Virginia Tech 58, Rutgers 20
by Will Stewart,, 10/9/99

Click here for the game recap with stats

Piscataway, NJ - October 9, 1999

                1  2  3  4  F
               -- -- -- -- --
Rutgers        14  0  0  6 20
Virginia Tech  14 35  7  2 58


Attendance: 30,764

Over two years ago, on August 30th, 1997, I sat in a blistering hot stadium in Piscataway, New Jersey, and watched a young Hokie football team annihilate Rutgers, 59-19. At one point in that game, the Hokies led 52-7, and the dominating performance featured a raging Hokie defense that suffocated the helpless Scarlet Knights.

It was the season opener for a Hokie team that had lost a ton of talent from the prior year's team, including Jim Druckenmiller and Cornell Brown, and no one knew how good the Hokies were going to be. There was a lingering fear that our Sugar Bowl and Orange Bowl successes of the previous two years had been built on the backs of players who were gone, and that we might never be that successful again.

The Rutgers massacre of that year led to falsely high hopes. Even I got caught up in it, saying in my game report, "Phrases like 'We donít rebuild anymore, we reload,' and 'Weíve arrived among the nationís elite' come to mind."

In retrospect, I cringe at those words, because as we all know, by the time that season ended, the Tech football team would be humbled and would disappear from the rankings and from the minds of those who follow college football. A 42-7 loss to North Carolina in the 1997 Gator Bowl put us squarely back in our place, fans, coaches, and team alike.

The journey back to respectability and a #4 ranking in both polls has been a long and twisting one, but if you're like me, you find yourself back at the same place you were after that August day in 1997. Namely, full of optimism and high expectations. We can only hope that this time, things turn out better.

I think they will. This Tech team is smoking hot right now. It features a senior-laden defense and strong special teams, plus an offense that is coming into its own at a critical time. They're on a roll, focused, and intent on not just a Big East championship, but a national championship.

Heady stuff, indeed, and it's a fine time to be a Hokie fan.

Given the nature of this blowout, I will do only a very brief game recap, and then I'll get to my comments.

The Game

The Hokies got the ball first, and Michael Vick threw one of the most amazing bombs I've ever seen to Andre Davis, who caught it in stride and scored. 18 seconds into the game, Tech led, 7-0.

For the remainder of the first quarter, Rutgers would move the ball up and down the field very well on the Hokies, and the first quarter would end in a surprising 14-14 tie. The Hokie defense, which went into the game giving up only 176.8 yards per game, surrendered 157 to Rutgers in the first quarter alone.

After that, it was all Tech.

In a second quarter reminiscent of Tech's 31-point second-quarter outburst at Clemson last year, the Hokies rung up 35 points on the Scarlet Knights. By the time the half was over, Vick had 248 yards passing, 68 yards rushing, and five touchdowns (four passing, one running). He was 11-12 passing, with his only incompletion coming when Ricky Hall bobbled a potential touchdown pass in the end zone and didn't catch it until he was out of bounds.

It was 49-14 when the two teams went to the locker room for half time, and in the second half, Frank Beamer called off the dogs. "We played everybody who made the trip, I think," Beamer would say later. A good time was had by all, except for Rutgers and their fans, and when the final gun sounded, it was 58-20, Tech over Rutgers. The score was eerily similar to the 1997 game's 59-19 score, and the post-game feeling -- one of invincibility -- was also similar.

Key Stats

  • Michael Vick was 11-12 for 248 yards, 4 TD's, and no interceptions. Dave Meyer was 4-4 for 41 yards, making the Tech team 15-16 for 289 yards.
  • Vick led the Hokies in rushing with 68 yards.
  • Andre Davis had 4 catches for 157 yards and 2 TD's. The Tech record for receiving yards in a game is 213 by Ricky Scales against Wake Forest in 1972. Had Davis and Vick played the second half, perhaps he would have broken the record.
  • Rutgers had 327 yards of offense for the game, a high against Tech this year. The Scarlet Knights held the ball for 30:29 to Tech's 29:31, proving that sometimes, that stat has no bearing on the final score.
  • Limited to one half of play, Shyrone Stith only had 59 yards rushing on 15 carries, breaking his streak of four straight 100 yard games. Stith now has 580 yards for the season in his march to 1000 yards.

A Mostly Painless Letdown

Despite all the "Temple" talk of not suffering a letdown against the Scarlet Knights, it's clear that Tech's defense was not sharp at the beginning of the game. Poor defensive concentration manifests itself primarily as poor tackling, and the Hokie defense definitely didn't tackle well in this game.

The Rutgers offense had its way with the Tech defense in the first quarter, accumulating 157 yards, most of it (152 yards) coming on their first two drives.

The letdown, thought disappointing, is not a big deal, because the offense more than made up for it. Last year, if the defense was out to lunch, as it was against Temple, the offense was not necessarily there to pick it up. Not so in this game.

The really disappointing thing is that the Hokie defense, which led the nation in total defense by nearly 30 yards a game going in, dropped to second, behind (I believe) Mississippi State.

Hmm, maybe they'll make it their mission to get back to #1 against Syracuse next week.

The Amazing Vick

I've tried to avoid talking about Michael Vick and to avoid lavishing praise on him. I mean, everybody else is doing it, and I always try to put something different in my game reports and commentary. Not only that, but he's just a redshirt freshman, and I'm in the cautionary camp that believes that he may make some big mistakes when he runs into a ferocious defense that really pressures him. Not only that, but he's got a chronically gimpy ankle that I don't trust.

But to be honest, this kid makes it really hard to proceed with caution.

As impossible as it is to believe, the hype seems to be true, and with the exception of the Clemson game, Vick has done nothing to disappoint. I mean, good grief, in the last two games (game and a half, really), he's 18-21 for 470-yards, five TD's, and no interceptions.

I donít care who those stats are against, they're amazing. In the last two games, he's averaging over 26 yards per completion, and over 22 yards per attempt. He wasn't even in the Top 50 in the country in pass efficiency going into this game, and although I haven't seen that stats yet, I'll bet he's there now, with a bullet.

In a way, it's incorrect to call Vick's long passes "bombs." A bomb is something that falls out of the sky. Al Clark and even Jim Druckenmiller threw bombs. Vick throws darts. He throws the ball to a spot, and he throws it hard, whether it's 20 yards or 60 yards.

The throw to Andre Davis to open the game was one of the most impressive throws I've ever seen from a college player. It was hard, tight, sharp, and dead on target. Vick followed it up with eleven other throws that were almost all as equally impressive. I don't remember a single throw that wasn't on target.

The whole performance, when coupled with last week's near-perfect performance, just left me shaking my head in awe. From an accuracy standpoint, I haven't seen a game like that from a quarterback since Al Clarks' 1997 game against Miami, where he went 10-12 with two drops, by Ike Charlton and Marcus Gildersleeve. Aesthetically, Vick's 11-12 against Rutgers blows away Al's game against Miami.

The kid is blazing hot right now. If our offensive line can continue to give him time against the other defenses the Hokies will face later this year, Michael Vick and something are going to put up some serious points.

When you watch him, it's hard to believe he's just a freshman. He's cool, he's poised, and even when he bails from the pocket and runs, he's looking for receivers, right up to the point where he crosses the line of scrimmage.

And he can run. We've never had a quarterback who can run like Vick, not even Maurice DeShazo. Even on an ankle that is not 100%, Vick is shifty and quick.

Whew. Okay, I think I'm done lavishing praise on Vick now. As Steve Martin says, "Sorry, just lost my mind, just for a moment."

Quick Hits

True freshman wide receiver Shawn Witten continues to impress. In addition to catching three passes for 30 yards, on Vick's 22 yard touchdown run, Witten threw a great block near the goal line that kept two Rutgers defenders out of the play.

Ronyell Whitaker finally got some serious playing time, and he looked good, as well, knocking down a potential touchdown pass in the end zone. When Carl Bradley blocked the last PAT attempt by Rutgers, and the ball was scooped up by Whitaker, I knew there was no way Rutgers was going to catch him.

Benny Wolfe, known for his special teams hits, absolutely dropped the hammer on one Rutgers kickoff returner, whacking him at the 12 yard line with a crack that was heard around the stadium. Wolfe, who plays a lot on special teams but rarely plays his linebacker spot on defense, has earned two nicknames for his special teams play: The Gate City Assassin and the Big Bad Wolfe.

Looking for Meaning

It's hard to find a whole lot to say about this little scrimmage against Rutgers. Vick's performance speaks for itself (which didn't stop me from going off a little bit about how great he is), and hopefully, it's just a hint of more to come.

The Scarlet Knights are one hurting team. By some accounts, they had lost eight defensive starters since opening day, and another one went out in this game with a knee injury. Their starting quarterback, who has never been one to tear up the league, has a bum throwing shoulder. They seem to have a solid core fan base of about 25,000 fans, but very little else positive is happening for them.

So the Hokies, who are rising in the rankings and are focused on a Big East championship and a national championship, should beat Rutgers 58-20, or worse. And when the Hokies do just that, it's difficult to do anything other than ooh and aah over the performance and slap backs.

But one thing that I said back in the 1997 game report still rings true today: "Good teams smash bad teams, period." I think that's the best way to sum up this game. This was just a Hokie team taking care of business.

Next Up: Syracuse

Oh, this is going to be sweet. It's time to cash in on Tech's second installment of paybacks. First it was UVa, and now it's the Orangemen, who have survived the loss of Donovan McNabb quite well, thank you.

The Orangemen have ridden a good defense to rankings of #15 (coaches' poll) and #16 (AP poll). However, they will enter a Lane Stadium that will be filled with rabid Hokie fans hungry for revenge after last year's last-second, 28-26 loss.

As if Hokie fans needed something more to get them worked up, the unthinkable is going to happen: ESPN Gameday is coming to Blacksburg! ESPN's pre-game show will set up camp and will broadcast from Virginia Tech, and will showcase the battle between #4 Tech and #15 Syracuse. Gameday runs from 11:00-12:00, and I'm hearing conflicting reports about where they're going to be set up, so my advice is to watch the official news channels -- newspaper and athletic department press releases -- for more information.

I'll return with a preview later this week. I promise -- last week's rollout of the new message boards prevented me from previewing the Rutgers game, but I'll deliver on this one.

In the meantime, check out News and Notes for details on the Third Annual HokieCentral Tailgate, which will be held from 2:00 to 5:00 on Saturday and will feature a drawing for a 1997 Gennaro DiNapoli jersey!

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