The 2000 Pitt game was a big one for Virginia Tech, and they were also doing some scoreboard watching as well. The Hokies were squarely in the National Championship race when a very strong 5-1 Panther team came to Blacksburg in hopes of shutting down Michael Vick and the powerful Tech offense.
Pitt's one loss had come to Syracuse in the Carrier Dome 24-17, and they had also shut out Penn State 12-0. This was an up and coming program, and considering it would have been easy for Tech to look forward to their next matchup against Miami, the Panthers were a very dangerous opponent.
What we remember about the game is Carter Warley's field goal with 16 seconds left and Dave Meyer's final-drive heroics, but the most exciting thing about this game was the buildup. A year after playing for the National Championship, Tech was undefeated and ranked #2 in the polls. However, their weak schedule put them at #3 in the BCS.
If the Hokies took out Pitt at home, they would move up to #2. #1 Nebraska played #2 Oklahoma that same day (October 28) at noon. Just before kickoff, everyone found out that Oklahoma ran off 31 straight points to whip Nebraska 31-14. If Tech beat Pitt, and then defeated Miami on the road, that would set up a National Championship matchup with the Sooners.
Miami was #4 in the BCS and still held National Championship hopes as well. With Nebraska's loss, they would likely move up to #3 in the BCS, setting up a #2 vs. #3 matchup the very next week in Coral Gables. If the Hokies beat Pitt.
Other contenders included Florida State (#5 in the BCS), Florida (#6) and Clemson (#7).
That's right: On October 28, 2000, Virginia Tech, Miami, Florida State and Clemson made up four of the top seven teams in the BCS. NC State also checked in at #22. Those top four teams had a combined record of 27-2, with Tech and Clemson still unbeaten. The ACC was awesome! Except the league was several years away from expansion, so it wasn't quite so awesome.
I think Florida State is heading in the right direction. Miami can be good, with the right coach. Hopefully Clemson will read Hiring Coaches for Dummies when they decide to get rid of Dabo. The ACC could be a really good league if all of those schools were good, along with the Hokies of course.
One final pre-game note. CBS studio analyst Tim Brando was raging on about how bad the BCS was, in his pre-game comments. He said, and I quote: " Bring in the RPI and let's do this the fair way!"
Yeah, because we all know how awesome and fair the RPI is. Seth Greenberg would have a snide comment or two about Brando's remark.
Other quick notes:
You probably remember that this game was back-and-forth. Virginia Tech led 7-0, the game was tied at 20 at halftime, and then Pitt held a 34-27 lead heading into the fourth quarter. The game was tied at some point in both halves, and each team lead at some point in both halves.
Virginia Tech quickly scored on their second drive of the game, with Lee Suggs scoring the first of his three touchdowns of the day. Pitt fought back and hit a flea flicker to Latif Grim for a touchdown, but the blocked extra point gave the Hokies a 7-6 lead at the end of the first quarter.
The Panthers quickly got a break, as a Michael Vick pass was tipped and intercepted by defensive end Bryan Knight. Pitt capitalized with a 17 yard touchdown drive and took a 13-6 lead. Tech came back with a Carter Warley field goal, and then a Pitt special teams mistake handed the Hokies an easy touchdown.
Pitt punter Jay Junko had a four yard punt. No, that's not a misprint. He kicked it straight up, and it traveled all of four yards, being downed at the Pitt 19. The Hokies had an easy touchdown drive to take a 17-13 lead.
Pitt answered right back with a two-play, 65 yard drive that culminated in a John Turman 26 yard touchdown pass to Antonio Bryant, and just like that it was 20-17 Pitt. The Hokies answered with a field goal to tie the game at 20 at halftime.
The Hokies led 27-20 in the third quarter, but Pitt answered to tie the game at 27. After Dave Meyer fumbled a snap, Antonio Bryant scored his third touchdown of the game on a perfectly thrown post corner route, and Pitt led 34-27 going into the fourth quarter. As we all know, Tech outscored Pitt 10-0 in the fourth to win the game.
Lee Suggs had a big day, with 28 carries for 164 yards and three touchdowns, while Pitt wide receivers Antonio Bryant and Latif Grim each had over 100 yards receiving.
A lot happened in between to make this one of the most entertaining games of the Beamer Bowl Era.
Pitt was Loaded, and Brought a Physical Game to Blacksburg
Pitt always seemed to have a good quarterback who played great against the Hokies. More on that later. But besides that, they also had a lot of good players at other positions. In 2000, their tailbacks were future NFL players Kevan Barlow and Nick Goins. Both players went on to start games in their NFL careers. The wide receivers were Antonio Bryant and Latif Grim, and we all know they were good. Fullback Lousaka Polite is the current starting fullback for the Miami Dolphins.
Pitt had a power running game to go along with their deep passing game. Barlow was a 235-lbs tailback, and Polite was a great lead blocker. The Panthers were a complete team, offensively.
Defensively, Ramon Walker, Shawntae Spencer and Torrie Cox were in the secondary. At linebacker, the Panthers had Gerald Hayes, who still starts for the Arizona Cardinals. Defensive end Bryan Knight played two years with the Bears.
That's a lot of future NFL talent on one team. Pitt brought a lot of good players to Blacksburg. Tech obviously had a lot of good talent as well, and with that many good players on the field, there is going to be some hitting.
Folks remember this game for the big passing plays that Pitt hit, and the Dave Meyer drive at the end, but this was a brutal game that was decided between the tackles. Pitt had a big, physical front seven, and they were facing an outstanding senior-laden Virginia Tech offensive line, as well as good tight ends and excellent fullbacks. The helmets were strapped on tight for this one.
Pitt's safeties were also big hitters, Ramon Walker in particular. I've seen some slobber-knockers in my days as a Tech fan, but this one could be one of the top five.
Michael Vick would probably agree. He took a lot of shots. He was knocked from the game towards the end of the second quarter, but he was injured earlier in the game when he was decked by a Pitt lineman, who then stomped (accidentally) right on Vick's shin, causing a big gash.
The Tech players didn't back down, with Jake Houseright, David Pugh, Jarrett Ferguson, etc. all having big hits. Kevin McCadam had a Wayne Ward type of block on a punt return, but folks don't remember that one because it didn't spring a touchdown return.
A Lee Suggs Kind of Game
In a game that was going to be decided in the trenches, Virginia Tech had the perfect tailback. Lee Suggs wasn't the biggest back out there, but he was a tough runner, and generally got stronger as the game went along. He was the type of player who could get right back up after taking a big shot.
And make no mistake, Suggs took some big shots in this game. He was drilled several times by Pitt safety Ramon Walker, and absolutely buried another time by Gerald Hayes as soon as he hit the hole.
In this game, Suggs had 28 carries for 164 yards and three touchdowns against a Pitt defense that allowed only 79 yards per game against the run. He also caught two passes for 21 yards, and those were his first two catches of the year.
This was arguably the finest performance of Suggs' career. He took a beating, yet was still strong at the end of the game.
David Pugh Was Awesome, and He Had Help on the Inside
Virginia Tech managed to completely shut down Pitt's impressive backfield (24 rushing yards for Pitt, 0.8 yards per carry), thanks mostly to a defense that was very strong up the middle. The middle of that defense was led by perhaps the most underrated defensive lineman in recent memory: David Pugh.
I remember Pugh as a really good football player, but after watching the tapes of the 2000 WVU game and the 2000 Pitt game, I realize why. He had an extremely quick first step, and he could beat just about any interior offensive lineman into the gap. He dominated Pitt's offensive line all night, finishing with four tackles for loss and two sacks, while also breaking up a pass. Pugh ended the game by sacking John Turman, which you can see on the right.
Pugh certainly had help on the inside. Chad Beasley was a really good player in his own right, while Ben Taylor and Jake Houseright were excellent inside linebackers. That 2000 defense wasn't the best the Hokies ever had, but up the middle was not the place to attack them.
John Turman was Perfect ... Almost
If you remember anything about playing Pitt from 1999-2003, you will remember that their quarterbacks were generally perfect against Virginia Tech. Give Walt Harris all the credit you want for "figuring out" the Tech defense, but most of those deep ball throws against the Hokies by David Priestley, John Turman and Rod Rutherford were absolutely perfect throws.
You can see one such play in the video on the right, where Turman hits Antonio Bryant in the corner of the end zone against great coverage by Ronyell Whitaker. Turman put the ball in a passing window so tight that Dan Marino would be proud, and the most impressive thing about it was that the window was 30 yards downfield.
It was absolutely infuriating at the time to watch Pitt lose to teams like South Florida, UNC and Toledo, and then show up on gameday against the Hokies with Peyton Manning playing quarterback.
As good as John Turman was against Tech in 2000 - and he was awesome - he probably cost his team the game with five minutes remaining, when he missed R.J. English running wide open behind busted coverage inside the Tech five. It would have been a 39 yard touchdown pass and a 41-34 Pitt lead had Turman been a little more accurate. That would have put a lot of pressure on the Hokies.
Really, that's about the only pass a Pitt quarterback missed against Virginia Tech in a five year span. Those guys not only looked like NFL quarterbacks against the Hokies, they looked like really good NFL quarterbacks.
As it turned out, none of them ever played a single down in an NFL game. None of them even got drafted.
The Last Drive
Sometimes the biggest plays come from the most unexpected sources. Turman's misfire set the Hokies up for some last minute heroics. If someone had told you before the game that the Hokies would win the game on their final drive, you would have guessed that Michael Vick would have made some big plays with his feet, and probably completed a pass or two to Emmett Johnson, or perhaps hit a tight end over the middle for a big gain.
You certainly wouldn't have guessed that Dave Meyer would march the team down the field, and that wide receiver Ron Moody would provide one of biggest receptions of the drive. That's exactly what happened.
First, let's cover what Meyer did. He was 4-of-5 on the final drive for 38 yards, including three big completions on three consecutive plays. He also carried the ball twice for eight yards.
The three big completions went like this:
Those were the big plays of the drive, and you can see the entire drive in the video to the right.
You probably don't remember the name Ronald Moody. Moody was a r-freshman walk-on from Great Bridge High School in Portsmouth, and he was only in the game because Andre Davis was out with an injury. Moody finished the season with three catches for 21 yards, and left the program after the 2000 season. That 12 yard catch was literally the only thing Moody accomplished in his football career at Virginia Tech, but it couldn't have come at a better time.
I was a big fan of those inside dive plays to end the drive and set up the Carter Warley field goals. Everybody in the stadium, watching on TV and on the Pitt sideline expected Lee Suggs to get the handoff and get the ball in the middle of the field for the final field goal attempt. Instead, it was a fake pitch to Suggs and a handoff to Jarrett Ferguson right up the middle, twice in a row.
The result was a surprised Pitt defense and 16 extra yards for the Hokies. There's a big difference between a 43 yard field goal and a 27 yard field goal, and Warley drained the 27 yarder. Tech was alive in the National Championship Game for one more week.
John Turman didn't get off his first pass attempt until there was under a minute left in the first quarter. It was a flea flicker touchdown to Antonio Bryant that was perfectly thrown, naturally.
Turman was 6-of-7 for 143 yards and three touchdowns at halftime. His only incompletion was a dropped pass by a wide open Antonio Bryant, in the end zone. Bryant atoned for his mistake on the next play, catching a touchdown on a - you guessed it - perfectly thrown pass from Turman.
A big play came on Pitt's first drive of the second half. The Panthers went for it on fourth and five from the Tech 30. Cory Bird tipped a pass in the air, and it was intercepted by Eric Green.
CBS Breaking News in the fourth quarter: Notre Dame squeaks out a 34-31 win over Air Force to stay alive for a BCS Bowl. The Irish eventually stole a BCS bowl spot from the Hokies.
The Pitt passing game was feast or famine. John Turman was either getting drilled, or completing a deep ball.
True freshman cornerback Shawntae Spencer kept Tech's final drive alive with a pass interference call on third and five. Spencer didn't even have to do it. Shawn Witten cut his route off short of the first down. All Spencer had to do was let Witten catch it, and then make the easy tackle, but he hit Witten early and was flagged for interference.
Bud Foster used Phillip Summers a lot at whip in the second half, because he was a better matchup than Nick Sorensen against the Panther wideouts. Summers led the team with 13 tackles.
Next week we're going back even further in time to the 1995 Sugar Bowl, which was Virginia Tech's first ever trip to an Alliance Bowl. It was also one of the biggest wins in Tech history.