Virginia Game Analysis:
Tech Too Much for the Hoos
by Will Stewart,, 11/30/00

Click here for the game recap with stats

Never mind everything that was going on off the field, with the Beamer-to-UNC rumors. What settled this game on the field was the fact that for the second year in a row, UVa didn't have the talent to hang with Tech.

The game brought many surprises. There were an unexpected 23 passes thrown by Tech against the #80 rush defense in the country, and the Cavaliers put up a spirited fight for most of two quarters. They hit hard the entire game and linebacker Yubrenal Isabelle in particular played a great game.

But in the long run, the Cavaliers were simply overmatched. Michael Vick played almost the entire game, and with an anemic UVa pass rush putting little to no pressure on him, Vick was sharp, completing 16 of 23 passes for 202 yards, no interceptions, and one touchdown. And he had at least four passes dropped by his receivers on a cold, wet night.

In the meantime, Tech's Lee Suggs turned in another amazing performance, scoring 4 touchdowns (3 rushing, 1 receiving) and gaining 116 yards on 23 carries.

Let's take a closer look at some key aspects of the game.

UVa Starts Out Fast

The ease of Virginia's first touchdown drive -- a 7-play, 96-yard romp that didn't include a single pass -- was stunning. As a matter of fact, for the whole first quarter, UVa's running game treated Tech's defense like an open gate.

Then, after a Tech touchdown, UVa did it again -- this time, it was 4 plays, 73 yards. Granted, they were aided by one of the worst interference calls I've ever seen, when Ronyell Whitaker was flagged on a play where the ball cleared Billy McMullen's head by a good three yards. But still, the two drives combined covered 169 yards in just 11 plays. And this all happened in just the first quarter.

ESPN analyst Mike Gottfried made a big deal out of attributing UVa's first quarter success to the wind, which was in the Cavaliers' favor, but I thought that was total bunk. UVa had 125 yards rushing in those two drives and just 29 yards passing, on a short pitch-and-run to Kevin Coffey that wasn't a wind-aided pass at all. So don't pay any attention to Gottfried on that count, because the last time I checked, rushing totals weren't enhanced by having the wind in your favor.

The real fact is, UVa just took it to the Hokies, who came out a little flat and wound up on the short end of a 14-7 first quarter score. Once the Hokies got settled and started executing both offensively and defensively, they quickly turned the game in their favor for good.

I thought another key factor to the turnaround was UVa's substitution of Dan Ellis for Bryson Spinner in the second quarter. With Tech leading 21-14 and 6:31 to go in the second quarter, the Hoos yanked Spinner and put in Ellis.

Sure, at this point, Spinner was 2-8 and the UVa offense had started to bog down, but it wasn't like he was fumbling and throwing interceptions. Ellis, on the other hand, came in and promptly threw three straight incompletions, a couple of them very poorly thrown balls. The Ellis substitution killed any momentum UVa had.

Yes, I know, hindsight is 20-20, the Cavalier coaching staff was trying to spark the team, etc., etc. But I questioned the move the instant they made it, and in retrospect, it really put them in the hole.

"Air Bustle"

I'll fess up: I was wrong.  I said that Tech would come out and run, run, run, and that's not the way it went at all. I figured there was no way the Hokies would pass more than 15 times, and if you had told me before the game that they would launch a balanced attack of 259 yards rushing and 202 yards passing, I would have said, "Nice try, Hoo-boy, but I'm not buying it. Begone!"

Maybe Tech offensive coordinator Rickey Bustle really does take what the defense gives him. If you remember the TSL pre-game analysis (you did read it, right?), UVa came into the game with just fifteen sacks. Fifteen. That's 1.5 per game. So Bustle must have figured he could pass the ball without Vick getting mauled like he was in the Pittsburgh and Syracuse games.

He was right. Vick was barely pressured all night long, and UVa didn't record a single sack. When the Cavaliers tried to blitz, Bustle had the short passing game ready, calling enough short curl patterns to Emmett Johnson and Shawn Witten that it negated the blitz, and UVa didn't have a way to get pressure on Vick.

It showed. Vick had one of his better games of the season. He threw a couple of passes poorly, but for the most part, he was very accurate. As I mentioned before, he was 16-23, and that included at least four drops.

Speaking of drops, Shawn Witten doesn't. Nuff said.

I've got to tell you, I'm stunned. It was 40 degrees, wet, and the Hokies were facing a bad rushing defense. And yet, the run-happy Hokies racked up their fourth-highest passing total of the year.

You think you know a guy (Rickey Bustle), and then he goes and does something like this. I'm having a hard time getting over it, can you tell?

Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder Ref the Game

This has got to be the worst officiating job I've seen in a while. I've seen some bad officiating (I attended about a dozen A-10 women's basketball games in the last few years), but I don't think I've ever seen officiating that was this bad and this one-sided. Every bad call went against the Hokies.

Even board host Mike Ingalls, when he stopped by the TSL message board to congratulate the Hokies on the win, made reference to "LOTS of help for UVa by the refs."

Right off the top of my head, without poring over the tape, here's what I remember:

  • bad call: the interference call on Whitaker mentioned above;
  • bad spot: on one VT touchdown drive, Lee Suggs was tackled at the one-inch line, and the officials marked the ball back at the one-yard line;
  • bad spot: on Michael Vick's quarterback sneak on fourth down, he clearly got the first down, but the officials backed the ball up nearly a yard on the spot, and the measurement was short;
  • questionable call: Billy Hardee ran step for step with a receiver late in the game and picked the ball off, but the officials ruled it as interference. It was a call that could have gone either way.
  • questionable call: the Hokie line jumped during the count on a UVa punt, then broke through after the ball was snapped and blocked it. The officials called offsides on Tech. It looks close on the replay.

But to me, the most bizarre blown call (and no one talked about this) came late in the first half. With 48 seconds left to go and the ball resting at the UVa 32 yard line, Michael Vick rolled left and hit Shawn Witten with a pass along the sideline. Witten immediately sat down on his rear end out of bounds, stopping the clock with 40 seconds to go.

It was a simple, cut-and-dried play. And yet the referees started huddling, and sure enough, the umpire requested that the clock be set to 33 seconds. The clock operator did so, and then started running the clock. Fortunately for the Hokies, Vick hit Suggs for his touchdown on the next play.

The replay clearly shows Witten falling out of bounds without being touched. The side judge marked the ball, but did not indicate whether the clock should run (spiraling his arm in a winding motion) or stop (waving of both hands over the head). He simply marked the ball and stood there. The clock operator stopped the clock (the correct thing to do), but the umpire overruled him, telling him to set the clock to 33 seconds and run it. A hideous job of officiating, and the game was full of such mistakes by the officials.

To my knowledge, this was an ACC crew of officials. In an inter-conference matchup, the officials come from the road team's conference. This is to prevent home cooking.

The problem is, the last two Tech/UVa games in Lane Stadium, with ACC crews, have gone overboard and made some key calls for the Cavaliers. In the 1998 loss, the Hokies were driving deep into UVa territory early in the fourth quarter and had just advanced the ball inside the Virginia 5 yard line for a first down. On the play, a holding call was made at the line of scrimmage that negated the play and backed the Hokies up out of field goal range. It was a crushing blow in a narrow 36-32 loss for the Hokies.

Frank Beamer said later in his autobiography Turn up the Wick! (pages 189-190)

After the game, I looked at the tape, and looked, and looked, and looked for that holding call, and I never found it.

It was the only comment that Beamer made about officiating in the entire book.

So look out for the ACC officiating crew when UVa comes to visit in 2002, because the last two times, they have ripped Tech off big time.

Other Notes

  • The 23-yard catch for a TD by Suggs was a great play. Suggs starts that play out by going to the right and blocking a UVa linebacker, who pushes him backwards, into the backfield. Suggs finishes that play by catching the ball 20 yards downfield on the run. How he got from point A to point B so quickly is a mystery to me, and always will be. I thought Lee Suggs would be good running back, but I didn't think he would be this good, this soon.

  • I thought the throwback uniforms the Hokies wore were pretty cool. They were based on the uniforms that the Hokies used back when Beamer was a player in the late 60's. The late 60's uniforms were based on UCLA's uni's.

  • The coaching job turned in by Beamer and his staff this year has got to be the best ever. If Beamer was national Coach of the Year last year, then he's Coach of the Universe this year. To pilot a young, injury-riddled team like this to a 10-1 record is just outstanding.

  • Much ado was made about UVa linebacker Donny Green twisting Vick's ankle on the play that put Vick out of the game for a while, but a quick look at the replay (9:09 to go, first quarter) exonerates Green. He fell on Vick's right ankle while tackling him, but it's the left ankle that Green actually held onto and supposedly twisted after the play. It's the right ankle that was injured for Vick, so Green didn't injure Vick by twisting his ankle.

Time to Sit, Wait and Reflect

Now the Hokies sit back with their 10-1 record and wait to see what their bowl destination is. Most fans are talking about the Fiesta Bowl (against Notre Dame) as a possibility, but Tech Athletic Director Jim Weaver seems to feel that the Sugar Bowl is a better possibility.

If those bowls fall through, Tech is headed to the Gator Bowl, and a meeting with Clemson, for the third year in a row.

Meanwhile, the season that we waited so long for -- the 2000 football season, the encore to the great 1999 season -- is over. It took forever for this season to begin, and typically, it was over in a flash.

For me, this season does not really have an identity yet. In a way, it was one of overachievement and surprise, because the team went 10-1, and Lee Suggs emerged from nowhere to lead the country in scoring with 28 touchdowns. In another way, however, it was one of disappointment, because Vick's Heisman campaign fizzled out, and Andre Davis had a very quiet, injury-shortened year.

What a strange season. The team as a whole did better than expected, but its marquee players going into the season, Michael Vick and Andre Davis, did not achieve what people had hoped. And at the end of it, worry and fear over Coach Beamer took away from what should have been an enjoyable win over UVa.

Ah, well, 10-1 is 10-1, no matter how you slice it, even if only one of Tech's opponents (Miami) was in the coaches' Top 25 at the end of the year. In this important rebuilding year, the Hokies not only stayed in the forefront, but they spent most of the year in the Top 10 and in the national championship picture. That's quite an achievement.


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