TSL Extra
Defensive Player
of the Game

picture: hokiesports.com
#95 Jim Davis
DE, 6-3, 265, Jr..
Score: 29.0 points

Click here for an
explanation of the
award and how the
scoring is done

Jim Davis was a wrecking
machine against LSU, with 
5 unassisted tackles,
1 assisted tackle,
3 sacks for 14 yards
in losses, 1 forced
fumble, and 2 QB
hurries. This is the
second time Jim has won
the TSL Extra Defensive
Player of the Game Award
(last year's WVU game,
in which he returned
an interception for a
TD, was the other.)

The TSL Extra
defensive point system
was created in TSLX
issue #5. For a
complete explanation,
including rankings of
the Hokie defenders
from the 2000
season, see TSL
Extra issue #5.

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Game Analysis: LSU
by Will Stewart, TechSideline.com, 9/4/02

Click here for TSL's Game Recap

It was the kind of game that drives VT opponents crazy. If you take a look at the statistics, they were dead-even in a lot of important categories except one big one.

  • Net yards: VT 231, LSU 214.
  • Turnovers: LSU 2, VT 1.
  • Penalties: LSU 8 for 61 yards, VT 8 for 65 yards.
  • Sacks: LSU 3 for 21 yards, VT 4 for 20.

Sounds like a close game, right?

Nope, because there's one last stat:

  • Scoreboard: VT 26, LSU 8.

Everybody talks about BeamerBall being a combination of defense, special teams, and an opportunistic offense. Yes, BeamerBall is all that, but it's also a giant bag full of "should've-could've-would've" for the opponents it vanquishes.

When VT opponents are beaten by BeamerBall, they and their fans are left with one overriding feeling: "We should have won the game ... We could have won the game, if We would have won the game, if "

And there's one other thought, too: "Virginia Tech's not better than us, they just got lucky and made a few plays here and there."

Yep, and the scoreboard tells a nasty tale for you, my friend. She's a harsh mistress, and what she says goes.

So it is with this LSU/VT game that never turned into the epic battle everyone was expecting. The Tigers showed up, played pretty good defense, only gave up 65 yards passing, but dropped a ton of passes and made a bunch of dumb mistakes. Statistically, they fought the Hokies to a standstill but got thrashed in the field position game, and therefore, on the scoreboard.

For the Hokies, the game was a big step in the right direction. They matched up against a physically talented team, the defending SEC champs, and got some good production from some preseason question marks. The result was not just a win, but an encouraging win.

Still, all is not well in Hokie-land. Much like 1997, 1998, and 2001, the offense is often anemic and punchless, particularly in the passing game, though they were very opportunistic in this game. And down the road, all the young guys the Hokies are playing will make mistakes, perhaps fatal ones, costing Tech one or more games.

But for now, they just BeamerBall'd the SEC champions, on national TV.

Those Generous Tigers

Give the Hokies, credit, yes, but to properly analyze this game, you must also acknowledge LSU's role in the Hokie victory. The Tigers, by their own admission, didn't play with intensity in this game, and their lack of intensity translated into numerous costly penalties, blown timeouts, and dropped passes.

LSU returned Tech's opening punt 81 yards for a TD, but had it called back on a block below the waist, at least ten yards away from the punt returner, and therefore not on anyone who was likely to make the tackle. They spent their three first-half timeouts in the first 18 minutes of the game. Half of their eight penalties were not physical, game-action penalties, but mental mistakes: delay of game, illegal formation, illegal procedure, and offsides.

And they dropped passes. Boy, did they drop passes. I counted seven dropped passes. The Baton Rouge Advocate counted eight. And the butterfingers were everywhere, with at least six different Tigers dropping balls that hit them in the hands.

"Coach Saban came in pregame and said that he didn't see that eye of the tiger that he wanted to see," LSU junior offensive tackle Rodney Reed told the Advocate. "Obviously, we didn't have it. As a player, you don't go out there and say, 'I'm not going to have any intensity today.' It's just something that happens."

Reed ought to know. A 6-4, 280-pounder, he was pushed around by Tech defensive end Jim Davis, who at one point bull-rushed Reed onto his backside in the end zone, simply running straight through him and flushing LSU QB Matt Mauck out of the pocket for a near-safety.

The one asterisk to this victory for the Hokies is that they did not get LSU's best shot. Not even close, at least not at the skill positions and on special teams. With the exception of Domanick Davis' long punt return that was called back, it was hard to find an LSU player who wanted to step up and make a play. The talent is there for LSU, it just took the day off.

Some of that was caused by Tech's strong play on defense and special teams, and some of it was caused by a lack of fire and concentration on LSU's part. It's hard to say how much of LSU's lack of focus versus Tech's laser-like concentration was due to Tech being able to tune up with a preseason game against Arkansas State.

Is it possible that LSU simply didn't expect what they ran into? They're used to SEC stadiums and competition and atmosphere; did they think subconsciously that by stepping out of conference and playing a team from the league that contains Rutgers and Temple that they wouldn't get the same kind of competition or raucous game-day atmosphere?

I doubt their players would ever admit to it, but maybe that was part of it. In any event, LSU didn't show up ready to play, and they paid for it.

Tech's Defense Comes Up Big

With LSU's size and experience on the offensive line, this figured to be a big test for Tech's young interior defense, and the Hokies passed with flying colors -- as in flying-to-the-ball, orange-and-maroon colors.

Tech limited LSU to 80 yards rushing on 28 carries, for a 2.85 yards-per-carry average. The Hokie game plan was to stop the run and make Matt Mauck beat them through the air -- typical VT strategy, but emphasized for this game.

The play of Tech's young defensive tackles (Jason Lallis, Kevin Lewis, Jonathan Lewis, Tim Sandidge, and Jason Murphy) and young interior linebackers (Vegas Robinson and Mikal Baaqee) was critical to this strategy, and they did their jobs well. LSU had their moments, but they never controlled the line of scrimmage or got their running game rolling.

Robinson and Baaqee are plenty athletic enough, particularly Robinson. The key for them was positioning, and they missed very few assignments. Robinson was a force, racking up 9 tackles, an interception, one pass defensed, and two QB hurries. But the tackling leader was Baaqee, who totaled ten tackles.

Whip linebacker Brandon Manning had nine tackles himself, giving the linebackers 28 of Tech's 67 tackles (a total that includes special teams tackles). Basically, if a ball carrier made it through the line, he didn't make it much farther, meaning that the linebackers were in position to make the stop all day long.

Down in the trenches, the smallish Kevin Lewis (6-1, 287) and Jason Lallis (6-0, and only 254) did an outstanding job of holding their own against an LSU line that went 325, 300, and 315 from guard to guard. Lallis had six tackles and Lewis had five. To give you a frame of reference, Chad Beasley and David Pugh only averaged 5.2 and 4.5 tackles a game, respectively, last year as seniors.

The surprise of the VT football season so far is, without a doubt, Jason Lallis. A third-string defensive end entering fall practice, no one guessed that Lallis would be Tech's 7th-leading tackler from the defensive tackle spot, with 9 tackles, a fumble recovery for a TD, and a blocked punt to his credit. Weighing 50 pounds less than the guys blocking him, Lallis more than held his own. He chased Mauck out of the pocket on more than one occasion and played like a hungry dog chasing a steak all game long.

Sure, you saw little hints of this last year. Lallis made a lot of special teams tackles and had Tech's only sack in the loss to Miami, and he looked like he had a motor. But nobody saw him contributing this much, from the defensive tackle spot, no less.

Stopping the run was one thing -- the Hokies have always been pretty good at that. But the last two years, their defensive ends have not been able to apply consistent pressure to the QB, which is the second key to success in Tech's defensive scheme. Against LSU, it was different, with Cols Colas and Jim Davis applying the heat to Mauck over and over.

Colas (1 sack, 4 QB hurries) and Davis (3 sacks, 2 QB hurries, and Big East Defensive Player of the Week honors) were the double-whammy that the Hokie defense was looking for. Together, they had all of Tech's four sacks and almost half of their QB hurries. The sights of Colas chasing Mauck around the field and Davis taking him to the turf were pretty common on Sunday.

As a group, the Hokies had 14 QB hurries. They averaged fewer than 10 QB hurries a game last year, so to put up 14 against quality competition is a good sign.

While Colas and Davis were Tech's best pass rushers, Nathaniel Adibi and Lamar Cobb had their moments, too. They shined on two consecutive plays in the third quarter, when the Hokies led 17-0 and LSU was mounting a drive. Starting from their 7-yard line (following a spectacular open-field tackle by Billy Hardee on an LSU punt return), Mauck completed four passes in a row, and the Tigers were on the Tech 48.

The last of Mauck's four completions was a 17-yard crossing pattern to Michael Clayton, who was run out of bounds by Cobb. If you've ever wondered why Cobb gets so much playing time, when Colas is the far superior pass rusher, you need to watch Cobb's pursuit on running plays and passing plays. He's relentless and covers a lot of ground, and running down a receiver like Clayton 17 yards downfield is a perfect example of that.

On the next play, the Tigers tried a flea-flicker, which fell incomplete, and as Mauck released the ball, Adibi drilled him, planting him in the Lane Stadium turf. Mauck got up "rolling" his shoulder, as if in pain, and two plays later, he served up a pass in the flat that DeAngelo Hall stepped in front of, with nothing but green grass in front of him and dropped. Note to DeAngelo: if you want to win that Thorpe Award you've been nominated for, catch that thing and take it to the house.

Lastly, the play of Vinnie Fuller and Garnell Wilds should be complimented. With Ronyell Whitaker out, and the Hokie cornerbacks facing an LSU wide receiver group that was rated ninth in the country by Lindy's, Fuller and Wilds stepped up. They played tight coverage, didn't get beat deep, and even logged one great play when Wilds stuck with LSU speedster Bennie Brazell (#17) on a fly pattern and knocked the ball away at the last second.

Fuller forced a fumble on LSU's second series and had the most underrated play of the game in the fourth quarter, recovering an LSU pooch kickoff that bounced off of kick returner Richard Johnson's hands. With the score 24-8 at that point, Fuller saved Tech's bacon.

In all, the most interesting thing about this defense is not its athleticism, which was to be expected, but the way they have executed. Against Arkansas State, the VT coaches commented that there were very few missed assignments, despite the youth that was on the field. Big deal, it was ASU, right? Well, the coaches repeated themselves and said it again after the LSU game.

These guys were supposed to be good next year and the year after, and so far, they have arrived early. Marshall will give them another test, but to this point, they've been impressive in not just their physical execution, but their mental execution, as well.

Randall Starts Out Hot, Cools Down

Bryan Randall replaced Grant Noel on the third series of the game, and he started out like a house on fire. Randall rolled right on his first play and fired a bullet to Richard Johnson for a nice gain. Randall was flagged for being over the line of scrimmage when he made the throw, which turned out to be a bogus call (see the screen captures to the right, provided by a TSL message board poster, that clearly show Randall was behind the line of scrimmage when he threw).

That was Randall's only pass on his first series of downs, and on his second series of downs, he hit a five-yarder to Doug Easlick and then zinged a nice 11-yarder to Terrell Parham on third and 6.

The Hokies scored on that drive, and on their next drive, facing a third and 4 from LSU's 23, Randall lofted a pass in the flat to Cedric Humes that the backup fullback took 17 yards to the LSU 6. The Hokies scored on the next play to make it 14-0, and at that point Randall was 3-for-3 for 33 yards and had two third-down conversions.

On the next series, the Tigers started blitzing him, and though the Hokies did a good job picking up the blitz most of the day, Randall got rattled and was never the same from then on. Four of his next five passes were incomplete, and he finished 5-of-9 for just 65 yards on the day. He threw just one pass in the second half, an incompletion. He was sacked or flushed from the pocket on a couple of occasions in the second half, but for the most part, after VT built their three-score lead, the Hokies were content to run the ball, call some QB draws, and generally retreat into their shells offensively.

Randall is obviously still uncomfortable in the pocket. He bails early, gets happy feet when the pressure builds, and occasionally has a busted play. And for the second game in a row, he threw one way and Richard Johnson cut the other way. But Randall keeps his cool, does things with his feet that Grant Noel can't do, and in this game, did not turn the ball over.

You can tell this offense still has a long way to go. The passing game is struggling, and the VT coaches were very quick to shelve it once they had built a three-score lead. The blitz blocking appears to have improved, though.

The run-blocking up the middle wasn't consistent in this game, but a lot of the credit for that has to go to LSU linebacker Bradie James, who racked up 14 tackles and was generally a hard-hitting stud. He was helped by D-tackle Chad Lavalais, who had 11 tackles and combined with James to clog up the middle.

On the perimeter, the Hokie running game did a good job. They were very opportunistic when given a short field, and their sweep blocking on Kevin Jones' 2-yard TD and Lee Suggs' 6-yard TD was phenomenal (with a tip of the hat to fullbacks Doug Easlick and Josh Spence, who did a great job blocking around the goal line). Later on, against defenses that aren't as good as LSU's, you will see better, more consistent run-blocking up the middle, provided the passing game wakes up.

Random Impressions and Notes

  • LSU's average drive started on its 23. The Hokies' average drive started on their 43. Five times Virginia Tech started on LSU's side of the field; twelve times LSU started inside its own 30.
  • Kevin Jones still has a problem dropping pitches. On the first play of the fourth quarter, on second and 8, the Hokie line and fullbacks opened a huge hole on a toss sweep, and Jones' eyes got so big that he dropped the pitch.
  • Ironically, the dropped pitch was bookended by Jones' two best runs. He ripped off a spinning, tackle-breaking 22-yarder to end the third quarter that was reminiscent of Dwayne Thomas' 38-yarder in the 1993 Syracuse game, a rumbling-bumbling run in which Thomas carried three Syracuse players 20 yards. After dropping the pitch on his next attempt, Jones pulled off his cut-back 34-yarder.
  • One big key to Tech's success defending the run was no doubt the injury suffered by LSU center Ben Wilkerson, a freshman All-American last year. Wilkerson was hurt early in the first quarter and was gimpy the rest of the game.
  • LSU's top two wideouts, Michael Clayton and Jerel Myers, had just 6 catches for 55 yards between the two of them. LSU's longest pass completion on the day was 17 yards. The Tigers tried a few passes downfield, but mostly threw short routes and passes to the running backs in the flat.
  • One of Bryan Randall's better plays was his decision to keep the ball on a called reverse on the last play of the third quarter. LSU penetrated, Randall read it, and instead of pitching or handing off, he turned upfield for a two-yard gain. This play was between Jone's 22-yard and 34-yard runs.
  • Favorite announcers quote: "They're relentless! Virginia Tech is for real, folks! And LSU just found out about it!" This was said by the ABC play-by-play announcer right after the Suggs touchdown that made it 24-0.
  • On LSU's successful 2-point conversion, the Hokies blitzed three players and dropped defensive tackle Kevin Lewis back into zone coverage, a tactic called a "zone blitz" that is designed to force the QB into throwing a short pick to the defensive lineman who drops into coverage (this play has worked for VT several times in the last few years). Mauck threw to Michael Clayton, who was running open on the opposite side of the field from Lewis, for the easy conversion.
  • The Hokies narrowly avoided two special teams disasters. The first came when VT put ten players near midfield on LSU's kickoff, after the Tigers had made it 24-8. LSU pooch-kicked the ball to the VT 20 yard line, where Richard Johnson couldn't get to it in time and wound up bobbling it. Vince Fuller made a heads-up play to recover the ball at the VT 12 with ten minutes to go.
  • The second came on VT's next possession, on fourth and 14 from the 50 yard line with 4:55 to go, when punter Vinnie Burns dropped a clean snap and had to pick it up and kick it quickly. If LSU had had the block on, they would have nailed it. As it was, Burns shanked a short kick that rolled to the LSU 17-yard line.
  • Suggs' streak lives: with under two minutes to go, the Hokies had a fourth and 1 at the LSU 14. Tech went for it, with Randall handing off to Suggs. The exchange was not clean, and as Suggs leaped over the line, the ball came free. The VT SID staff, mindful that Suggs has not lost a fumble since the 1999 season, attributed the fumble to Randall in their play-by-play. Reviewing the tape, most people would have given the fumble to Suggs, because it looked like he was clear of Randall and had the ball in his hands when he started his leap.
  • It's quite possible that with his three-sack performance on national TV, that Tech's Jim Davis has put himself on some All-America watch lists. Davis' bull-rush knockdown of LSU tackle Rodney Reed on LSU's next-to-last offensive play of the game was an attention-getter.
  • VT's Jason Lallis blocked LSU's final punt almost by mistake, when Bradie James got in front of LSU punter Donnie Jones. Jones pulled the ball down, collected himself and punted, and Lallis happened to be standing in front of him for the easy block.
  • Speaking of Donnie Jones, he had a 43.7 yards-per-punt average last season but punted 7 times for only a 35.0-yard average in this game (excluding his two blocks which lowered his overall average to 27.7). Vinnie Burns averaged 37.8 yards per punt last year but stepped it up, kicking 9 times for 44.7 yards in this game. Burns earned Big East Special Teams Player of the Week honors.

Next Up

The Hokies face a team with a completely different character when they tee it up against Marshall on Thursday, September 12th. The Thundering Herd has a high-powered offense led by Heisman Trophy candidate QB Bryon Leftwich and one of the top receiving corps in the country. They can put points on the board, but the Herd was susceptible to the run last year, finishing 106th in rushing defense and 87th in total defense.

Like LSU, Marshall will bring thousands of fans to Lane Stadium, and it should be rocking for the 7:30 game, televised nationally on ESPN.

          

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