ECU Game Analysis:
The Return of Beamer Ball
by Will Stewart, HokieCentral.com , 9/8/00
Long-time HokieCentral readers may recognize that quote. It's from my 1997 Rutgers game report. Tech won that opening-season game 59-19, and I went a little overboard in my post-game analysis. The Hokies later limped to a 7-5 record and simply weren't very good at year's end.
Tech delivered an important statement in this game, crushing the Pirates, but a football season is a very long affair, and it will be interesting to see where it all goes from here.
With the BCA game canceled, this game was supposed to serve as the kickoff for Michael Vick's 2000 Heisman campaign. On the road, with the bright lights of ESPN's Thursday night football highlighting the Hokies, Vick was poised to claim his stake to the Heisman. Never mind last week's Akron game -- that was just a warmup.
This was expected to be a close offensive shootout, and the number of college football prognosticators who predicted an ECU upset were legion: Lee Corso, Mike Gottfried, and a host of others felt that the experienced ECU Pirates were ready to ambush the Hokies. It was going to take a Heisman-like effort from Vick to win this one.
That's what we all thought. We were all wrong.
Michael Vick wasn't much of a factor. He had just 106 yards passing and 13 yards rushing. And the Hokies blew the Pirates off the field, taking a 45-14 lead before surrendering two touchdowns late that made it appear respectable for ECU.
Michael Vick did not lose the Heisman Trophy on this night, but it is true that his campaign did not get off with a bang. But ironically, for the Hokie football team and the Hokie football program, this game turned out for the best.It reminded every college football fan and member of the college football media who watched that there are things that made Virginia Tech good before Michael Vick arrived, and those things will keep Virginia Tech good after Michael Vick leaves.
Those things are Frank Beamer, the Tech defense, and Tech's special teams.
Remember "Beamer Ball"? Remember "Special Teams U"? Those things got lost somewhere along the way last year, as the Michael Vick hype ramped up, and in fact, it was special teams that arguably cost the Hokies a national championship. The two TD's surrendered in last year's Sugar Bowl must have haunted Frank Beamer during the entire offseason.
It's now a year later, and it's almost as if the Hokie special teams are on a mission. Two games into the season, they have already blocked more kicks (3) than they did all of last year.
Let's break the game down by units.
A Rose for Any Other Team. Give ECU defensive coordinator Tim Rose credit. He has once again bottled up a Virginia Tech offense, and that was no mean feat against this team.
Tech only accumulated 311 yards of offense and mounted very few sustained drives in this game. Of course, Tech had several quick-strike drives of just a few plays, but it cannot be denied that Tech never really controlled the ball in this game, as they had hoped to.
For that, the credit must go to Rose and his players, who were active, infiltrated the backfield, and never really let Vick and company get their feet under them.
The Hokie offense definitely had their moments, though. Although Rickey Bustle would prefer 12-play drives that consist of 10 runs and 2 passes, Tech has reached the point where their offense can, as the saying goes, "score from anywhere on the field." Tech had the following scoring "drives":
That's 14 plays, 192 yards, and just 4:29 off the clock. That ability, plus special teams play, renders the time of possession stat meaningless. The Hokies only had the ball for 23 minutes and 11 seconds in this game, and it simply didn't matter.
Lee Suggs Steps Up. We all know that Vick's arm is a weapon, but what we finally got to see in this game was the damage that Lee Suggs' legs can do. Suggs had two off-tackle runs in this game that clearly demonstrated his status as the fastest tailback to ever play at Tech (4.27 40 yard dash).
The first run was a 37-yarder early in the second quarter that took the Hokies from the ECU 49 down the the 12. It came with the Hokies leading 17-0 and led to a 7-yard run by fullback Jarrett Ferguson for a touchdown. That stretched the lead to 24-0 and let the Pirates know that they were overmatched.
The second long run by Suggs was a 56-yard explosion off tackle for a TD in the third quarter that squelched an ECU rally and put the Hokies back up by the score of 38-14. Suggs got a truck-sized hole off tackle and kicked in his rocket-powered jet-pack to blow past the ECU defensive backs and linebackers, who were out of position on the play.
Both plays clearly demonstrated not just Suggs' speed, but his acceleration. And both plays were masterpieces by the Tech offensive line, which not only opened up big holes, but got deep into the Pirate defensive line, pushing them 5 yards downfield.
On a night when Vick didn't make a bunch of extraordinary plays, Suggs took over with 122 yards on just 11 carries. He now has 212 yards on 25 carries this season (8.48 yards per carry).
As hoped, the defense took a quantum leap between the Akron game and this game. Here are some things I noted during the game:
The Defensive Line, in Particular David Pugh. Early on, when the game was still in doubt (you know, the first 13 minutes), the Tech defensive line did a good job of getting pressure on the quarterback.
Lamar Cobb, who was completely ineffective in the Akron game, did a much better job of coming off the corner and flushing David Garrard up into the pocket. Cobb registered the first of three Tech sacks early in the game, when he burst through untouched and blindsided Garrard.
The pressure came from everywhere. Nathaniel Adibi made a spectacular play on Beasley's interception of Garrard -- he flushed Garrard from the pocket, reversed his momentum, ran him down, and drilled him as he threw, and the ball fluttered straight to Beasley.
Dan Wilkinson had a sack. Jim Davis had a couple of nice plays. Channing Reed brought pressure up the middle.
But the real man, particularly early in the game, was Tech defensive tackle David Pugh. In the early going, when Tech wasn't getting good pressure, Pugh broke containment up the middle and drilled Garrard twice just as he threw. The rest of the D-line quickly started making plays, but for a few minutes there, it was Pugh and no one else bringing the heat.
After Tech took a 24-0 lead, the Pirates started to put together a nice drive, going from their 24 to the 50 yard line. On third and two, Tech substituted the starting defensive line back into the game, including Pugh, and Pugh batted down David Garrard's pass. ECU punted, and Davis returned it 87 yards for a TD.
David Pugh is a rarity: a play-maker at defensive tackle.
The Defensive Backs. The Hokie D-backs are a mixed bag right now. Ronyell Whitaker is gloving up receivers pretty well, and Akron and ECU have both picked on Larry Austin. Austin had a bunch of passes completed in front of him in the Zips game, and in this game, he committed the unpardonable sin of getting beaten deep. Early in the game, Garrard hit H-back Keith Stokes deep to the Tech 5 yard line, beating Austin. Fortunately for Tech, there was an illegal procedure call on ECU that negated the play.
But one guy who is really having a difficult time is backup cornerback Garnell Wilds. Wilds entered the game against Akron and was promptly torched by the Zips for a 37-yard completion to Lavel Bailey, and in this game, he was beaten by Stokes for a 61-yard completion that almost resulted in an ECU field goal (Austin blocked the kick).
Billy Hardee is doing well. He has not been beaten deep yet this year, and he has laid some hits on people, from both the cornerback and safety positions.
Willie Pile, after a great game against Akron, had a "good news, bad news" outing in this one. The good news is, he had his second interception of the year, ending a fourth-quarter ECU drive deep in Tech territory. The bad news is, he went for an interception on an ECU pass to the flat in the third quarter and missed it. Stokes caught it and turned upfield, where he ran 37 yards unmolested to make the score 31-14.
Pile broke on the ball properly, but he hesitated en route, and that cost him the valuable split-second that may have enabled him to make the play.
And I'm Supposed to Say...What? I don't think there's much you can add to Tech's dominating special teams performance. The Hokies blocked two kicks, returning one for a touchdown, and returned a punt 87 yards for a TD. Without those two touchdowns, and all else being equal, ECU's third quarter outburst would have made the score 17-14, Tech, not 31-14.
I was severely disappointed in the special teams play last year. The Hokies switched their emphasis to the return last year, and as a result, they averaged 12.3 yards per punt return. With their opponents only averaging 4 yards per punt return, Tech gained 8 yards for every exchange of punts, on average.
But it's not the same as blocking kicks. It's not the same as lining up, foaming at the mouth, and going after the other team full-bore. Andre Davis' punt return in this game was nice, but ECU was already demoralized by the difficulty they were having in getting a punt off. Did you see the look on the face of ECU's long snapper after his first two attempts? I felt sorry for the kid, but you have to admit, the look on his face was the very definition of dejection.
The special teams failures in the Sugar Bowl probably still burn in Frank Beamer's heart late at night, when he lies down to go to sleep. And he must wonder "What if?" quite a bit. He has returned to his roots -- apply pressure in the kicking game -- in the first two games this year, and Hokie players, fans, and coaches like the results.
Warley's Statement. A quick nod goes to Carter Warley, who answered the questions of whether or not he was ready to make a big kick on the road. With a scoreless game early and the Tech offense sputtering, Warley simply crushed his 46-yard field goal attempt, drilling a kick that would have been good from 56 yards.
Peaslee Struggles. In the post-game euphoria over the special teams scores, only a few message board posters have noted that Tech punter Robert Peaslee only averaged 30.1 yards on 7 kicks. After booming a nice 44-yarder in his first career kick against Akron, Peaslee has averaged 29.5 yards on his subsequent 8 punts.
Beamer has stated that he is sticking with Peaslee for the time being. He is looking more for height than distance from Peaslee (and indeed, if Jimmy Kibble had gotten some height on that punt to Peter Warrick in the Sugar Bowl, Warrick's return for a TD never would have happened). Beamer is still mulling over whether or not to redshirt backup punter Vinnie Burns.
ECU Cheap Shots. Jeers to the Pirates for a variety of late hits, cheap shots, and trash talk. Noseguard Mbayo Ahmadu (#52) hit Vick very late from behind early in the game, and later in the game, defensive tackle Devone Claybrooks (#91) first twisted Vick's helmet at the bottom of a pile, and then hit Andre Kendrick from behind long after Vick had thrown incomplete to him.
The surprising thing is, Ahmadu and Claybrooks are both seniors. That's a very poor job of leadership by those two.
The Pirates in general lost their cool and deserved to be on the end of a butt-whipping. I am a big ECU fan, but much less so after watching them employ non-stop dirty tactics and trash talk in this game.
A message to the Pirates: you're a pretty good football team, but the Miami Hurricanes will tell you that energy spent on trash-talking and late hits is energy wasted that could be used to win the football game. The reason you wound up getting thrashed is that you lost your composure in the bright lights of a big game. Learn from it.
And another thing: jeers to the refs. They lost control of last year's Miami game in Lane Stadium, and they didn't do anything to take control of this one, either. This game was not nearly as bad as last year's eye-gouging, sucker-punching affair with the Canes, but the refs knew darn good and well what was going on and should have done something to slow it down. ECU Coach Steve Logan should have, too.
Having said that, this is what Vick and the Hokies are going to get this year: not just everybody's best shot, but a lot of team's dirtiest shots. As long as the Hokies keep their cool, as they did in this game, they will come out ahead. Of course, it's easy to keep your cool when you're up 31-0.
And one more thing: Tech isn't clean as a whistle on this one. Ronyell Whitaker in particular needs to stop stepping over top of opposing receivers and eyeballing the other team after he makes a play. Direct the enthusiasm back to celebrating with your teammates, Ronyell, and as they say, act like you've been there before.
VT Poise. Tech's composure on the road, in such a hostile environment, is remarkable. This is a young team that no doubt has a lot to learn, but they went on the road, into the teeth of the Pirates and their faithful, and simply took them apart.
Composure and poise are the hallmarks of good football programs. They go about their business with controlled energy that is fun to watch. This is a huge, huge difference from 1992, when the Hokies went 2-8-1 while wallowing in a complete lack of discipline on the field. Frank Beamer really learned from his coaching mistakes of that year.
The dreaded opening "3 games in 12 days" stretch is over for the Hokies. Tech could very well have come out of it 1-2, but instead, they not only survived but prospered, going 2-0 with a cancellation.
In my estimation, the Hokies are right where they need to be at this point. There have been some pleasant surprises (Warley) and a lot of energy, but there are also some yellow caution flags that have gone up (punting, consistency of pass rush and pass defense).
Tech has suffered no major injuries, a key point. The offensive line is humming, and the defense is learning rapidly. Tech now heads into a light stretch on the schedule, playing Rutgers after a 9-day layoff (on Sep. 16th) and getting a week off before traveling to BC on September 30th. One game in 22 days gives the Hokies a chance to watch plenty of film, work on fundamentals, and get backup safety Kevin McCadam healed.
Yes, there's still work to be done, but no sane Hokie fan can complain at this point.
HokieCentral.com is an independent publication and is not affiliated with or endorsed by Virginia Tech or the Virginia Tech Athletic Department. All material is Copyright ©1996-2000 by HokieCentral.com, all rights reserved.