Virginia Tech 30, Rutgers 14
by Will Stewart, TechSideline.com
There was little doubt that the Hokies would win this one, so in my mind, the most important thing about this game was not the game itself, but the fact that it was the home opener. Much water has come and gone underneath the bridge since the Hokies' last home game, a 31-7 whipping of Syracuse on a frigid November day last year. After that game, the Hokies captured the Big East championship (beating Temple 38-16), triumphed over Virginia in a thriller (36-29), and stomped Texas in perhaps the biggest win in Hokie history (28-10 in the ... ah, you know where).
Tack on two road games to start this year, and it seemed like forever since we had seen our boys in maroon jerseys.
I get all sappy when it comes to Tech home football games. There's nothing more exciting than walking up to Lane Stadium just before the season home opener, approaching the field, and seeing all that green grass, sunshine, and over 45,000 of your closest friends in the stands. The turnout for this game was excellent. I predicted 45,000-48,000 if the weather held up, and I pretty much nailed it, because just over 47,000 people showed up. Our attendance numbers are off to a hot start, boosted by 16,000+ season ticket sales, a new record.
As for the game, we dominated it statistically, but a handful of mistakes, turnovers, and an inability to punch the ball in from the red zone kept it close. I don't think the Hokies' hitch-and-jerk performance is anything that should get your underwear in a bunch. Typically, Beamer's teams hit their stride between games 5 and 7 of the season, and this season isn't turning out any differently. In the Akron game, we were bad, in the BC game we were great, and in this game, we were a little bit of both.
Let's address some of the things the Hokies did wrong, and then we'll have a ball talking about the things they did right.
It was late in the first quarter or early in the second. Tech was cruising with a 14-0 lead and a perfectly thrown ball was falling out of the sky into Angelo Harrison's hands for a 56-yard TD that was going to bury Rutgers and officially commence the blowout. Awestruck by the sheer perfection of the pass, the fans in Lane Stadium fell utterly silent as Druckenmiller's rain-maker descended from the ozone.
The next sound was a resounding groan when Harrison dropped it. Number 83 clapped his hands to his head and collapsed onto the end zone turf.
After that, things got interesting for a while.
For the next quarter-plus, a series of Hokie mistakes and some inspired and intelligent play by Rutgers brought the game to a 14-all tie early in the third quarter. For openers, freshman Shyrone Stith finally fumbled, coughing one up on the Rutgers 5 yard line, but it was a great, helmet-on-the-ball hit by the Rutgers defender that caused it.
Right after halftime, Druckenmiller threw the first really bad pass I've seen him throw since last year's Cincinnati game, and it was picked off at the Tech 34. In the ensuing Rutgers drive, Cornell Brown lost his cool, drawing his second dead-ball personal foul in two games, this one for being a little too vocal with the ref. Beamer promptly pulled Cornell out of the game and got vocal with him. Cornell felt that he was chop-blocked on one play, right in front of the ref, and I guess he stated his case a little too earnestly.
In the meantime, the Scarlet Knight offense was exploiting a few weak spots in the Hokie defense. Rutgers picked on Loren Johnson, completing a slew of passes in front of the sophomore, and when they needed some tough yards near the Tech goal line on one of their TD drives, they went up the middle at linebacker Steve Tate, who was subbing for Tony Morrison. Tate made some good plays but didn't make them all. In particular, I watched one play at the Tech 10 where he got caught out of position and got buried by the fullback. Rutgers carried the ball to the one yard line and later punched it in.
But once Rutgers scored their second touchdown to tie it at 14, they were done (now we can talk about the good stuff).
Shayne Graham is delivering the goods so far. He coolly connected on three field goal attempts that took the game from 14-14 to 23-14. Beamer even tried a 56-yarder into the wind at the end of the first half, and I can report from my excellent vantage point in section 15 that if the air had been calm, or the wind had been even slightly at his back, Graham would have made it. As it was, the well-kicked ball got up into the breeze and died about halfway into the end zone.
The scoring was closed out with a Brian Edmonds touchdown run of 19 yards. It was a signature run for Edmonds - right up the gut into a defense that was too tired to tackle him. How is it that Tech is continually able to spring Edmonds free right up the gut and into the end zone, almost untouched? That's three times in two games, and I love it.
And those of you who weren't at the game or couldn't get it on TV missed watching Edmonds mow over a poor, defenseless cornerback on a screen play. Big number 32 got a good head of steam up and ran straight through and over the guy. It was the kind of testosterone-filled play that sets a stadium full of people woofing and cheering. By the end of the game, Edmonds was running through a river of arm tackles on his way to 80 yards rushing on 12 carries.
(Note to Frank Beamer: use this guy to wear Syracuse down.)
Another bright spot was defensive end Danny Wheel, who accumulated two impressive sacks. One of them was a bull rush around the Rutgers left tackle that resulted in a fumble and had people leaning over and asking me, "Hey, was that Cornell Brown?"
And despite the fumble, Shyrone Stith continues to impress, with 18 carries and 75 yards. This guy is shifty, folks. He's got Dwayne Thomas's spin move, or a reasonable facsimile of it, but he hits the hole quicker than Thomas and has an arsenal of cuts that leave DB's grasping for air. When you can play two and two-thirds games without your top two runners, and the next guy in line piles up 274 yards, you've got to be happy.
And let's hear it for Shawn Scales, who lived up to his preseason billing with 5 catches for 61 yards, including a snazzy cut-back across the middle that brought the crowd to its feet. With the exception of Harrison's drop, the receiving corps played a great game, including Stuewe, who had 7 catches for 71 yards. Druck even did something out of the ordinary, as he ran 10 times for 53 yards, often taking on linebackers and defensive backs head-on. Uhh, quit that, Jim. Leave that stuff up to Edmonds.
One last game note: I've never seen Tech execute their screens better than they did against Rutgers. Time and time again, Rutgers DB's had the misfortune of being isolated out in the flat with Jay Hagood or T.J. Washington bearing down on them. The flanker screen, as executed by the Hokies, has been one of the most fun plays to watch ever since we used to run it with Eugene Chung. If I had to pick one thing that I like about Ricky Bustle's coaching, it's that play.
Nice scene: I hung around the stands after the game and watched a steady stream of Tech players file by Rutgers defensive coordinator Rod Sharpless, who used to hold the same position at Tech last year. The players who paid their respects even included a handful of offensive players. Billy Conaty stopped by and gave Sharpless a hug. Contrast this with the BC game, after which Conaty said about Phil Elmassian: "Sure it was good to beat him. When he was here, he never talked to the offensive players. I don't know if he didn't respect us, or what."
Why bother? The Hokies stood still in the polls, staying put at #18 in the AP poll and #16 in the CNN/USA Today coaches poll. Who would have thought that the Hokies would start the season ranked #15 in the AP, go 3-0, and drop 3 spots in the poll?
Next week: Syracuse. We've all been pointing at this game since the offseason. It's big. It's huge. It's pivotal. A win over SU puts Tech in the driver's seat in the Big East at 3-0 and all but assures the Hokies of at least a 5-2 Big East record and a Car Quest bowl bid, barring a world-ending loss to Temple or Pitt in November. The Syracuse game is so big that I'm going to devote an entire "My Opinion" column to it later this week, just to get you foaming at the mouth in anticipation of the 3:30 game on Saturday.