From 2-8-1 to Sugar Bowl Champs

Part 2 of 3
Click Here for Part 1
Click Here for Part 3
By Jeff Holland, 11/30/99

Note from HokieCentral: Jeff Holland was a defensive tackle for Virginia Tech from 1991-1995 and played a key role in the rise of the Virginia Tech defense from 1993 to 1995. In the second part of this three-part series, Jeff shares his experiences and thoughts with us from the year 1994, when Tech got off to a hot start but faded late and lost the Gator Bowl.

Part 3 will cover Jeffís recollections of the 1995 Sugar Bowl season. It will appear here in the HokieCentral Columnists section in the near future.

Part 2 of 3:  "1994 -- How do you top a year like 1993?"

One of the biggest questions for the defense in 1994 was whether or not we could build off of the last three games of 1993 in which we played very well. We started off the 1994 season greatÖ4-0, with an impressive win at Boston College and a showcase game on ESPN Thursday night versus West Virginia. Then there was the Syracuse game, which I put in the same category as the 1993 Boston College game in which the defense forgot to show up. We ended up losing 3 out of the last 4 games, and we gave up an average of 36 points in those last 4 games.

Almost all of our defensive line was back, except Bernard Basham who graduated, but we added Jim Baron. Dwayne Knight was also lost to graduation, but George DelRicco and Ken Brown were back. Brandon Semones quickly disproved any notion that he couldnít play Division 1-A football, or that Coach Beamer might show favoritism towards him, given that Brandon was his nephew. Semones had a monster season in 1994, with 99 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, and 3 interceptions. Tyronne Drakeford was gone, but we had a very talented, albeit young, secondary Ė Banks, Green, Gray, and Yarborough.

Arkansas St (34-7): Arkansas St. collected their paycheck and went home. This game is very similar to this yearís JMU game Ė a blowout versus a weaker team at the first game of the year, their pass offense gets shut down while they run for over 100 yards against the defense (with most of rushing yards coming on one long run.

Southern Miss (24-14): Hattiesburg, Mississippi Ė one of the toughest places to play in college football. Itís hot, muggy, and the home fans, who are only a few feet away from the visitors bench, give you hell. The score really doesnít indicate how much we dominated Southern Miss. Due to a couple early turnovers by Virginia Tech, the score was 14-0 in the first quarter, with Southern Miss leading. Defensively, we played great. They only had 45 yards rushing and 99 yards passing. After the first two games, we looked pretty good. The real test would be the next 3 gamesÖ

Boston College (12-7): Thereís no way you can forget about a game like the one we played against Boston College in 1993. The chants of "overrated" still lingered in our minds. I know for a fact that everyone, including several Roanoke Times writers, thought we had no chance to win, but we knew better. A football game is 60 minutes long; we played GREAT defense for 59 minutes and 54 seconds - their tight end, Pete Mitchell, scored on a pass reception in the last few seconds of the game. Boston College used three different quarterbacks, and was held to 11 first downs and only 65 yards rushing.

You figure a win on the road versus a very good Boston College team (they went on to beat Kansas St. in the Aloha Bowl), would make us, the defense, happy. Well it didnít. The locker room after the game was not as jubilant as you would think. We were very disappointed in the fact that we didnít shut them out. Torrian Gray scored on an interception return and our offense didnít score a touchdown, and it didnít need to score, either Ė which is the way the defense likes it. This game was probably the first time in which you started to see the "attitude" of the Virginia Tech defense take shape.

As we left the field, some of the defensive players, including myself, gave long hard stares into the student section, and we didnít hear any chants of "overrated"Öand we left Boston with smiles on our faces.

West Virginia (34-6): ESPN Thursday Night Game! What more could you ask for? The hype surrounding this game was at an all-time high at that point in time. We had another dominating game statistically Ė 8 sacks, including three by Cornell Brown, 91 yards rushing, and some ferocious hitting by Banks and DelRicco (who knocked off the WVU QB's helmet on one tackle). After the first four games, things were great. For the past 7 games, dating back to Syracuse 1993, the defense was playing great football. But, you could say that our heads got too big. Virginia Tech had only been in the "winning business" for the past 16 games. We would have a dose of reality the next week in up-state New YorkÖ

Syracuse (20-28): I heard that if you make the cover of Sports Illustrated, then you can expect some bad luck to come your way. Well, I wonder if making the cover of the USA Today sports page carries the same expectations. If you remember, Virginia Tech was on the front page of the September 27, 1994 issue of the USA Today sports page.

In reality, being on the front of the USA Today sports page had nothing to do with losing the game. It was primarily one of those games (Boston College 1993) that the defense just "plain stunk up the field." Our tackling was terrible. Ironically, we actually had a 20-14 lead late in the fourth quarter. The defense gave up 278 yards rushing, including 2 running backs rushing for over 100 yards each.

SIDE NOTE: As for the Carrier Dome, itís really not that hard of a place to play. Sure, Coach Beamer has never won there, but itís not any louder than any other stadium Iíve played in. Itís not a hot and humid place as some sports commentators want you to believe. Other than the fact that I hated to play on turf, itís just another stadium.

Temple (41-13): This yearís score versus Temple was closer than last yearís (55-7), but defensively we played better Ė 12 first downs and 78 yards rushing. We bounced back from the Syracuse game, but itís difficult forgetting a game like the Syracuse game.

ECU (27-20): Ever heard of the expression "winning ugly"? Well, thatís what we did. Marcus Crandell passed for 332 yards on us, and ECU only had 89 yards rushing. It wasnít one of our best games defensively, but the defense did come up with some big plays Ė Cornellís caused fumble (plus his 2.5 sacks) which was returned by Lawrence Lewis for a touchdown, and Ken Brownís interception late in the game to seal the victory.

Winning on the road is somewhat different than winning at home. Sometimes in hostile places like Greenville, NC, you just want to win because of things like the biased referees who officiated this game and the rowdy and sometimes obnoxious fans. This was our first "real" win on the road versus a good opponent.

SIDE NOTE: One thing that happened on this road trip that I remember is that we couldnít fly directly into Greenville, which is similar to when teams play at West Virginia and Virginia Tech. We had to fly to another airport approximately 45-60 minutes away. Even though to the average person it may not seem that big of a deal, it is a huge pain in the butt to travel that far from where we actually play. ECU is a good example. So is West Virginia, and when we played in the 1994 Gator Bowl, which was suppose to be played in Jacksonville, but was played in GainesvilleÖdue to the construction of AllTel Stadium, home of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Now I know what visiting teams must feel like when they play Virginia Tech. They have to fly into Roanoke (sometimes Lynchburg Ė like what has happened this year), take a bus to Blacksburg to practice, then bus back to Roanoke, then bus back again to Blacksburg for the game and finally bus back to Roanoke to fly back home. Other than being a great football team and Lane Stadium/Worsham Field being a difficult place to play, I believe where Blacksburg is located is part of the reason why some teams donít -- and wonít -- play Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.

Remember, in 1991, Florida State paid Virginia Tech $1 million to move our "home" game to Orlando.

Pittsburgh (45-7): The defense played a very good game. At this point of the season Virginia Tech was 7-1, so we knew we were going to a bowl game again. How things have changed in only a couple of years. Brandon Semones played one of the best games Iíve seen any defensive player have, besides Cornell Brown and J.C. Price. Check out this line: 15 tackles, three quarterback sacks (one of which he got by beating current NFL player and brother of Cornell, Ruben Brown), 2 fumbles caused, a tackle for loss, a QB pressure and a pass broken up.

Miami (3-24): "We got our tails kicked!" Basically, that summed up the game. 1994 was the probably the last year Miami was still Miami. I donít remember that much of this game, because I seriously injured my back in the third quarter. I had to stay over night in Miami, wearing my smelly uniform, no less, and what an experience that was. But, thatís another story.

SIDE NOTE: However, one good thing did happen at the game (besides the fact that I wasnít paralyzed from the neck down). According to my calculations, I am the only individual person that I am aware of that received a standing ovation from an Orange Bowl crowd when I was carted off the field on a stretcher.

Rutgers (41-34): The annual Rutgers-Virginia Tech shoot-out continued. Same story as last year, we play very good in the first half, but awful in the second half. Want to know why we always played poorly versus Rutgers (1992-1994)? Answer: bad tackling and poor execution by the defense. One key injury Ė Ken Brown pulled his hamstring, which hurt us defensively for the rest of the season.

Virginia (23-42): 8 turnovers and 249 rushing yards allowedÖenough said. Surprisingly, we were only down 25-16 in the 4th quarter. We finished the season 8-3. An ugly way to end the regular season.

We were very disappointed because we started off so great (4-0 and 7-1). The injury to Ken Brown in the Rutgers game didnít help us down the stretch. Some of our senior leadership deteriorated after this game. But, on the bright side: we finished second in the Big East; we were going to play Tennessee in the Gator Bowl; and anything is better than 2-8-1.

SIDE NOTE: Throughout my 3 year player career, my parents usually recorded every game that was on TV, and I usually watch them after the season is over. However, this game is one that I have never watched, and probably never will watch. The tape of this game is still somewhere in my closet collecting dust.

Tennessee (23-45): In retrospect, we (Virginia Tech) had the "just-happy-to-be-here" attitude going into the bowl game. In the last three games of this season, we were playing awful, defensively. We didnít have a lot of momentum going into the bowl game.

Playing Tennessee was our introduction to SEC football. Intimidated? No. Were they that much better than us? Not really. The only thing that separated Tennessee from Virginia Tech was their offensive line and some freshman quarterback named Peyton Manning. He is as good as everyone says he is.

SIDE NOTE: Along with Rich Braham (offensive tackle for West Virginia in 1993), the whole entire Tennessee offensive line was the best offensive lineman I have ever faced. Our coaches told us that they were all future NFL players (4 seniors and 1 junior) which was probably true, although I donít know if any or all of them are currently in the NFL. They were very good, and ironically, the offensive line coach for Tennessee at that time was former Virginia Tech offensive line coach, Steve Marshall.

Overall (8-4): This season can be split into two parts: the first 8 games and the final 4 games. In the first 8 games, we were very good, going 7-1, and the defense allowed only 102 points, or just over 12 points per game. In the final 4 games, we were absolutely horrible, going 1-3, and the defense gave up 145 points, which calculates out to about 36 points per game.

Itís hard to say what happened, and I played through the whole thing. It wasnít just one thing, it was a combination of things. Having Ken Brown injured in the Rutgers game didnít help us, but we canít blame an injury to one person for our collapse in the final 4 games.

Some of the senior leadership (and overall leadership) did deteriorate as the season went on. We lost our focus as the season went on. Remember, we were still pretty young on defense, and we werenít deep at the linebacker and secondary positions. Ken Brown was the only senior starter. Plus, Virginia Tech had only been in the "winning business" for the last 2 years. On the bright side, compared to 1992, this year wasnít too bad.

Furthermore, we did have a lot to look forward to in 1995. We had 10 defensive starters coming back, and ESPN had already scheduled an opening season Thursday night game with Boston College.

Quotes from my scrapbook:

I think Coach Beamer summed it up best, "We will be back and we will be better. We will, I promise that." (December 1994, after the Gator Bowl).

SIDE NOTE: Personally, I was pretty sad for the seniors. No senior should end his career the way we did in 1994. I was especially sad for Maurice DeShazo. I donít think many people realize how good and valuable he really was. He had a great season in 1993 and a not-so-good senior season in 1994. All I will say is, "if it ainít broke, donít fix it."

Jeff Holland was a defensive tackle for the Hokie football team from 1991-1995.  He played a key role in the rise of the Virginia Tech defense and on the Hokie bowl teams from 1993-1995. Jeff graduated from Virginia Tech with a B.A. in Urban Affairs and Planning and a Masters in Urban and Regional Planning.  He is currently the Town Planner in Smithfield, VA.

          

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