Virginia Tech 22, West Virginia 20
by Will Stewart, TechSideline.com, 11/6/99
Morgantown, WV - November 6, 1999
1 2 3 4 F
71 seconds left, 85 yards to go, and no timeouts.
As Michael Vick and his offense took the field, down 20-19, a championship season hung in the balance. Improbably, having taken the lead 19-7 with five minutes left, Virginia Tech found itself less than four minutes later facing long odds and the end of a dream.
On the first play from scrimmage, Vick rolled left and threw a pass that was much too hard, too high and too far behind Andre Davis. A precious five seconds ticked off the clock, and there were still 85 yards to go. Mountaineer field was rocking, the WVU players were pumped with adrenaline, and the Tech players and coaches were grim-faced, on the verge of seeing their dreams of a Big East and national championship come to an end.
Was it too much to ask a freshman quarterback to do? Was it too much to ask him, at such a young age, to write the first chapter of his place in Hokie football lore? Was he worthy to take his place beside Druckenmiller, Kinzer, Smith, Strock, Schweikert, Loria, and the rest?
Certainly, if he hoped to one day be considered with the likes of those Hokie greats, Michael Vick would have to start here. Here in Morgantown, hours away from home, with only his fellow players, his coaches, and a few thousand traveling Hokie fans on his side.
And his first pass wasn't even close.
Was it too much to ask?
But more so than that, how did Tech even wind up here in the first place? Wasn't West Virginia just a miserable 3-5, with losses to Navy and Maryland, and didn't they have one of the worst defenses in the country? Wasn't Tech favored by 19 points? Wasn't this thing supposed to be over by half time?
The thing was, it didnít work out that way.
The First Half
The Hokies got off to a decent start. They let WVU have a single first down on their initial possession, and when they took the ball over, the Hokies moved the ball smartly into West Virginia territory on a long pass from Vick to Ricky Hall. WVU stuffed a couple of Hokie runs, an unexpected harbinger of things to come, and on third down, WVU sold out on the blitz and took Michael Vick down with a sack. Jimmy Kibble followed with a decent punt that bounced at the WVU 19 but then hopped backwards, going out of bounds at the 26 yard line. The punt netted only 24 yards.
Little did Tech know it at the time, but that drive would encapsulate much of the game. WVU would have good success stopping Tech's run, they would confound Vick for most of the first half, and almost every single bounce would go their way.
Throughout the remainder of the first quarter, Vick and Stith both would struggle. Vick would uncharacteristically make bad throws, including a couple that should have been intercepted (although he would once again go the entire game without being picked off, his fifth game in a row without an interception).
Defensively, Anthony Midget once again couldnít play. He started and gave it a go, but was unable to continue. Ronyell Whitaker took his place, and he would again struggle some in coverage, but he didn't suffer the kind of debacle that took place in Pittsburgh the week before.
The most distressing thing that occurred in the first half was that West Virginia ran the ball well, and Virginia Tech didn't. The Hokies did okay, but against a WVU defense that gave up over 200 yards rushing per game going in, Tech was expected to blow WVU off the ball, and they didn't.
Tech had to resort to the passing game, and after completing his first throw, Vick would go 1-10 for the rest of the half. WVU confused him first by blitzing, and then by keeping eight players back in coverage, and Vick uncharacteristically lost his composure for almost the entire half and didn't throw well.
Despite the success WVU was having running the ball, Tech held their offense in check, at least until the ten minute mark of the second quarter. At that point, WVU started a drive inside their five yard line and moved the ball all the way inside the Tech 20. The Hokies couldn't stop the Mountaineers on this drive, but the Big East referees did, calling a questionable offensive interference call on WVU that killed the drive.
WVU had a poor punt snap on this drive, but Tech had the return on, so a block didn't come of it, but good field position did, as the Hokies started on their own 45. Andre Kendrick did all the work from there, breaking off first a 9-yard run, and then a 46-yard touchdown run on third and two. At that point, there was 7:05 left in the second quarter, and Tech had finally drawn blood, going ahead 7-0.
WVU Escapes Disaster
And then WVU came unglued.
On the ensuing kickoff, redshirt freshman Lewis Daniels of WVU ran it down, caught up to it at the goal line, and inexplicably grabbed it and threw it behind him. Lamar Cobb of the Hokies, who nearly collapsed in shock as the gift approached him, managed to seize it out of the air and run it into the end zone.
Time for a referee huddle. Ultimately, the officials decided that Daniels had possession but was not in the end zone when he, uh, tried to "pass" the ball, and the refs ruled it an illegal forward pass, marked off half the distance to the goal, and gave WVU a first down there. They decided Daniels was at the two when he tried to "pass" the ball, so WVU took over at the one yard line, narrowly avoiding disaster.
WVU turned in a quick three and out, and then something baffling occurred. Despite the fact that the ball was spotted on the WVU two yard line, and it was barely a ten-yard run to the punter, Tech did not appear to try to block the punt. He got it off, and Ricky Hall returned it to the Tech 49.
But WVU, still rattled by Daniels's goof, didn't have enough men on the line of scrimmage during the punt, so the Hokies made them punt it again. And again, for some strange reason, Tech didn't try to block it, despite having the short porch.
The WVU punter shanked the second punt badly, and it landed on the WVU 36 yard line. Hall, who was spotted up at the 50, didn't get to it before it bounced, and the ball died quickly, rolling a mere 44 yards before it came to a rest at the Tech 20.
That's right. WVU went from a near Tech touchdown to playing defense at the Tech 20 yard line, with no harm done, other than to Lewis Daniels's ego.
The Hokies went three and out quickly, and WVU's next drive started at their 38 yard line. On the first play from scrimmage, WVU QB Marc Bulger hit his hand on a Tech player's helmet, and it was not apparent at the time, but the hit, which would aggravate an old injury, would keep Bulger out of the entire second half.
Even though Bulger couldn't throw, WVU moved the ball easily down the field behind the running of Avon Cobourne, who was having a heck of a first half. Cobourne had two long runs during the drive and would accumulate over 100 yards in the first half alone. The first half ended with Bulger throwing a fade route touchdown to Khori Ivy.
The Third Quarter
After struggling through the first half, Michael Vick came out firing in the second. After feeding him a few short throws to warm him back up and gain confidence, Rickey Bustle had Vick air it out from the Hokie 30 to Andre Davis, who made a spectacular catch at the WVU 12. Three straight running plays didn't get the first down, and on fourth and short, the Hokies kicked a field goal that put them up 10-7.
With their backup quarterback, Brad Lewis, in the game, WVU would struggle on offense for much of the second half. They would gain only 111 yards, after getting 188 in the first half. The Hokies put the brakes on Cobourne, who would finish with 133 yards on 27 carries but was not much of a factor in the second half. WVU's first drive gained about 35 yards and took up about four minutes, but for the bulk of the second half, they had trouble advancing the ball.
Although Vick had heated back up, the Hokies were suffering from bad field position and key miscues that kept them from driving consistently. Tech gained nearly 300 yards of offense in the second half but had trouble putting points on the board.
Tech tacked on two defensive points when Jimmy Kibble pinned the Mountaineers inside their own five, and Chris Cyrus cashed in on it by stripping Lewis of the ball. Lewis had to cover it, and it was a safety for Tech, who led 12-7 with under a minute to go in the third. Things were swinging Tech's way.
The Fourth Quarter
Throughout the second half, Tech had been spending timeouts to keep from getting delay of game penalties, and with just under ten minutes to go, Vick spent Tech's last one. It was an event that the Hokies would almost regret severely, but it was lost in the ether when Andre Davis dropped a wide open touchdown pass from Vick on the ensuing play.
With nine and a half minutes to go, it looked like it might not be Tech's night. Despite dominating the second half statistically, the Hokies were unable to extend their lead to more than one score.
Finally, Tech broke through. Starting from their 42 yard line with 6:09 to go, the Hokies appeared to get the back breaker when Andre Davis, who could not be consoled on the side line after his previous drop, made another great catch under pressure at the WVU five yard line. Andre gave up a large patch of skin to the WVU turf on the catch but regained his self-respect, and on the next play, Stith punched it in.
Despite the fact that the score was 18-7 and a PAT would push it to a 12-point, two-touchdown deficit, Frank Beamer called for a two-point try. Thankfully, WVU committed a penalty on the subsequent failed conversion, and Beamer came to his senses and had Shayne Graham kick the extra point. 19-7, Tech with 4:59 to go, and this game was over.
Correct. On the ensuing kickoff, Tech's Phillip Hicks nailed the WVU returner, and he coughed up the ball at the 15-yard line. The Mountaineers were finished.
Ö except WVU's Boo Sensabaugh picked up the ball, returned it to Tech's 40 yard line, and was hit by Jimmy Kibble late out of bounds.
Suddenly, WVU was on the Tech 24 yard line with a first down. It took the Mountaineers seven plays to score, this time on yet another fade route, but it didn't take much time, and it was up to the Hokies to run the remaining 3:15 off the clock.
After the kickoff, Shyrone Stith gained 18 yards on two runs, and the Hokies appeared to have things well in control. Vick was working the clock masterfully, running the play clock down to 1 second before snapping the ball, and time was ticking away on the Mountaineers. The clock went down below two minutes, and the fat lady warmed up her voice.
And then, on the third play, Stith fumbled. With 1:46 to go, WVU was on the Tech 32 yard line, and a sinking feeling began to creep into the collective stomach of the Hokie faithful. This time, WVU would score quickly, taking only four plays, one of which was a David Pugh sack that gave Tech a false sense of hope for a moment. Ivy scored his second touchdown of the game on a slant pass down the middle, beating Nick Sorensen.
There was 1:15 left on the clock, WVU lead 20-19, and for Tech, there was only one hope left. Perhaps WVU had scored too quickly. Maybe Tech could get a good return and get into position for a field goal.
But Stith only returned it to the 15, and then Vick threw his bad incompletion. The clock showed 1:06, Tech was 85 yards away, and the Hokies' season was slipping away.
After the incompletion, Vick settled down. On the next play, he rolled right and threw a soft, accurate out pattern to Terrell Parham, who stepped out of bounds at the Tech 29 with 1:01 to go.
Next play: Vick rolled left and hit Hall across the middle at the Tech 38, nowhere near the sideline. As Hall fought to untangle himself from the WVU defenders, and the Hokies fought to get to the line of scrimmage, the clock ran. Tech, out of timeouts, could do nothing about it.
With 35 seconds to go, the Hokies snapped the ball, and after the pocket began to collapse, Vick rolled out to the right, under control, looking downfield for open receivers. Steadily, he ran right, looking and pumping, and the sideline closed in on him. He advanced beyond the line of scrimmage and headed towards the sideline at Tech's 40 yard line.
And then, as if on a whim, he made Hokie history.
The tape clearly shows the pursuing WVU defensive linemen slowing down. Ahead of Vick, a WVU linebacker also pulled up. Even the Hokie receivers stopped, giving up their blocks.
And Vick, now playing football by himself, planted his right foot near the sideline and darted up field.
He covered the 24 yards in a flash, and the next thing anyone knew, Vick was leaping out of bounds at the WVU 36 yard line. Tech had a first down there, with 23 seconds to go. The Hokies were within Shayne Graham's field goal range.
Close enough, but not close enough for Vick. He chipped off just a few more yards, hitting Ricky hall in the middle of the field at the WVU 27 yard line. As the clock ticked agonizingly, the Hokies lined up, and Vick spiked the ball with five seconds to go.
Vick's work was done. Now it was up to the red-headed kid.
Graham Comes On
Shayne Graham trotted on to the field.
Despite all of his points, despite being the Tech career scoring leader and the Big East's career scoring leader, despite being accurate and reliable, and despite being seven games deep into his senior year, Shayne Graham had never made a game-winning kick at Tech.
The only time he had tried, last year at Miami, he had missed a relatively short field goal with less than ten seconds to go. His miss had sent Tech into overtime and has been all but forgotten, thanks to Ricky Hall's game-winning touchdown catch.
It's hard to imagine two people more different than Shayne Graham and Chris Kinzer, Tech's clutch field goal kicker of the 1986 Peach Bowl season. Kinzer was more flamboyant, more cocky, and more sure of himself. He had ice water in his veins and was born to kick game-winning field goals.
Even four years into his Tech career, Shayne Graham still looks like just a boy, and often resembles a wide-eyed collection of nerves. His red hair has earned him the casual nickname of "Opie" among some Tech fans.
And Chris Kinzer seemingly kicked more game-winning field goals in one season than Shayne Graham has fingers.
Nonetheless, as Graham lined up to kick the 44-yard game winner, Hokie fans were thinking of Kinzer, and hoping that Graham could stand up to the legend that Kinzer created long ago. On the radio, Tech play-by-play announcer Bill Roth said, "With all due respect to Chris Kinzer, this would be the biggest field goal in Virginia Tech history." It would be hard to argue the point, given all that has come and gone since Kinzer's Peach-Bowl-winning 40-yarder 13 years ago.
It would be nearly impossible to count how many people were praying. The Hokies were praying that Graham would make it. The Mountaineers were praying that Graham would miss it. Some people were just praying that their hearts could survive it.
In the end, it was money in the bank. After all, Cliff Anders, Caleb Hurd, and Shayne Graham have been doing this for years. They have done it thousands of times, and could do it in their sleep, if you asked them to.
Anders snapped it. Hurd held it. Graham kicked it. It sailed up into the night, and Virginia Tech was 8-0, and for one more game, the dream season continued.
So, to answer the question originally posed, "Was it too much to ask?"
No, it wasn't. Michael Vick's place in Hokie football history now has the first chapter written, with an assist from Shayne Graham.
HokieCentral Analysis and Commentary
It seems a shame to analyze a classic game like this, especially when the bulk of the analysis will center around the way the team has struggled the last two games, but analysis and commentary has always been part of HokieCentral's game reports.
What Happened to the "Attack" in the "Attack Defense"?
Suddenly, in the last two weeks, Virginia Tech has started playing very passive defense, at least by Hokie standards.
They're still piling up sack statistics like few other teams (15 in the last two games), but more so than at any other time this season, opposing quarterbacks are finding time to throw -- too much time to throw.
Through the first six games of the year, Tech's defense racked up gaudy third down conversion statistics. Opponents converted somewhere in the neighborhood of just one out of every 8 third down conversions. But in the last two weeks, the success rate his risen closer to the 40%-50% range.
Since Anthony Midget went down with a groin injury early in the Pittsburgh game, the Hokie defense just hasn't been itself. They haven't been blitzing, they haven't been attacking, and their tackling isn't as ferocious, either. Against Syracuse, the Hokie defenders drilled ball carriers as if they had a destination on the other side of the runner that they were trying to reach. Since then, the tackles are of the grab-em-and-fall-down-with-em variety.
Turnovers are down, too. As a matter of face, they're non-existent. Last year, Tech opponents turned the ball over 23 times on interceptions and 10 times on fumbles, for a total of 33 turnovers.
This year, through eight games, Tech opponents have turned the ball over just 13 times. And in the last two games, there have been zero turnovers. Nada, nothing, zilch.
The biggest difference in the style of play has been the lack of blitzing by the linebackers. Tech has gone predominantly to a four-man pass rush that relies on the defensive linemen to put pressure on the quarterback. Sure, Tech has one of the best defensive lines in the country, but four guys can only do so much consistently against five, six, or seven blockers.
Even though Tech has an 8-man defensive line rotation, the policy of relying on them to put pressure on the opposing QB has led to some exhausted defensive linemen the last two weeks. Everyone always points to the 88 offensive plays that Syracuse ran last year as being an outrageous statistic, and indeed, in a typical game, most opponents will only run about 60-65 offensive plays against you.
Last year, no opponent ran more than 70 plays on Tech, with the exception of Syracuse's 88 plays and 79 by WVU. Last week, though, Pittsburgh ran 80 plays (51 passes), and this week, WVU ran 78 (38 passes). That's a lot of plays, and a lot of passes, and the end of both games, Tech's defensive linemen were out of steam. And yet they were asked to rush the passer with very little help from the linebackers and secondary.
Late in the WVU game, Brad Lewis, a backup, was able to pick the Tech defense apart because the Hokies simply couldn't bring consistent pressure with just the down linemen.
It appears that with the loss of Midget to injury, Bud Foster is dropping his linebackers back into coverage to provide support for Ronyell Whitaker. Unfortunately, the ploy doesn't really appear to be working. Opposing receivers are getting open anyway, and the problem is, now the opposing quarterback has plenty of time to find them.
So tactically, not blitzing the linebackers doesn't seem to be paying off very well, but there's more to it than that. When the Hokies stop blitzing linebackers, then they're getting away from their bread and butter, and they're not playing Tech defense anymore. You dance with the one that brung ya, and the Hokies aren't doing that. The Tech defenders seem to be playing not to lose instead of playing to win.
This has affected the mindset of the Hokie defenders. They've gone from "attackers" to "preventers," and as I mentioned above, this has manifested itself in their tackling, which has become more passive.
My layman's advice to Bud Foster: send the 'backers. Let the kids play the way they're used to playing, and let them play the way the defense was designed to be played. If you're going to live by the sword, then be willing to die by it. At least you'll know you went down playing your game, instead of someone else's.
A few weeks ago, the offensive line appeared to be a done deal. They played well against Clemson, Syracuse, and Virginia, and seemed to be gelling.
Now, it is suddenly hard for the Hokie running backs to find any room up the middle. Against Pitt, Shyrone Stith couldn't make any headway in the middle of the field, but that appeared to be a one-game aberration, attributable to the fact that Pitt puts eight men in the box.
Then, along comes WVU, one of the worst rushing defenses in the country, and again, there's nowhere to go up the middle. And you start asking yourself, what's going on here?
The Tech rushing statistics are hard to find fault with: 39 carries for 214 yards against WVU, and 46 carries for 295 yards against Pittsburgh. That's a combined 85 carries for 509 yards in two games, or six yards per carry.
But it feels different. And it looks different. The Tech offensive linemen are no longer blowing the defenders off the ball, like they did against UVa and Syracuse. The middle of the field doesn't seem as wide open as it did in those two games.
The corners and the perimeter are still good places to pick up yardage, but the up-the-gut runs and the option plays are getting totally stuffed. And when push comes to shove and it's time to win a ballgame, being able to run the other team over just because you have to is a nice luxury to count on.
Certainly, the inconsistency at the center position can't be helping. And we don't know if Keith Short is truly a hundred percent yet in his recovery from his knee injury. But one thing is clear -- this team is a much better offensive team when the line blocking in the middle is better, and it hasn't been there the last two weeks.
Again, you can't argue with the statistical results. The Hokies had 465 yards against Pittsburgh and 469 yards against WVU. But much like with the Tech defense, the consistency, and the feeling of confidence that it inspires, have not been there the last two weeks.
Davis Now Becoming the Go-To Guy
Despite his drop of a wide-open touchdown pass in this game, Andre Davis has clearly become Vick's favorite receiver and go-to guy. Vick throws the ball to him with confidence, and he seems to always be looking for him when he needs a big play.
Ricky Hall has become more of a possession receiver, more of a short-yardage, middle-of-the-field type of guy.
Before the season started, HokieCentral ran a piece about Davis called A Sprinter's Speed -- Only One Part of the Equation. The article talked about what Davis had to do to evolve from sprinter to receiver.
Good news. He's done it.
The drop against WVU was a surprise, because Davis has shown sure hands for most of the rest of the year. The two catches he had in traffic in the second half were phenomenal.
Next Up: Miami
Ah, yes, this is the one that the Hokies and their fans have been waiting for.
Ever since the Big East media voted Miami #1 in the Big East and Tech #2 back in the preseason, all eyes have been looking to this game. The geniuses at CBS once again did not pick this game up, proving that the network that is home of the incessant "Walker, Texas Ranger" promos doesn't know its sports from a hole in the ground.
Fortunately, ESPN, now firmly on the Hokie bandwagon, has no such problem. Reports on the ESPN.com web site say that they will once again be in town with ESPN GameDay. This is an unbelievable development, given that ESPN (a) had never been to Blacksburg before this year, and (b) usually doesn't go to the same place twice in one year.
At this point, with a miraculous win on a night that didn't seem to be going their way, the question becomes: is this Tech team a team of destiny? Dents in the Hokie armor have definitely appeared the last two weeks, and out of the three teams Tech will face the rest of the year, Miami is best equipped to exploit weaknesses in the Hokie pass defense. But if the Hokies are a team of destiny, there will be nothing the Canes can do to stop their march. Whether by 30 points or 1 point, Tech will win, if it's meant to be.
Perhaps, in the last two weeks, Tech is merely missing the home turf of Lane Stadium. Since the September 23rd game against Clemson, Tech has played 4 out of 5 games away from Blacksburg, and over the last six weeks, Tech has played exactly one home game. An energized Lane Stadium crowd could be all the Hokies need for a return to form. It worked in the 1997 Miami game.
At the beginning of the year, the primary Hokie goal was to win the Big East championship, preferably with an undefeated Big East record. Miami was viewed as the biggest, and perhaps only, obstacle to that quest.
Since then, the overall picture has become muddied by a high BCS ranking, a huge national Hokie bandwagon, and national championship hopes, but the fact remains that this week's game with Miami has long been targeted as the most critical game of the season, and it still is. If the Hokies lose this game, they disappear from the national championship spotlight, and it's hello, Gator Bowl.
That was the same scenario that the Hokies faced when Michael Vick took the field with 71 seconds to go against WVU. They avoided it then, and now it's time to make sure the Miami Hurricanes don't stand in the way, either.