Virginia Tech 23, Temple 13
by Will Stewart,, 9/20/97

Click here for the game recap with stats

Post mortems on games like this are always difficult, because let’s be honest - we’re just glad it’s over, we got the W, and it’s time to move on. I don’t think anybody out there really wants to rehash this one, because there aren’t a whole lot of highlights to gloat over. All this game did was demonstrate that our team wasn’t really fired up about playing it, and it exposed our weaknesses. And oh, yeah, Temple has gotten a lot better.

Does it sound like I’m setting you up for a short game report? Well, I am. The team apparently wasn’t very inspired to play this game, and I’m not inspired to write about it. Nevertheless, it’s my job, so here we go….

A Look Back at Our Goals

One interesting way to look at this game is to see how it measured up to the goals I set for the Hokies at the end of the Syracuse game. Here’s what I said I wanted them to do with the Temple/Ark. State/Miami (OH)/BC part of the schedule:

  • Win - mission accomplished. I forgot to add, though, that I wanted to win by a lot, and we definitely didn’t get the job done there.
  • Hone the defense and move it up in the statistical rankings - I don’t think it can be said that our defense "honed" itself in this game, and Temple’s 184 yards rushing and 303 yards of offense don’t look good in the stats.
  • Develop depth in the offensive line and improve the passing game - again, negatory. Coach Bustle said on Monday night (in response to a question from yours truly, I might add) that the starters played all but one down, and that was a down that Josh Redding played. That’s what happens in close games. As for the passing game, it only generated 100 yards and included four drops by receivers (three by Cullen Hawkins and one by Stuewe).
  • Move up in the polls - mission accomplished, due to some unexpected and perhaps unwarranted generosity by the pollsters, particularly the AP voters. The Hokies went from #14 to #12 in the coaches poll and from #18 to #14 (triple-gasp!) in the AP poll. Due to that generosity, it doesn’t matter that we didn’t win by "a lot."
  • Put the Ox on his way to a 1,000-yard season - again, mission solidly accomplished. Ken gained 160 yards on a career-high tying 28 carries, despite the fact that he had the entire offense strapped to his back.
  • Stay healthy - 50/50 on this one. Engelberger suffered a muscle strain in his left knee in Temple’s second series and never returned. This gets added to a bruised shoulder that was bothering him last week. Anthony Midget strained a quadriceps muscle, and it’s unknown how long he’ll be out. Marcus Parker didn’t play due to a bruised right knee. The good news is, no one suffered year-ending injuries on the nasty turf at Veteran’s Stadium in Philly.

All in all, this game was a wash, and the Hokies and their fans are rightfully glad that a win was accomplished. That’s more than BC can say about their Temple game, more than Syracuse can say about N.C. State and Oklahoma, and more than Miami can say about Pittsburgh.

Was a Letdown Inevitable?

Frank Beamer is just one hell of a motivator, and I mean that sincerely. He stood there after the game and admitted that the team wasn’t ready to play, and then he took the blame himself. He continues to give credit to the players and assistant coaches when the Hokies win, and he continues to take the blame when they lose. That's good coaching, by George (subtle pun).

That said, I’ve been wondering if a letdown for this game was unavoidable. I think that if the Hokies had made a trek to Pittsburgh or Boston College or WVU, with the stadium full of hostile fans, it would have been easier for them to get motivated than trying to play at nearly-empty Veteran’s Stadium.

When you play against Temple in an empty stadium, I imagine it has a funny effect on you as a player. The game starts to feel more like a scrimmage, and everybody knows it doesn’t matter whether or not you win a scrimmage. Also, it feels as if no one’s watching, and you start to think, "Hey, nobody’s paying attention, anyway. It won’t matter if I don’t play well."

Playing Syracuse on ESPN in front of 50,000 screaming fans and playing Temple in front of 10,000 snoozing fans are two different worlds. I won’t get on the team for not playing up to snuff, because heck, as a listener, I wasn’t very motivated, either. These things happen.

A lack of motivation manifests itself in several noticeable ways: penalties, dropped passes, poor tackling, fumbles, and poor special teams play. The Hokies underperformed in three of those areas: dropped passes, missed tackles, and penalties. The Hokies dropped four catchable balls in the game, and although they only had six penalties, it seemed that they all came at bad times, and two were of the "unusual" variety, a pair of offensive interference penalties. By all accounts, the tackling was very sloppy on the part of the defense.

How Good is Temple?

This is a question that bears asking. Before the game, Bill Roth talked about the type of player that Temple has been attracting the last few years. The Owls have become a wayward home for Prop 48 athletes, marginal students who couldn’t make it into the big-time schools who were recruiting them and went to Temple instead. He listed some of the colleges that had been recruiting some of Temple’s players, and it was a who’s-who of college football. Bill summed it up by saying, "Temple’s got some players."

Indeed. When Elmarko Jackson broke free for a 55-yard TD run that put Temple up 10-7, he flat ran away from the speedy Hokie defense that I’ve been bragging about all spring and fall. This wasn’t supposed to happen, remember?

It’s not a stretch to say that Temple outplayed us. If you take away the "blocked" punt the Hokies had early in the game that gave the ball to us deep in Temple territory, plus the 65-yard kickoff return that put us in position to score on a 30-yard Oxendine run at the beginning of the second half, the Hokies produced zero touchdowns from true offensive "drives."

By the same "remove the big play" logic, though, you would have to take away Temple’s 55-yard TD run. So we’ve whittled the score down to a 9-6 Tech victory.

To take this a step further, let’s get rid of the turnovers, of which the Hokies had none. Temple fumbled twice in Tech territory in the fourth quarter, once on the 22 and once on the 6. If the Owls hadn’t coughed those up…..

But this is all game-playing that doesn’t amount to anything. The fact of the matter is, the Hokies made the big plays necessary to win:

  • a stuffed punt that resulted in an easy touchdown
  • a 65-yard kickoff return, followed by a 30-yard run for a TD
  • two fumble recoveries

Temple only had one big play, the 55-yard TD run.

All this analysis, and I use the term lightly, points to the only conclusion you can draw from this game, namely that good teams find a way to win, even when they’re playing poorly. In years past, the Hokies would have found a way to lose this game, but they didn’t. Temple may be fielding more physical talent than in the past, but they’re still not as good a football team as Tech, and they may never be.

And interestingly enough, lost in all the poor play were some excellent moments. Al Clark knocked a Temple defensive back out with a concussion in a goal-line collision that knocked the Owl defender’s helmet off. Korey Irby tattooed a Temple kickoff returner early in the second half with a hit that had Bill Roth and Mike Burnop reminiscing about the time Antonio Banks hit a Southern Miss player so hard that he, Banks, broke his own nose.

And what can you say about the Ox? This is why we like him so much. 160 yards on 28 carries, and a victory in a game where his absence may have meant a loss.

We're Still a Little Too Thin

The Syracuse game and the Temple game have pointed out how important Marcus Parker is to this offense. We didn’t play well on offense when Marcus was out against Syracuse, and in this game, his absence was pointed out in glaring fashion by backup fullback Cullen Hawkins dropping three Al Clark passes. Not having seen the game, I can’t critique Cullen’s blocking performance, but it’s doubtful Marcus would have dropped the three passes.

Over on defense, John Engelberger was also conspicuous by his absence. Engelberger is a George Del Ricco type who is involved in nearly every play, so when he’s missing, it’s almost as if you’re playing with ten guys instead of eleven.

Last week, I made a comment about how the Tech defense wasn’t just one or two guys making plays while the others took up space. This week, I’m willing to concede that perhaps one guy, John Engelberger, is more important to this defense than I would have guessed.

But think about this for a second. The Hokies lost 13 of 22 starters from last year’s team, which is a heck of a lot of losses to recover from. Take away Parker and Engelberger, and you’ve now "lost" 15 of 22 starters, nearly three-quarters of last year’s starters. Even if you’re a program that’s starting to use the term "reload" instead of "rebuild," it’s hard to replace that many guys.

So in addition to the motivation factor and the Temple talent factor, you can attribute the closeness of this game to another factor - Tech’s youth. We’re still trying to break in a lot of young guys.

Game Notes

Tech’s Shayne Graham, 3-4 on field goals, was named Big East Special Teams Player of the Week, one week after Jimmy Kibble earned the same honor, which was one game after Al Clark earned the Big East Offensive Player of the Week (correct? – or was it Engelberger winning the defensive award? Whatever.)… Ricky Bustle stated on the Hokie Hotline Monday night that he was extremely pleased with the play of the offensive line… Bustle also said in regards to the slow development of the passing game that he is bringing Al Clark along at the rate that is best for Al. Hurry, Ricky, we’ll need him for WVU and Miami!

Tech’s 3-0 start in the Big East is the first 3-0 start in the conference in school history. ESPN did their misinformational best when they showed our score by putting up that it was our first 3-0 start in school history, period. That reminds me of the time we were whipping UVa on ESPN in 1990 – Will Furrer threw his 17th TD pass of the year in that game, which was a Tech record for one season at the time, and ESPN dutifully reported it as a Tech career record. 17 TD passes, a career record? I could hear people all over the country laughing at that stat. I think you can trace our current problems with respect in the national media back to that moment in that 1990 broadcast.

Yes, that was a joke, folks.

Coming up Next

The Hokies get to step out of conference and challenge a few patsies now, and the good news is that five of the Hokies next six games are at Lane.

First up is Arkansas State on September 27th, and after that comes Miami of Ohio on October 4th. Here’s hoping the team uses those two games to get healed and improve before Boston College rolls into town on October 11th. I’ll spend the next two weeks with one eye on the Hokies and one eye on the 2-1 BC Eagles, who may be better than I originally thought (they are officially excused for losing to Temple at the Vet, after what we just went through).

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