all the while thinking, You know, we're probably going to kill 'em.
But I wasn't sure how well Vick was going to play, and I wasn't sure if our O-line's performance against Clemson was an aberration, so I kept my mouth shut. And as people asked me what I thought was going to happen, I told them, very carefully, "I think that if we don’t make any mistakes, we will win, and we may even win big."
But Hokie fans I talked to were more confident.
"We're going to kill 'em," I was flatly told, more than once, by people who know more about football than I do.
And I actually talked to a Hoo fan who said, "You're gonna kill us."
So, I guess it was all settled before the opening kickoff, then. And in all fairness, as the game was played and the Hokies dominated UVa and cruised to a 31-7 victory, I sensed that the Hokie fans were pleased, but not delirious with joy. When you spend all season talking about trying to run the table and go to New Orleans, a fourth-game win over out of conference foe UVa is nice, but not life or death. There's still seven more very important games to be played.
But man, what a win this was. Someone asked me, "So, what's the theme for this game report?"
I said, "Questions Answered."
UVa got the ball first and did very little with it. When the Hokies got it back, they went three-and-out, with fullback Jarrett Ferguson dropping Michael Vick's first pass attempt on third down.
At that point in time, there were about twelve minutes to go in the first quarter. Vick would throw his next incompletion with 1:36 to go in the third quarter, which is over forty minutes later, for the math (and clock) impaired.
Forty minutes. In between those two incompletions, Vick completed 7 straight passes for 222 yards.
After the first three-and-out of the game, until half time, only the Hokies stopped the Hokies. Tech went on four touchdown scoring drives totaling 20 plays for 241 yards. After the first TD, the Hokies did have one other three-and-out, when Shyrone Stith couldn't keep his feet in bounds and stepped out short of a first down. And the half ended with Tech's Dave Meyer fumbling on the UVa one yard line with 13 seconds to go in the half, after the Hokies had driven 51 yards.
Tech scored first on a 60-yard bomb from Vick to Andre Davis that was eerily reminiscent of the Druckenmiller-to-Holmes game winner of 1995. The pass was a perfectly thrown bomb caught at almost the same spot on the field by a lunging receiver.
I remember thinking, "That's huge." It was Vick's first long completion of the year against someone other than JMU, and it served notice to UVa that the Hokies were more than just defense and special teams.
Tech's next touchdown drive also included some Vick magic, as he completed a 32-yard strike to Ricky Hall that may have been his best throw of the game. Shyrone Stith stuck it in from the one yard line, and as the first quarter ended, the Hokies had a 14-0 lead built on the strength of just one first down.
UVa responded with an impressive 11 play, 80-yard drive. When the Hoos reached the Hokie ten-yard line, message board poster King of Hokies, who was sitting next to me, said, "Play action pass to the tight end. Gets us every time."
I nodded. "Yup."
Four plays later, UVa scored on a play action pass to a wide open Billy Baber, the tight end.
It was UVa's last gasp. The Hokies came right back with a ten play, 80-yard, five minute drive to go up 21-7 on another one yard Stith run. If I've said it before, I'll say it a million times this year, it's exactly the kind of drive we needed on multiple occasions last year and could not produce.
After that, the Hokies put the clamps on the Hoos. Other than their 80-yard drive, the Cavaliers would manage only 26 yards of offense in the first half, and only 133 yards for the game (meaning that they totaled 213 for the game). The Hokie defense did its thing, and perhaps not surprisingly, the Hokie offense did too, executing well against a UVa defense made weak by graduations, off-field problems, academic casualties, and injuries.
At half time, Tech had an edge of 304-106 in yardage, and 28-7 in points.
Michael Vick's gimpy ankle took him out of the game very late in the first half, and when Dave Meyer fumbled the snap away shortly after that on one UVa's one yard line, I figured that in the second half, Tech would curl into the fetal position, run a lot, and score three more points.
I was right. Although Vick came back to play the second half instead of Meyer, the remainder of the game was a snooze-fest that featured more runs than a group of drunk college kids chowing on a pan of Ex-Lax brownies. The Hokies scored again on a Shayne Graham 48-yard field goal, and when the final gun sounded, the televised game had taken only two hours, fifty-five minutes to play. The Hokies were 31-7 winners.
Inside the Stats
Going into the season, and into this game, Tech had four question marks. All four question marks morphed into exclamation points in this game.
Michael Vick. In my pre-game analysis, I brought up Jim Druckenmiller's improvement from his second game (Cincinnati, 1995) to his third game (Miami, 1995). I wondered if Michael Vick would show similar improvement between his second and third games.
Try this: in his third game, Druckenmiller was 9 of 16 for 97 yards, no interceptions, and no TD's (in all fairness, Bryan Still dropped a wide open TD). Vick was 7 of 9 for 222 yards, no interceptions, and one TD.
Vick's composure and execution were remarkable. Perhaps he was motivated by UVa fans who reportedly hassled him before the game, saying that he was second fiddle to Ronald Curry and other such nonsense.
And he's tough. I figured there was no way he was coming back after his late first half injury, but he limped and gimped his way through the entire second half, taking every snap and raising his arms high in the air as the final seconds wound down.
This was Vick's baptism by fire. Sure, UVa's defense isn't very good right now, and there will be other tough games in his future, but this was the first test for him, and he passed with flying orange and maroon colors.
But about that ankle … I'm wondering if Vick has a chronic injury there that may not heal until the end of the season. After hurting himself against JMU and sitting out against UAB, Vick was reinjured against Clemson and UVa in identical plays where the tacklers caught him from behind, wrapped him up at the ankles, and fell on those same ankles.
Vick's a great runner, but I sure wish he would stay in the pocket more. Every time somebody hits him, I cringe. Because this team is a totally different team when Vick is in there, instead of Dave Meyer.
The Offensive Line. This is the most important part of a football team, and fortunately for the Hokies, they're firing on all cylinders right now. I'm seeing things I haven't seen in several years now, like Hokie offensive linemen pushing defenders five and ten yards deep into their secondary.
They're nailing blocks, they're running trap plays to perfection, and they're blowing defenses out regardless of the situation.
You can find many examples of how great they're playing right now, but I think the most telling point in this game came in the third quarter when UVa backed Tech up to the Hokie two yard line.
Tech was still leading 28-7 at this point. I knew they were going to run it. You knew they were going to run it. UVa knew they were going to run it.
In 1997 and 1998, this was trouble. Not so here. Tech peeled off runs of 5, 7, and 36 yards. From the shadow of their own goal line to midfield in three plays, all on the ground, when everyone knew exactly what they were going to do. That's control, and this offensive line is in control right now.
Sure, once again, I'll give a nod to the fact that UVa's defense is thin and struggling right now. But even so, they're better than JMU and UAB, and the Hokies weren't doing this well against those two teams.
Perhaps that has to do with the fact that Tech was substituting the OL liberally in those two games, and they have not substituted much against Clemson and UVa. And when it comes to the offensive line, getting the same five guys on the field and having them play together a lot is one big key to good blocking.
So maybe the secret of their success is that the five of them are on the field together more. Whatever - I don't care. Just keep it up.
The Receivers. Now we're talking.
Andre Davis blows by UVa's most experienced defensive back, Tim Spruill, not once, but twice. The first time, he catches a perfectly thrown ball not on his finger tips, but squarely0 in his hands. The second time, the ball is poorly thrown, he adjusts to it, leaps high to meet it at the peak of his jump, and reigns it in under pressure.
Ricky Hall makes a tough catch in traffic, knowing he's going to get hit. Even Terrell Parham gets into the act, catching a short pass and rumbling downfield with it for a 22-yard gain.
They did everything that was asked of them, with none of the dreaded dropsies. The only drop was by fullback Jarrett Ferguson.
Defensive Backs. Think Anthony Midget is feeling good today? I do. He was beaten for the game winning touchdown by Ahmad Hawkins last year, and this year, he and his defensive backfield compadres limited Hawkins to three catches for 20 yards.
The defensive backs played well, and there's no better evidence of this than the coverage sacks that were created when Dan Ellis had all kinds of time to throw but couldn’t find anyone open. Corey Moore's only sack was a coverage sack, of which there may have been three or four total.
Clemson and UVa threw the ball a total of 70 times. Our defensive backs have gotten some serious work over the last two games, and they haven't been beaten once. Their tackling has been solid and sure. Give this group a grade of A- in Tech's two toughest games so far this year.
Bud Foster Coaches a Good One
With all the talk about the players, most writers and fans are forgetting that it is a defense largely captained by defensive coordinator Bud Foster that had been hammered by UVa's offense for four years straight. The Hokies held the Hoos to 9 points in 1996, but other than that, the Hoos put up point totals of 29 (1995), 34 (1997),and 36 points (1998).
Former UVa offensive coordinator Sparky Woods seemed to have Bud Foster's number. Woods is gone now, and In his absence, Bud took out his frustrations on new UVa OC Gary Tranquill.
The Wahoos tipped off during the week that they were going to double and triple team Corey Moore with the tight ends and the running backs. That's no secret. In the past, they have protected the passer better than any other team the Hokies have faced.
This time, Bud used it to Tech's advantage. The Hokies' first sack, by Chad Beasley, came on a cleverly designed stunt that saw Corey rush down the line from his defensive end position, taking the tackle and the guard with him. Beasley stunted around and rushed through the gaping hole left by Moore and his escort and sacked Ellis.
Later, Michael Hawkes registered two straight sacks, the first on a delayed blitz. Moore rushed from his end position, and both UVa's Anthony Southern and Thomas Jones went to help block him. Hawkes bided his time, let the running backs clear out, and smoked up the middle untouched to sack Ellis.
All in all, another great coaching job by the man I like to call "Virginia Tech's Next Head Coach," Bud Foster. Ins this case, he played off of the extra attention given to his best defensive player, to the benefit of his entire defense. Corey only had two tackles, but overall the defense had another great game.
Special Teams Play - Frank Beamer, Dean of "Special Teams U," has changed his main curriculum from kick-blocking to kick returning. The Hokies have yet to register a blocked kick this year, but they're tearing it up in punt returns and kickoff returns. Behind Ricky Hall and Shyrone Stith, the Hokies are third in the nation in punt returns and fourth in kickoff returns.
Ben Taylor - Taylor really stepped up his play in this game, making several very nice plays, including a stop on a screen pass where he read the play, worked his way around the two blockers, and made the tackle right after the running back caught the pass.
Next Up: Rutgers
Unexpected losses by two higher-ranked teams vaulted the Hokies all the way up to #5 in both the USA Today/ESPN Coach's Poll and the AP Poll. Those rankings are so ludicrously high that I find I can't really think about them, although between me and you, the Hokies certainly looked like the fifth-best team in the country against UVa.
But there's a ton of games still left to play in this regular season. The "second season" starts now. The Hokies are 0-0 in Big East play, and it's time to get it on and play the important ones.
The first Big East opponent for Tech is Rutgers. This is a dangerous "tweener" game for Tech, sandwiched between UVa and a Syracuse team that the Hokies owe big time. Tech runs the risk of losing concentration and faltering if they're not careful.
This Tech team doesn't strike me as the type of team to deflate after a big game, but it's a fact that an eleven game season brings many twists and turns. As satisfying as this win was, the Hokies very quickly need to put it behind them and get to work on a Big East title.
There's not a lot you can add to the analysis of this game with UVa. This was simply an example of a deep, experienced team whipping a younger, thinner team. It wasn't rocket science, but it sure was fun … and it sure will shut those Hoo fans up for a year. And that alone was worth the trip to Charlottesville.