2004 Duke Game Analysis
by Will Stewart, TechSideline.com, 9/20/04

Click here for TSL's game recap with stats

After giving USC a stiff challenge in the opener and playing nearly flawless football in game 2 against Western Michigan, the Hokies got off to a slow start against Duke Saturday. Tech ran up 13 penalties and couldn't establish a dominating running game, but the Hokies played stifling defense and took advantage of their superior athleticism to notch an easy win.

It was billed as an historic game, being Tech's first ACC conference game ever, but you can't help but escape the feeling that the opponent (Duke), the start time (noon) and the threat of a hurricane (Ivan) that never materialized threw the Hokies into a bit of a lull. Duke jumped out to a 7-0 lead, but then Hokies flexed their muscle, reeling off 34 straight points, and this game was never in doubt.

At times, though, the Hokies weren't mentally sharp, and their running game needs work. They'll sit down and figure out how they amassed 13 penalties for 101 yards, and they'll continue to work on a rushing game that has seen their quarterback outrush both tailbacks through three games.

Slow Start

VT wasn't sharp early in this one. Things got off to a bad start when Eddie Royal returned the opening kickoff to the 27, but reserve TE Duane Brown was flagged for an illegal block, putting the ball back at the 6.

Bryan Randall later threw the first of two interceptions on the day, a terrible throw that went straight to Duke defensive end Justin Kitchen. Kitchen had dropped back into coverage, and Randall tried to throw it over him to tight end Jeff King, who had run a short out pattern. Randall said after the game that he saw Kitchen but simply shortarmed the pass, leaving it way short and hitting Kitchen in the chest. Randall likened it to airballing a three-pointer.

Duke faced a 4th and 8 on their first possession and lined up in a strange punt formation, with punter Trey McDonald lined up just 9 yards behind the line of scrimmage. McDonald took the snap and lofted a 9-yard completion to tight end Andy Rowland for a first down. Two plays later, wide receiver Deon Adams took the ball on an end-around and scored from 28 yards out, as VT defensive end Darryl Tapp, who otherwise had a great day, totally lost containment by biting on a play fake up the middle and vacating his side of the field. That sprung Adams, who outran a Hokie defense that wasn't pursuing with their usual abandon.

The entire sequence, from Randall's terrible interception to the fake punt conversion to the end-around TD, was sloppy football by the Hokies. The sloppy football continued on Tech's next possession, when left guard Reggie Butler false-started – one of two false starts by Butler on the day – to turn a 3rd and 2 into a 3rd and 7. Randall threw an incompletion under heavy pressure on the next play – more on that later – and the Hokies punted the ball back to Duke.

After that, VT righted the ship. They stuffed Duke's second possession and then embarked on a 10-play, 72-yard drive that culminated in a 1-yard TD run by Justin Hamilton that was the very essence of the term "second effort."

Duke's second possession featured a bizarre personal foul on the Hokies. After James Anderson and Darryl Tapp sacked Duke QB Mike Schneider on 2nd and 11, the Hokies were flagged for a dead-ball personal foul. The TV production showed cornerback Jimmy Williams flinging a Duke receiver into the ground, and then jumping up and pushing him, but that wasn't the penalty call. First, it wasn't during a dead ball, and second, the referee standing right there didn't call anything.

The umpire who made the penalty call said it was on #22 for the Hokies (James Griffin), not #2. The problem with that? Griffin didn't do anything. Shortly after the sack, Griffin pumped his fist in a “punching the air" motion, and I think the refs thought he was taking a swing at a Duke lineman standing nearby. I've watched the play several times, and I don't think Griffin was swinging at anyone … though I do think Williams could have earned a flag, and it would have been justified.

Four Plays that Blew it Open

Back to the game: the TD by Hamilton was the start of a 34-point outburst by the Hokies over the second and third quarters that was characterized by two things: no offense by Duke and athletic plays by the Hokies. VT made a number of plays that Duke either couldn't stop or couldn't respond to:

1.) With the score 10-7, Vinnie Burns uncorked the perfect punt from Tech's 39-yard line. The punt spiraled tightly up into the air, nose down, bounced on Duke's 4-yard line – that's a 57-yard punt in the air, for those scoring at home – and landed out of bounds at the Duke 1-yard line. The distance, spiral, and angle of the punt were textbook.

2.) On Tech's next possession, on the first play from the Duke 34-yard line, wide receiver Richard Johnson, a former high school QB, rifled a perfect end-around option pass to Josh Hyman, who skied in the end zone between two Duke defenders and snatched the ball out of the air. 17-7, VT.

3.) Two possessions later, VT safety Vince Fuller snagged an interception by knifing in front of the receiver and meeting the ball at its highest point, catching it cleanly, and keeping his feet in bounds. Fuller is underrated as an athlete, but this pick was nothing but sheer athleticism on his part.

4.) After VT picked up a first down, Randall tucked the ball on a planned shovel pass and rumbled, bumbled, and stumbled his way to a Steve Young-like run in which he broke six tackles over the course of 30 yards, finally diving into the end zone at the end.

Randall's TD run made it 24-7, Hokies, and you knew Duke wasn't going to come back after that. The Hokie defense continued to bury the Blue Devils with fierce defensive line play, something Duke would recognize from the last time they played in Lane Stadium, in 1984 against a Bruce Smith-led Hokie defense. Nobody in the Duke program was around back then, and many of the players on the field Saturday weren't even born, but the result was very similar. Smith had two sacks, Duke only spent four plays on Tech's side of the field, and the Blue Devils had (-4) yards rushing and 72 yards passing in a 27-0 whipping.

Duke QB Pressure

Bryan Randall had 93 yards rushing on 12 carries, with the large majority of it coming on scrambles away from Duke pressure. As is Randall's custom, he bailed out of the pocket early sometimes. Other times the blocking was poor, but a number of times, Duke blitzed to bring pressure.

A couple of times early, the Blue Devils took advantage of Tech's 4-wide, 1-back set. That's a set with four wide receivers split wide, no tight end, and one running back. That leaves the five offensive linemen alone with just one back to protect the QB. Duke pressured Randall a couple of times by bringing three rushers against two blockers (the guard and tackle) on the side of the line opposite where the tailback was lined up. So there were only two blockers between three rushers and Randall. Early in the game, Duke got good pressure twice with this simple approach.

The Hokies historically haven't had a good answer against the blitz. Michael Vick spent the entire 2000 season running from heavy blitzes by VT opponents, and on Saturday, the Hokies were a little slow to burn Duke when they blitzed. Duke alternates back and forth from a 4-3 alignment to a 3-4 with blitzers.

The Hokies tried the quick toss to the flanker and had it knocked down once. They also called a screen against the blitz described above and completed a nice flareout pass to Cedric Humes, but for the most part, Randall just ran away from the blitz and beat it with his feet, not with the passing game or protection schemes. That's not sophisticated and doesn't involve a lot of strategizing, but it worked. The Hokies also kept the running back in a few times, but that takes away that passing route.

If you're going to run a 4-wide set with no tight ends, you better have hot reads to wideouts, and you need to be able to dump it off to the running back. Other teams – think Virginia, with their 3-4 – will see the Duke blitzes against Tech's 4-wide set and will note that for the most part, the Hokies didn't beat those blitzes by passing the ball to the wideouts. They beat it either by scrambling, rolling the pocket out, or dumping the ball off to a running back. There was one instance where the Hokies kept the tailback into block, and Randall hit Hyman for a short gain.

Duke never did get what I would call a "pure" sack from the blitz. Their first sack came when defensive end Eli Nichols just flat beat Reggie Butler on a rush up the middle, and their second sack came when they flushed Randall out of the pocket and Kitchen escorted him out of bounds for a 4-yard loss.

The Tappinator

Darryl Tapp, on the other hand, got some sacks.

Noland Burchette started out strong in this game, and Chris Ellis had a tackle for loss, but Tapp was the DE who played the best wire to wire. Tapp got some old fashioned off-the-corner speed rush sacks, and he posted one absolutely silly sack in which he juked Duke running back Aaron Fryer out of his shoes, blew past him, and planted Chris Dapolito. (Where the tackle and tight end were, I don't know.)

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. A player's third year in the program is a critical one. That's when the light either goes on, or it doesn't. This is Tapp's third year in the VT program, and he's playing at a high level right now. Last year, he made a lot of plays but also gave up a lot of plays. This year, he's making even more plays, but has cut out many of the mistakes and poor plays, though the end-around TD is an example where he should have kept containment, and his failure to do so cost a TD.

Tapp has 3.5 sacks so far this year, including 2.5 for 16 yards in losses in this game, and on Fuller's interception, he blasted the Duke QB just as he released the ball. Tapp is second on the team in tackles this season, with 19. (Vince Hall leads with 22, and Mikal Baaqee is third with 14.)

The sacks are nice, but the second statistic might be more important. The last time a defensive end finished first or second on the team in tackles was 1990, when Jimmy Whitten was second on the team with 80 tackles, behind Archie Hopkins with 89.

Cornell Brown never did it, though he did finish one measly tackle behind #2 J.C. Price in 1995. Corey Moore never did it. Several defensive tackles have finished #2 since 1990 (Jerome Preston, 1991; Price, 1995; and Nathaniel Williams, 1998), but a defensive end hasn't done it in 13 seasons.

So keep an eye on Tapp's tackle totals, and know that if he's being that productive, he's having a hell of a season. Three games doesn't make a season, but at this point, Tapp is producing at a great rate for a defensive end.

Penalty Breakdown

13 penalties for 101 yards is a lot, the most since the Hokies melted down against WVU last season and drew 13 penalties for 116 yards, including five personal fouls.

In this game, the penalty breakdown was:

1st quarter:
Illegal block on kickoff, Duane Brown, 5 yards.
False start, Reggie Butler, 5 yards.
Unsportsmanlike conduct, James Griffin, 15 yards.

2nd quarter:
Offside, Darryl Tapp, 5 yards.
False start, Reggie Butler, 5 yards.
Illegal block on punt return, Carlton Powell, 15 yards.
False start, Jimmy Martin, 5 yards.

3rd quarter:
Offside, Jason Lallis, 5 yards.
Holding, Josh Hyman, 10 yards
Roughing the kicker, Cory Price, 15 yards.

4th quarter:
False start, Duane Brown, 5 yards.
Face mask, Kory Robertson, 5 yards.
Offside on kickoff, 5 yards

Of those 13 penalties, 1 was bogus – the personal foul on James Griffin – so we'll ignore it. Of the other 12, only 5 are "action" penalties, which are penalties that occur after the snap and before the whistle. The other 7 are "mental" penalties, which occur before the snap: 4 false starts and 3 offsides, including one on a kickoff.

It's the "mental" penalties that kill coaches, and those are the ones they really want to eliminate. When the mental penalties outnumber the action penalties, that's when coaches and fans sprout a few more gray hairs.

Quick Hitters

  • At this point, the Hokie rushing attack isn't what Hokie fans are used to. The offensive line is run-blocking about as well as they have in recent years, but VT lacks the explosive tailback like Lee Suggs or Kevin Jones. Several times Saturday, the OL gave Humes and Hamilton seams that Suggs and Jones might have turned into long gainers, but Humes and Hamilton weren't able to. The pair of tailbacks produced just one run over 15 yards, an 18-yarder by Humes. It will be interesting to see what the addition of Mike Imoh, back from his three-game suspension, will bring to the running game.

  • Memo to Jefferson Pilot productions: That little spinning ACC logo that you use when you cut from a replay to live action and back is out of date. Get a copy of the one with diamonds over Blacksburg and Miami. Contact TheACC.com. (And another thing: tell your announcers it's "Bryan Randall," not "Marcus Randall.")

  • Kickoff artist (yes, artist) Jared Develli is fast becoming a Hokie cult hero. Develli kicked 6 of 9 kickoffs for touchbacks, and the last of those two touchbacks went through the uprights. Let's hear it for white football cleats!

  • Duke had 28 yards on the Deon Adams TD. The rest of the first half, they ran 25 plays for 34 yards.

  • Noted: Eddie Royal had a 22-yard punt return with about 6:00 to go in the third quarter, and on the play, he lost his shoe and his jersey got stuck under his shoulder pads. Right after he was down, no less than five veterans descended upon him to help him find his shoe, get his jersey straight, etc. I think they like the guy.

  • The Hokie defense did its job in very vanilla fashion. They ran their straight 4-3 and blitzed very little throughout the course of the game. Of Tech's 8 tackles for loss, the DL had 7 of them. (James Anderson had the other.)


The Hokies weren't super-sharp in this game. They struggled with penalties, and the running game isn't what they'd like it to be. But they overwhelmed Duke with a strong defensive effort and sheer athleticism, making plays that the Blue Devils couldn't.

The real test for VT, and a critical game in the ACC, comes next when NC State visits Lane Stadium Saturday for a noon kickoff (ESPN). A win over the Wolfpack gives the Hokies the inside track, in my opinion, on finishing in the top four in the ACC, or maybe higher. A loss will make it mighty tough to finish higher than fifth or sixth, with pivotal swing games against Maryland, UVa, and Georgia Tech remaining, and a land mine game at Wake Forest on Oct. 9th.

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