Virginia Tech 17, Boston College 0
by Will Stewart, TechSideline.com, 10/8/98
I've got a problem. I'm starting to believe the Hokies are invincible.
If you remember, I wrote in my Miami game report that I had a sense we were going to win that game, despite everything that went wrong for the Hokies and despite the fact that Miami was a talented team on a mission.
Thursday night, I sat in my living room and had an eerie sense of deja vu as I watched the Hokies squander opportunity after opportunity, turn the ball over six times, and struggle to move the ball offensively, with an inexperienced quarterback who often looked like a deer in headlights, all in a steady downpour that neutralized Tech's defensive speed ... and yet, I felt calm that the Hokies were going to win.
They're certainly not doing anything to prove me wrong. How many other teams in the country can give up 86 yards rushing to one guy, in one drive, and stop the other team on downs? How many other teams can respond to an anemic offensive output by scoring with their defense?
How many other teams have special teams and a defense that can carry the team to victory?
And more importantly, how much longer can we keep doing this?
As you know, BC pulled out all the stops for this game, from giving away terrible towels, to inviting back over 30 former captains, to retiring the numbers of Doug Flutie and Mike Ruth, to having former Wahoo Chris Slade on the sidelines, to calling it their "biggest game of the year."
Once again, just like it was at Miami, it was all for naught. The game was decided on the field, by the Hokies. By the Hokie defense.
This game should have been 21-0 ten minutes into it, but every time Boston College generously coughed the ball up, Tech gave it right back.
In Tech's first drive, Rickey Bustle started Nick Sorensen off with a flanker screen, to Ricky Hall, and the Hokies moved the ball smartly down field. The drive stalled inside the BC ten yard line, and unexpectedly, Shayne Graham pulled a field goal, missing it wide left from the left hash mark.
And that was the Hokies' offensive highlight of the first half.
The two teams traded turnovers in a flurry of sloppiness that is just a blur to me now. The Tech defense and kicking game put the Hokies' offense in good position to score three straight times, but each time, Tech came away with nothing.
Finally, much like Torrian Gray in 1994, Pierson Prioleu took the game in his own hands, stepping in front of a terrible Mutryn pass and taking it 85 yards down the sideline for a score (tell the truth: you were waiting with baited breath to see if any of the Hokie defenders would throw an illegal block, weren't you?).
In the meantime, Nick Sorensen was suffering through a slew of fumbles, and I thought he was looking very uncomfortable in the pocket. Time after time, he dropped back, looked at his primary receiver for two seconds, and then gave up and ran when the receiver wasn't open. And in the driving rain, he had trouble holding onto the ball, coughing up multiple fumbles. The offense bogged down almost completely in the first half, and the Hokies knew they were in a battle.
Tech responded to the pressure with great defense and special teams. Time and time again, Mike Cloud was stuffed at the line of scrimmage, and the Boston College passing game was equally anemic (10-for-20 for 116 yards and 3 interceptions - after a couple of early interceptions, BC seemed to almost give up on the passing game, even as they fell further behind).
Back and forth it went, until midway through the third quarter, Andre Davis broke through untouched and blocked a BC punt. Taking possession at about the Boston College fifteen yard line, the Tech offense was uncharacteristically workmanlike, plowing through the BC defense with strong running and a thread-the-needle throw by Sorensen. Tech marched easily into the end zone, scoring on a 2-yard run by Lamont Pegues.
Ball game over? Not so fast.
BC's 94-yard Drive, and how Tech won the game on it
Boston College committed a hideous clipping penalty on the ensuing kickoff, and the Eagles were backed up to their 5-yard line.
I knew they were going to run it. You knew they were going to run it. Bud Foster and his defense knew they were going to run it. 37,000+ rain-soaked fans knew it. And still, we couldn't stop it. Boston College, or more accurately Mike Cloud, blew through the Tech defense like it wasn't even there, and within five or six plays, the Eagles had a second and short inside Tech's two yard line.
Cloud racked up an impressive 86 yards on that drive, including 65 yards on one play, and the big Boston College offensive line was pushing the Hokies around. Suddenly, BC was one play away from closing the gap to 14-7, and with the way the Eagles were moving the ball, anything could happen in the last quarter and a half. For the first time all night, I started fearing the Eagles, and I started seeing how they might win it.
But someone forgot to take the lid off the end zone.
At this point in the game, a strategy Bud Foster had been employing all game long paid off. Tech's defensive coordinator had been shuffling his defensive linemen in and out all night long, in an effort to keep them fresh against BC's big and talented O-line, and as the Eagles lined up for what would ultimately be five cracks at it from less than two yards out, the Hokies were equal to the task.
Five times in a row, the Hokies stuffed the Eagles and kept them out of the end zone, aided by two BC fumbles. The late-third-quarter goal-line stand was the defining moment of the game for the Hokies, who demonstrated to the Eagles once and for all that on this night where so much was at stake, it was the Hokies who were going to win.
The odd thing is, did you notice the number of backups who were in on the goal-line stand? I watched the tape, and I saw Chris Cyrus, David Pugh, Brian Welch, Ryan Smith, and Ben Taylor, all in the mix. It says something about Bud Foster, that with the game on the line, he used a handful of backups, and it says something about the defense that they made the plays.
When Corey Moore sacked a fumbling, stumbling Scott Mutryn on fourth down, and the Tech defense charged off the field celebrating, a feeling of doom must have finally settled over the Boston College players, coaches, and fans.
And three plays later, when Lamont Pegues peeled off a 49 yard run to take the Hokies from the shadow of their own goal post to Boston College territory, there was a palpable sense that the game was over. There was almost an entire quarter left, but that was academic. Boston College was done.
For the record, Tech scored again later on a field goal that followed a muffed punt, but the fact is, the goal line stand was the nail in the coffin.
Nick's Night: After watching the tape, I think you can characterize Nick Sorensen's performance at quarterback with four statements:
As I alluded to earlier, Nick played it very conservatively, staring down his primary receiver and then ducking and running if that wasn't open. I guess that's okay, because Job One with Nick was to not make mistakes, and an inexperienced quarterback heaving the ball at secondary receivers is a breeding ground for mistakes. I'm guessing that he was under marching orders to look for one receiver, and then hoof it if that guy wasn't open.
The only exception to that rule seems to be the two bombs that he threw for interceptions. God love him, we discovered on those two plays why Nick is a safety this year, as he showed us that beyond about 20 yards, he's going to leave it short. Way short.
And we also discovered that even when Rickey Bustle has a quarterback who can't throw downfield, he's going to call it, anyway. I still think Nick would have been better served with a short passing game (his completion stats for a not-bad 6-for-10), but alas, we didn't see much of it beyond the first two quarters.
Rushing success: I was also stunned by how Mike Cloud shredded the Tech defense for 186 yards rushing. I thought he would get 125 yards, tops, and actually, if you take away the 65-yarder, that's about what he did.
Generally, in these circumstances (great runner vs. great run defense), the defense wins out. Cloud's success against the Hokies is not just a tribute to him, but a tribute to his offensive line. And for the record, I really didn't think that the weather played much of a factor in the battle of Cloud and the Hokie rush defense.
And in this corner ... : while we're talking about running backs who had great games, how about Tech's Lamont Pegues? Pegues actually outgained Cloud on a yards-per-carry average, 6.7 (22 for 148) to 5.8 (32 for 186). Lamont's long gainer at the beginning of the fourth quarter, as I detailed above, was a back-breaker.
LJ shows some speed: another surprising play was Loren Johnson running down Mike Cloud in the open field, on Cloud's 65-yard run. Whereas Ike Charlton is known for his speed more than Loren is, it was Loren, not Ike, that caught Cloud from behind as the two of them chased him downfield. Don't discount how big that play was, because otherwise, Cloud takes it to the house for an 88-yard TD, and Boston College is right back in it at 14-7, with five minutes to go in the third quarter.
Johnson's play set the stage for the goal-line stand and was reminiscent (dare I say it?) of Torrian Gray running down Tiki Barber in the 1996 UVa game.
Live it up, Chad: Chad Beasley made a rare play, one that most defensive linemen go their entire careers without making, when he batted and intercepted a Mutryn pass in the second quarter. It's great seeing Beasley and David Pugh rack up playing time as redshirt freshmen, knowing that they've each got three more years to wear Hokie maroon.
Kibble's comeback: contrary to my pregame prediction, Jimmy Kibble did have a good game punting, averaging 46.7 yards on three punts. That included a stellar 51-yarder that bounced perfectly and was downed on the Boston College one yard line. Kibble seems to have shaken off the slow release he had last year, and he is now getting the ball off quickly with a two-step drop.
Hit me with your best shot: how weird is it that storied, tradition-laden opponents like Miami and Boston College are making a big deal of their games with the Hokies? Tech was the red-headed stepchild of this conference when it was formed (and heck, the Hokies still are), but these days, programs like the 'Canes and Eagles, which once treated the Hokies with scorn, are pulling out all the stops in an effort to beat ... Virginia Tech.
Down in Miami earlier this year, the Canes actually turned up more than 40,000 fans for the Tech game, and set off all kinds of fireworks and had Bernie Kosar patrolling the sidelines. In Boston, as detailed, the Eagles made quite an event of it, all to no avail.
Perhaps more surprising than Tech's new status as king of the hill is the Hokies' ability to stand tall and take the best shot their opponents can give, and still win. On the road. Despite injuries.
No Strategy, Just Big Plays
I have really struggled writing this game report, and I just figured out why.
Going into this game, I said that it had more intrigue than an episode of Columbo, and I was right. But the actual game itself, once it was played, had no mysteries, and really, no surprises.
Some games are strategical masterpieces that invite pages and pages of analysis. Some games are hard fought blood-baths that stir the soul. Others are well-played masterpieces that amaze the viewer with athletic artestry.
This game was none of those, except perhaps hard fought. There was no mystery or subtlety about this game. It was a game that was decided not by cerebral strategy, but rather, it was a game of big plays, and in the end, Tech's defense and special teams made the plays, and Boston College's didn't.
The Hokies and Eagles brought their best out onto the field, and Tech's was better. In a driving rain, both teams played to their strengths, and Tech was stronger. The Hokies simply made more plays. There's nothing here that is hard to figure out, and sometimes, that's the way it is.
Next Up: Temple
In some ways, the first five games have gone by like a blur, and in other ways, it has been a long, hard road. In the span of five weeks, this Tech team has already gifted itself with a special season, one that will once again see them finish with at least five wins in the Big East, and that will once again see them challenge for the league crown.
Yes, I'm committing the football sin of marking down future games as wins, specifically, I'm counting Temple and Rutgers as Tech's fourth and fifth Big East wins, C.O.D. on October 17th and November 21st, respectively.
Add in Alabama Birmingham, and an 8-win season is all but guaranteed for what has turned out to be a Tech team that lives on guts and defense.
But the five wins have come at a price. Al Clark is out (until when? Who knows?), Dave Meyer is still out, Cullen Hawkins is gone, Josh Redding is gone, and Thursday, Tech played without Keith Short (nice job filling in by Tim Schnecker, by the way).
The October 31st visit from WVU is looming ever closer on the horizon, followed by games with Syracuse and UVa, and this offense is still crippled and nowhere near firing on all cylinders. The high ranking and the great defense are nice, but because of the offense, I am still taking this season very much one game at a time.
Except for Temple and UAB. The Hokies will win those games, no question, and when the Mountaineers come to town, Tech will be 7-0. Not too shabby, and it will probably be accompanied by a top-10 ranking, if enough dominos fall along the way.
Will Tech deserve that top 10 ranking? The defense and special teams and coaching will, but we won't know about the offense until we get there. This is an offense that is extremely short on weapons right now. Ironically, we were paper-thin at receiver last year, but this year, our problem is that we've got receivers running around open, and no one who can get the ball to them.
For the offense, the clock is ticking, and in Beamer's world, "It's not how you start, it's how you finish." We're off to a hot start, but unless some hurting Hokies start healing fast, and this offense starts getting patched back together, November could be rougher than we want it to be.
But we'll beat Temple. Bad. Don't worry about that.