Virginia Tech 41, Alabama-Birmingham 0
by Will Stewart,, 10/24/98

Click here for the game recap with stats

Due to time constraints, this report will be a little short, but that's okay, because it's not hard to figure this one out.  Despite still having some major weaknesses, most notably in the passing game, the Hokies ground UAB into the turf behind superior line play.  The game also featured one of the most dominating defensive performances in Virginia Tech history.

Going into this game, I was very down, and I think a lot of Virginia Tech fans were, from the Temple loss.  I was hoping that the team would be more motivated than I was, and I was also looking for one thing:  a big win.  As a matter of fact, the very figure in my mind that I wanted to see was 45-0, and the Hokies came close, downing UAB 41-0 (and if Shayne Graham hadn't missed a makeable - for him - field goal, it would have been even closer, at 44-0).

I think that a ho-hum 21-7 or 24-10 win would have been a bad sign, and perhaps an indication that the team was having trouble shaking off the Temple hangover.  As it is, I'm reminded of the headline that ran in The Roanoke Times after Tech pummeled ECU 38-3 in the season opener:  "OK, for Starters."

Well, this one can be characterized as "OK, for week one A.T. (After Temple)."

The Flow of the Game

Defensively, there was no "flow."  The Hokies simply stonewalled UAB for the entire game, keeping the Blazers off the Tech side of the field, with the exception of perhaps one play that may have been snapped from slightly on Tech's side of the field, depending upon whom you listen to.

There's a scene in the movie Space Balls, which is a Star Wars parody, wherein an overzealous spaceship commander pushes his ship to the limits of its capabilities by throwing the throttle through "Light Speed," beyond "Warp Speed," and over into the zone labeled "Ludicrous Speed."

Well, this game can be characterized as "Ludicrous Defense,"  defense so good that it's almost off the charts:

  • Zero points yielded
  • 8 first downs given up
  • 19 yards rushing
  • 7-of-21 passing for 75 yards
  • Fourteen tackles behind the line of scrimmage
  • Three sacks
  • No plays run on the Tech side of the field

UAB tried all kinds of crazy shotgun formations and other setups, but it was fruitless.   The defensive performance was so dominating that I'm sure that most Hokie fans, like me, paid more attention to what was going on with the offense.

Speaking of the offense, it was a herky-jerky performance.  The Hokies started out cold, not running the ball well, throwing it poorly, and committing penalties that killed drives.  This went on for most of the first quarter, and finally, Tech said "to heck with it" and just crammed it down UAB's throat.

From late in the first quarter through early in the fourth quarter, the Hokie offense ran the ball up and down the field on the Blazers, with Lamont Pegues accumulating 127 yards on 20 carries.  Fullback Jarrett Ferguson posted two touchdown runs, the first of his career (Jarrett's other TD, in the Temple game, was a screen pass), Shayne Graham made two field goals (and missed one), and the only other memorable play was an interception thrown in the end zone by Nick Sorensen.

While all this was going on, the Hokies also blocked a punt by the slower-than-molasses third string punter for UAB, and Marcus Gildersleeve cradled it like a baby in the end zone.  By the end of the third quarter, it was 27-0, and for all intents and purposes, it was over.

The Hokies trotted Dave Meyer out onto the field at the quarterback position in the fourth quarter, and according to first-hand Hokie observers, the offense was transformed for the better.   Meyer's second pass was a 54-yard bomb to Ricky Hall, and folks, it was every bit of 54 yards, not a catch-and-run.

The line of scrimmage was the Tech 46, and Dave dropped back about 5-6 yards and let it fly.  Ricky went up and got it at the goal line, so you can do the math:  Dave winged it 60 yards in the air.

As of the time of this writing, it was unclear who is going to play quarterback for the Hokies against WVU this coming weekend, but one thing is clear:  Dave's arm strength provides a dimension that Nick's arm does not, mainly the ability to stretch the defense.   More on that later, and in particular, more on Nick Sorensen at the QB position.

The Defense

What can you say about the defense?  The Hokies returned to the form they displayed earlier this year in shutting out the Blazers, and I thought that three players stood out, for various reasons:

  • John "Silent but Violent" Engelberger - I feel sorry for the guy who was supposed to be blocking the 'Berger, because he got his butt whipped.   Engelberger was all over the Blazers' running game, shutting down option after option by tackling the quarterback before he even had a chance to pitch.
  • Corey Moore - leaders emerge as seasons unfold, and in my opinion, Corey is emerging as the leader of this defense.  He led by the way he played earlier this year, for example, putting up two straight sacks in overtime against Miami, and then he was very vocal after the loss to Temple.  Now, against UAB, Corey had yet another dominating game, despite supposedly being slowed by a thigh bruise.

    For a player who speaks often of his academic life after football, and for a guy who has no overt designs on playing in the NFL, Corey is starting to stand out as a leader.   And he's only a junior.
  • Ike Charlton - Ike Charlton?  Yep.  I like Ike.   Everybody does.  But it's been literally weeks since Ike's name has been called, because he's so good that opposing teams don't throw the ball near him.   And Tech's D-line and linebackers are so good that opposing runners barely make it through the line to Ike.

    He was complaining of being bored a few weeks back, and I've got to figure by now that he's flat-out asleep.  I was extremely disappointed for Ike when an interception that he returned for a touchdown against UAB was (yet again) called back because of an illegal block.  Hang in there, Ike, you still da man.
The Offense

Let's talk about two guys:  Jarrett Ferguson and Nick Sorensen.

Jarrett, a former walk-on, is really starting to "take" to the role of fullback.  Jarrett enjoyed his TD runs, even going so far as to say that running is his first passion, and he doesn't really get into "catching the ball and stuff."   This is no surprise, because Jarrett was a tailback in high school.

Jarrett is small for a fullback.  He's only 5-9, and he currently weighs about 205, which means that he's roughly the size of, say, Shyrone Stith.  But he sure is starting to look like a fullback, particularly in the thighs, and watching the highlight of his 23-yard TD run, I was reminded of former Hokie fullback Brian Edmonds, who was a great one.  On the field, mind you, on the field.

It's been a long road for Ferguson, who has gone from walk-on status to scholarship player to starter, and I just wanted to give him some pub and say that he's looking great at the position, and the more I see him play, the more comfortable I get with him playing there.  I'd like to see him evolve into as good a receiver as Edmonds, and I wish he was bigger, but he's doing well and has come a long way.

As for Nick, on the surface, it seems as if he has taken a lot of heat, because Hokie fans have been making statements like, "He's not a division 1-A quarterback," and "He can't throw."  But none of the comments have been mean-spirited, and there isn't a single Hokie fan in existence - not a single one - who doesn't appreciate Nick's willingness to move back over to QB from his safety position.

Coach Beamer and others have commented on how "unselfish" Nick is, but that's a vague statement.  Let me clarify:  this is a guy with the size, speed, and smarts to make a run at the NFL at his new position, safety.  He entered this season as a redshirt sophomore, and if he truly wants a shot at the NFL, then this year was critical for him.  This was the year that he was supposed to learn the position, and then, during his junior year, he could play more and start to make a name for himself, and finally, as a senior, he could stand out and get the attention of the NFL scouts.

By agreeing to go back to the quarterback position, Nick has pretty much scratched his sophomore year at safety.  He's in a position where he has a limited amount of time to develop himself for the next level, and he has put the interest of his team ahead of himself.

Is Nick talented enough to play in the NFL as a safety, and will Nick ever play in the NFL as a safety?  I don't know, but I do know this:  his chances would have been a lot better if he had stayed put at safety this year.

When the coaches came to him and asked him to switch to QB, he could have said, "Gosh, coach, I don't know.  You've got Dave Meyer, Denny Randolph, Michael Vick, and Grant Noel to back up Al.  That's four other guys.  I don't think you need me.  I'll just stay put at safety and keep working on my game."

Nick didn't say that.  He said, "Okay," and moved back to QB, knowing full well that he doesn't have a future there, and that he would be jeopardizing his chances for a shot at the NFL at the safety position.  That's a team player, folks, and someone that Hokie fans will be talking about long after he's gone.

Hopefully, Nick's days at QB are over, or will be over soon.  The coaches are hinting that Al may be ready to play again soon, and Meyer has a much stronger arm, giving the offense the ability to strike from anywhere on the field.

Nick, and the Hokies, are much better served by his return to safety, which won't happen until next spring.  Bud Foster indicated on the Hokie Hotline show that Nick would remain at the QB position for the remainder of the season.

Things to Worry About

So we know the good news.  We've got a running attack that is going well, at least against the BC's, Temples, and UAB's of college football, and we've got an offensive line that is jelling for the stretch run, despite using backups in significant roles.   We've got a defense that, if it concentrates and plays hard on every down, is one of the best in the country.

What we don't have is a passing attack.  Receivers are dropping like flies (Andre Davis, Ken Handy, and Reggie Samuel are all out with various injuries as of this writing), and even Al Clark, our number one quarterback and a great leader, is not a consistent deep threat.

Bill Roth, Mike Burnop and radio guest Bruce Arians were all oohing and aahing at Dave Meyer's velocity in the brief time that Meyer spent on the field.  He's got a gun, which is a pretty big part of having an effective passing attack.  Other parts?   Having good receivers (got 'em, although we're starting to thin out), and being able to check off on multiple receivers (something Al can do, but Nick doesn't even attempt it.).

I don't know what the answer to our passing woes is (Al or Dave), but I do know this:   take away Dave's 54-yard TD to Hall, and you've got an anemic 7-for-17 for 60 yards.  Zowie.  That won't get it done against WVU, Syracuse, and UVa, and it might not get it done against any one of them.  We can't rely on our defense and special teams forever, because all three of those heavyweights are going to put up some points on us.  We've got to be able to launch a counter-offensive, so to speak, and last year proved that a running attack alone won't cut it.

Shayne Graham and Jimmy Kibble are also kicking erratically.  Shayne was automatic from inside 40 yards last year (15 for 15), but so far this year, he is spraying the ball around more than last season and is missing relatively short field goals.  Kibble likewise has been up and down, and if I've said it once, I'll say it again:  this team needs Kibble and Graham to kick well in order to have a shot at beating WVU, Syracuse, and UVa.  And heck, an improved Rutgers team.

"Defense and the kicking game" has been the battle cry of this team all year long, but as we hit the stretch run, the kicking game isn't quite there, and the defense has shown that it needs to concentrate for 60 minutes in order to be effective.   Every one of our remaining opponents has the capability to pull off big plays against our gambling defense, so the offense is going to have to step up as well.

Next Up:  WVU

Three weeks ago, this game had the trappings of a first-place battle.  Since then, WVU and Tech have both dropped Big East games, so it has turned into a battle for second place.  The winner still has a shot at the league crown, but the loser is out of it.

All you need to know about WVU is that they have a great offense, featuring a veteran offensive line, a good quarterback (Marc Bulger), a great running back (Amos Zereoue - note the spelling, message board posters), and outstanding receivers (Foreman, Saunders, and Ivy).  Holding them under 20 points is a tough job, and we'll talk more about that later this week.

Defensively, well ... WVU isn't so hot this year.  Their rushing defense is ranked 105th out of 112 Division 1-A teams, and in total defense, they're ranked 91st.  So the Hokies have a chance to score points on the 'Eers, particularly when you consider that Gary Stills, the WVU defensive leader, is still far from 100% recovered from a cracked kneecap that he suffered early this year.

More on the matchup later this week, when I'll review it in detail and make my prediction.

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