Virginia Tech 47, Rutgers 7
by Will Stewart, TechSideline.com, 11/21/98
All right, this will be short and sweet, because this was a good, old-fashioned case of a good team whipping a mediocre team. I upgraded Rutgers from "bad" to "mediocre" this season, because they've had a good season, winning five games in the year that Sports Illustrated picked them in the preseason as the worst team in Division 1-A.
But at the same time, SI picked the 2-9 Cincinnati Bearcats around #40 in the preseason, one spot behind Tech, and not only that, but they ranked Wake Forest in the preseason, only to see the Dinky Deacons finish 3-8. So that shows what SI knows about college football.
But I digress. All eyes were on the Tech offense in this game, waiting to see what Rickey Bustle, the most "discussed" man in Blacksburg last week, would do this week. The answer? Rickey pulled out all the stops in an effort to (a) get his offense on track, and (b) silence his critics. Although the execution was still rough, fans went home happy not just that Tech had scored 47 points, but that all aspects of the offense were exercised.
I'll save my energy for the UVa game, skip the game recap, and get straight to the analysis on this one.
I feel for Rickey Bustle. The guy works hard, recruits well, is well-liked, and puts together a pretty good offense. But when the Hokie offense was listless against WVU, and then got hammered by a below-average Syracuse defense, Rickey felt the heat.
He must have had a very rough week, and sometimes, even a veteran coach like Rickey must have trouble separating professional second-guessing from personal attacks. I heard it through the grapevine (here at HC, that means I received several emails from people saying they had talked to Rickey) that Rickey was down in the dumps, and I can understand that.
He is to be commended for taking responsibility on last Monday's Hokie Hotline for the performance of his offense, instead of pointing fingers at the players. But that's how Tech coaches are. They almost always take the heat instead of pointing out the failings of the players.
All that aside, Rickey didn't mess around. He used every weapon in the Tech arsenal, and though some worked better than others, he can be commended for at least trying a heck of a lot more wrinkles than we've seen this year.
With the cold and windy weather, I wondered if the Tech offense would play it safe and run the ball, but those wonders quickly fell to the wayside when the Hokies threw a 35-yard pass to Derek Carter on the first play from scrimmage. That was followed by a flanker screen for ten more yards, and I looked at the Lane Stadium clock and thought, "Hmmm...less than a minute into the game, and we already have ten more yards passing than we did all last week against Syracuse."
Tech would ultimately complete four passes to the tight ends, matching the season total prior to the game. And out of Al Clark's 14 completions and Nick Sorensen's 1 completion, three went to the fullback (Jarrett Ferguson) and two to the tailback (Lamont Pegues). So that's 9 out of 15 completions to non-wide-receivers.
For the record, Ricky Hall caught 5 balls for 123 yards and two TD's, while Angelo Harrison caught one pass.
Angelo has had a very odd year. In a season in which Ricky Hall has caught 8 TD passes, several of them beautiful bombs thrown by Clark, Angelo has been wide open often, but Clark has badly overthrown him a ton of times.
It seems that when Al throws a perfect pass, it's to a closely-covered Ricky Hall (as he did twice on Saturday), but when Angelo Harrison gets wide open, Al badly overthrows him. I think Angelo would probably have five or six touchdowns this year, instead of just one, if Al had hit him every time he was open behind the defense. It's a shame to watch a senior like Harrison get the bad breaks, and Al will be the first to admit that he has missed Angelo many times when he shouldn't have.
The Hokies threw the ball five out of the first seven plays, and I could almost picture Rickey on the sideline, saying to himself, "There. That oughta shut 'em up." Ultimately, Al would set a personal best of 251 yards passing, including over 200 yards in the first half alone.
So, Rickey worked the entire field, including the middle, and used every player he had, including the (gulp) tight end. As I said, the execution was still rough, as Al and Coach Beamer alluded to after the game, but at least Hokie fans went home knowing we had given it our best shot.
Here are some thoughts I came away with after watching the offense:
One interesting play I noticed happened in the third quarter. Houseright was in at fullback, with Stith at tailback. I was watching Houseright, who has turned into a pretty good blocker, by the way, so I noticed it when he left the field and ... Andre Kendrick replaced him. So there we were, with Stith and Kendrick in the backfield with Al.
So naturally, I perked up and watched the next play closely. The Hokies sent everybody out in the pattern, including the tight end, and as they all flooded the middle and the right side of the field, Kendrick slipped down the left sideline, uncovered. Clark threw him a perfect strike, but unfortunately, it was thrown too late and didn't have enough smoke on it, so the Rutgers safety barely got over in time to knock it away. It was a neat play, and don't be surprised to see it again against UVa, or in our bowl game.
Now, that's the way you mix it up, Rickey.
Um, okay, tell you what: you sit there and wait, while I try to come up with something new to say about this defense. The only problem is, you'll be waiting a long time, because they just keep doing it, week after week.
The defense has 22 interceptions this year, which is five short of the record of 27 set by the 1967 edition of the Hokies (and boy, would I love to see them break the record against UVa next week....).
The record for TD's off of interceptions is 4, by the '67, '68, and '95 Hokies. With the two picks for TD's in this game by Jamel Smith and Ike Charlton, the 1998 Hokies have tied the record (and boy, would I love to see them break the record against UVa next week....).
The sad fact is, we have had two INT returns for touchdowns called back due to illegal blocks, if I remember correctly, maybe more. So these guys would have shattered the old record, if those plays had stood.
The sack machine was turned down a little bit for this game, as the Hokies "only" tallied four. The most important sack came when Lorenzo Ferguson blind-sided the Rutgers quarterback in the end zone for a safety that put the Hokies up, 33-7.
And oh-by-the-way, that should have been a TD. I watched the play on tape, frame by frame, and the QB fumbled the ball before he was down. Carl Bradley fell on it for what should have been the Hokies' 328th defensive touchdown of the season, but the eagle-eyed Big East refs decided to have mercy on the Scarlet Knights and call it a safety. Points is points, I guess, and in this game, the defense scored 14 of them.
On the personnel front, Tech continues to shuttle eight defensive linemen in and out of the game, but I've noticed that the substituting at the linebacker slot has slowed down to almost nothing. There also are not a lot of substitutions occurring in the defensive backfield, where Ike Charlton, Loren Johnson, Keion Carpenter, and Pierson Prioleau carry the load. Cornerback Anthony Midget is about the only backup who gets playing time there.
What can you say? Rutgers was certainly overmatched, and except for a freaky 99-yard drive that included a well-executed trick pass for a touchdown, the Hokie D shut them down. It's late, I'm tired, and I'm out of new ways to say, "Wow," so I'll just leave it at that.
Next Up: Wahoo-wa!
You know, a funny thing has happened in recent years, most notably this year. Namely, this game, the Virginia game, is shrinking in importance, at least it is to me. They told me that as our conference rivalries strengthened, the rivalry with UVa would diminish, and I thought, "Nah, they're crazy. I'll always want to whip the Wahoos, first and foremost."
As that gnomish boob of a man Lee Corso would say, "Not so fast, my friend."
These days, I'm reaching the point where I'll consider trading a win over Syracuse or Miami for a win over Virginia, and if the game against Syracuse or Miami is for the Big East championship, it's no contest which one I'd rather win.
Maybe I'll feel differently when I show up at Lane Stadium next Saturday and get a good look at some of the old orange and blue, or I have to watch some of their fans sing the Good Old Song when they (God forbid) score against us.
Hmm, on second thought, hold that blase attitude. I think I'm starting to get into it a little bit here. Funny how thoughts of the Good Ole Song will do that to you.
This year's game will be a landmark event for me in one way, however: it will probably be the last in an unbroken string of 16 UVa/Tech games that I have witnessed in person. Last year, as I watched UVa wallop my Hokies in Scott Stadium, I took a good look around and thought, "You know what? I'm not coming to this place ever again. I can't stand being in this 'atmosphere.'"
From here on out, I'll see the Lane Stadium UVa/Tech games, but I don't think I'll set foot in Charlottesville again in the future for this game. Perhaps, when they finish upgrading their stadium in a couple of years, I'll go check it out, but other than that, I've seen all I can see in Charlottesville, unless there's another Druckenmiller-to-Holmes hookup somewhere in the future.
That doesn't really have much to do with this week's game, but as I watch this upcoming game, the thoughts of 15 years of Tech/UVa clashes that I've witnessed will be in the back of my mind. That's a lot of games, with lots of pleasurable and painful moments. So maybe I won't have a problem getting fired up after all.
Actually, give me a few days here, and I think I'll be good to go. As a matter of fact, I think I feel it coming on already. A few more minutes of picturing some drunken buffoon in an orange and blue tie swaying back and forth, and before you know it, I'll have my game face on in no time. I mean, after all, these are the people who have ruined New Year's Eve for us, forever.
(That's a reference to the Good Old Song borrowing the tune from "Auld Lang Syne," for those of you who didn't get it on the first pass. By the way, have you ever seen the words to Auld Lang Syne? No wonder I could never figure them out, and as a matter of fact, they read just like the drunken mumblings of a UVa fan, anyway, so it's not that much of a stretch to morph it into the Good Old Song, after all.)
But I digress. I'll return later with a UVa preview, before Thanksgiving is upon us. See you then.