Virginia Tech 31, West Virginia 14
by Will Stewart, TechSideline.com
Sorry, folks, but Iím a little pressed for time, so this is going to be a little short. I wanted to touch upon some of the highlights and keys of the game, sort of in a random order.
Overall, although Iíve got a lot of confidence in Techís offense, the 31 points posted by the Hokies surprised me. I anticipated something in the range of 17-24 points, tops. The 31 points and 365 yards posted by the Tech offense were season highs against West Virginia, and thatís only fair, because Tech probably has the best offense that WVU will play against this year. In the Big East, certainly only Syracuse comes close.
And none of the points were gimmes, despite what Don Nehlen said about Techís last TD, coming off a fake point, being ďon him.Ē The Hokies either drove long distances or had big strikes for their scores. They were not handed the ball on the 10 yard line by a fumble, for instance, and the Tech defense and special teams did not score any points (excluding the one field goal by Shayne Graham).
My Impressions of WVU
I thought that WVUís run defense was as good as advertised. They tackled very well, and throughout the first half, they totally stuffed Techís running game. The run defense for WVU didnít start to break down until the second half, after Tech had softened the Mountaineers up with a great first-half passing performance.
The pass defense, on the other hand, looked very ordinary. Druckenmiller riddled them for 238 yards on 16 of 28 passing, and he missed two big opportunities for scores on bombs. On separate occasions, Druck had Corney White and Michael Stuewe open by a good five yards behind the WVU defense, and he severely underthrew the ball. The one to White was picked off, and the one to Stuewe was dropped when Michael had to go to his knees to try to catch it.
More importantly, the Tech offensive line held WVU to just two sacks, three below their average, and often gave Druck plenty of time to find multiple receivers. When Druck was hit, the big guy just shook it off, as usual.
My advice is that if somebody asks you if WVUís defense was really the best in the country, tell them they were at least close, and give the credit for the 31 points to the Tech offense, not a poor performance by WVU.
As for WVUís offense, I thought they moved the ball well, particularly with the running game. If you take away Chad Johnstonís 7 rushes for -45 yards, you get team stats of 31 rushes for 174 for the rest of the WVU ball carriers, for an average of 5.4 yards a carry. Pretty darn good, in my book.
And at times, WVU got the short pass they needed for the first down. And they earned their two touchdowns. Both were long drives.
Where WVU was hurt the most was in the long passing game. Chad Johnston displays a complete inability to throw an accurate pass longer than 20 yards. Iíve seen him play several times this year, and his idea of a long pass is to just wing the ball and hope it comes down near his receiver. Amazingly, he only has four interceptions on the year.
In the final analysis, what lost the game for WVU was the inability to stop Techís passing game and their own inability to consistently execute on offense. There were no special teams nightmares here - WVU just got outplayed by a better team.
Iím usually not one to sling mud after the fact, but I think that you probably sensed my disgust with the Mountaineer coaching staff earlier this week. To refresh your memory, WVU defensive coordinator Steve Dunlap called the Hokies the most flagrant holding team in the Big East, and the threw in the word ďridiculousĒ for good measure. Don Nehlen followed that up with silly statements about making sure that Druckenmiller had his mouthpiece in during the game.
First of all, I donít believe that Dunlap was given the green light by Nehlen to make those bulletin-board statements. Techís offensive line includes two NFL draft picks (Hagood and Conaty), three if you count Jennings. Techís line is big and theyíre quick. The last thing you want to do is insult them the week before a big game by saying that they cheat. That was just stupid.
As for Nehlen, when the head coach is sniping about the opposing QBís mouthpiece, Iím asking myself, ďIn all those hours of game film that you watched, THATís what you noticed about Druckenmiller?Ē Where are Nehlenís priorities, with a huge conference game coming up? Thereís no way youíre going to rattle Jim ďBig GameĒ Druckenmiller, who is so cool that heís listed with the EPA as an environmentally safe replacement for CFCís.
Druck kept his mouth shut, carved up the WVU defense, and said after the game, ''Worrying about little stuff like that, if they want to do it, fine. Myself, I'd call it a little petty.'' Seniors are allowed to say stuff like that, because they wonít be around anymore.
In general, the Tech team was quiet the week before the game and did their talking on the field. Frank Beamer is certainly from the ďSpeak softly and carry a big stickĒ school of philosophy, and right now, the Hokies are carting a howitzer around, keeping their lips zipped and their mouthpieces firmly in place.
So the Hokies won the pre-game coaching bout easily. I donít know enough about football to critique the game coaching, but the Tech coaching staff did get the drop on WVUís staff during WVUís failed fake punt in the fourth quarter.
First of all, in an obvious fake situation, Tech left their defense in and simply put Shawn Scales back to catch the punt, which the Hokies do whenever they anticipate a fake. Despite staring across the field at this, Nehlen called for the fake anyway, and naturally, it failed.
The punch line? Beamer said after the game that assistant coach Bud Foster knew the fake was coming because heíd seen the WVU punter warming up his arm on the sideline.
Be proud of Beamer and his staff, Hokie fans. Don Nehlen is rightfully acknowledged as one of the best coaches in the country, and Beamer and the boys thrashed him this weekend.
Where the Game Was Won
Do you remember the Syracuse game last year, when Tech blew open a tight game by reeling off a string of points at the end of the second quarter and the beginning of the third? I caught a feeling of deja vu Saturday, because Tech put this game away in similar fashion, scoring late in the second and again early in the third. Once the Hokies did that, you had the feeling that WVU wasn't going to be able to muster the offense for a comeback.
Tech's drive at the end of the first half is just more evidence that Druckenmiller is a premier two-minute drill quarterback. We saw this in his very first game, last year against BC, when he marched the Hokies downfield, only to come up short when a pass fell incomplete at the 5 yard line. This particular touchdown drove the first of two stakes into the heart of the Mountaineers, who had closed the gap to 10-7.
The drive in the beginning of the second half was Ricky Bustle doing his smash-mouth football thing. As we've documented here before, Bustle does that at the beginning of almost every second half, and the great thing is, it works. It even worked against Syracuse, in what was otherwise Tech's worst performance of the year. After the team compiled just over 20 yards rushing in the first half, Ken Oxendine got 54 all by himself in that one drive, including 39 on a TD run that left WVU's excellent rush defense grabbing air. The Ox has stepped up against two of the better defenses in the country these past two weeks, and his 104 against WVU is a season high against the Mountaineers.
To WVU's credit, they didn't fold up, even though that put them down 24-7 at the time. They continued to claw and scratch and pick away, and the game really wasn't sealed until Tech stuck the failed fourth-quarter fake punt attempt into the end zone to make it 31-14.
Sit Down, Canute. Good Boy.
Canute Curtis is an awesome football player. Most of the time.
Saturday, Tech ďheldĒ Canute to just 4-1/2 tackles and no sacks, while meanwhile, Cornell Brown was demolishing the WVU offense for 10 tackles, three sacks, and a pick-off of a lateral. While Canute has had the better year, Cornell made his statement in the head to head matchup.
Iím drooling at the thought of Cornell teeing off on Uvaís quarterbacks, and if he can carry his momentum from this game into the next, we will all remember why this guy was picked pre-season All-America. Itís been a rough year for Cornell, but to be honest, we havenít needed him much to this point. We needed him against WVU, and he showed up. We will certainly need him against Uva and Tiki Barber, as well as in the bowl game.
As is customary, Cornell ducked the media after the game (although I do believe he spoke with Mike Burnop), preferring to let his on the field accomplishments do his talking. Nehlen and his staff should take a cue from Cornell.
Kibbles and Bits
Jimmy Kibble is out of his mind. Several readers properly chastised me for not mentioning him in my Miami game report, because he boomed a 45-yarder into the wind on his last punt in that game, when the pressure was on and Tech needed a good one.
Kibble's momentum carried over into this game, and he punted 8 times for an average of 43 yards. He still hasnít got the gift of hang time, so he tends to outkick the coverage, but at this point, Iím ecstatic with his performance. Kibble has been a great team player and a hard worker, doing whatís asked of him, and the patience that the coaching staff and the fans have displayed in him is starting to pay off.
And he showed good speed for a kicker when he made a touchdown-saving tackle on one kick return in which Tech failed to cover the perimeter. I think it was a kickoff, not a punt, because I turned to the guy next to me and said, "If Ryan Williams is still kicking for us, that's a touchdown."
The current performance of Tech's punting and punt return teams bears absolutely no resemblance to the first few games, when Walter Ford and John Thomas (a couple of blasts from the past) were in charge. Not to speak ill of the dead, but the progress since then has been remarkable and is a testament to both the coaches and the players. We're all breathing easier now, and I don't think the punting game is going to lose any games for us. Two months ago, I was convinced that it eventually would.
Prime Time Players
Cornell Brown. Duh.
Ken Oxendine, for going over the century mark against the country's best run defense.
Druck, because nobody scares him.
Brian Edmonds, whose 5 catches for 79 yards completely surprised everybody, especially WVU.
Corney White - 6 catches, 77 yards, 2 TD's.
The defensive line, Brandon Semones (shame on him for fumbling that interception, though), and Torrian Gray. Myron Newsome, who blocked a fourth-down pass attempt with his helmet.
Lastly, a big game ball to Shawn Scales, not for his performance on the field, but for his performance in life. In a time when nothing but crap was being written about the character of Tech's football team, The Washington Post ran an article on Shawn that chronicled what an amazing person he is and reminded us all that dozens of quality people strap on the orange and maroon every weekend. The Roanoke Times reprinted the article on Monday. If Scales drops every pass that's thrown to him for the next year, he'll still be one of my favorite Tech players. Ever.
Post Game Prayer Meeting
We hung around the stands after the game and were treated to the sight of several dozen Tech and West Virginia players kneeling at midfield for a post-game prayer. It's always interesting to watch two teams full of big guys go at each other for three hours and then put all of that aside for a common interest.
I watched the prayer meeting closely, and I can report that Druckenmiller was wearing his mouthpiece, and none of Tech's offensive linemen were committing holding against WVU's defensive linemen.
Next Up: the Hated Hoos
I'm bummed, because this game is in a short week in which I can't do much work on Hokie Central, so I can't give the Cavahoos my proper, lengthy focus of derision. I do have some thoughts on what to expect in the game, and I'll post them later this week.