WVU Game Analysis: A Complete Effort 
by Will Stewart, HokieCentral.com, 10/13/00

Click here for the game recap with stats

There was not a lot of subtlety to this game, and therefore not much that requires "analysis." When they weren't making mistakes, the Hokies simply dominated West Virginia in all phases of the game, outgaining them by more than a 2-to-1 margin.

For arguably the first time this year, the Hokies put together a complete game from the offense, defense, and special teams in throttling West Virginia. Michael Vick played like his old self, at least for one night, and a barrage of touchdowns electrified a sellout Lane Stadium crowd.

The highlight of the game for Hokie fans was a return to form for Michael Vick, who put up his best passing numbers of the year by far, in a performance that brought his often-incredible freshman season of 1999 to mind.

How Michael Got His Groove Back

Prior to this game, much had been written about Michael Vick, and why he wasn't playing up to snuff. I tried a couple of times to figure out what was going on, and I think I missed the mark. I attributed it to trying to learn the offense, and I stated that the challenges that were being presented to Michael were throwing him off his game. I also expressed my opinion that the Heisman hype had further muddled his mind, but I didn't lay the blame solely on the hoopla.

In some comments he made during game week, Vick himself seems to think that it was just the Heisman hype getting into his head, and that he was trying to do too much. He talked about getting back to doing "what Michael Vick knows how to do."

It appears that I overanalyzed Vick in previous weeks (but it's not as if I'm the only one guilty of that transgression). Apparently, his "problem" was indeed the Heisman hype and the clutter and expectations that it was creating in his head, because no sooner did he make his pledge to get back to basics, than he finally had a breakout game.

Instead of typing paragraphs of opinions in previous weeks, I could have simply said, "The pressure's getting to him," and I would have been right, at least according to Michael. But that seemed too trite and too easy, plus I wanted to give Michael a little credit. After all, he himself said that he wasn't thinking about it, and everyone else said he was still the same old Michael, so that couldn't have been it, right?

Prior to this game, Vick's season stats looked like this:
45-89 (50.5%), 5 TD's, 4 INT's, 635 yards.
7.13 yards per attempt, 14.1 yards per completion, 127 yards per game.

In this game, his stats looked like this:
10-18 (55.6%), 2 TD's, 0 INT's, 233 yards.
12.9 yards per attempt, 23.3 yards per completion.

Last season, his stats looked like this (excluding the Sugar Bowl):
90-152 (59.2%), 12 TD's, 5 INT's, 1840 yards.
12.1 yards per attempt, 20.4 yards per completion, 184 yards per game.

So you can see that his WVU stats were more like his stats from last year. Vick had a QB rating of 180.4 last year, which was an NCAA freshman record and, if I remember correctly, the second highest rating ever (behind Tulane's Shawn King in the 1998 season).

But never mind the stats. The key thing is, this game felt like a Michael Vick game. He hit some nice short patterns, laid a bomb into Andre Davis's hands, and put another long attempt into Emmett Johnson's lap (to no avail -- the pass was dropped in the end zone). He looked comfortable in the pocket, he had fun, and he didn't look like he was trying to be a hero.

All this couldn't have come at a better time for Virginia Tech. If you want Michael Vick to get his groove back, then you want it to happen right before the trip to Syracuse's Carrier Dome in Tech's next game. The Hokies made it through the first part of their schedule with a subpar Michael Vick, but as noted in last week's Temple analysis, Tech needs Vick to step it up now, starting with this game. So far, so good.

Of course, the question is, will it last? I'm inclined to think so, because there was something different about Vick in this game, and I'd be surprised if it went away. I think he has hit upon whatever it was that was bothering him and has adjusted his attitude, and as long as he's sharp enough to realize what that was and keep it up, he'll be okay.

Moon Over Blacksburg

So, did this game feel look and feel like the Virginia Tech that you want to see? After watching this game, do you feel a little better about VT's lofty #2 ranking? I'll bet you do.

Beyond Vick's performance and the 27-point third quarter explosion, I think there's a big reason for the improved outlook. Namely, the Hokies laid a whipping on a quality opponent in a night game at Lane Stadium, the first time they have had an opportunity to do so this year.

Lane Stadium at night has a different feel to it, and a big night victory leaves Hokie fans feeling all fuzzy and warm inside. Last year, Tech beat Clemson (31-11), Syracuse (62-0), and Miami (43-10) at night, on ESPN.

This is Tech's fourth home game of the year, and the previous three were all at noon, against opponents who don't inspire Tech fans to foam at the mouth: Akron, Rutgers, and Temple. The fans weren't up for those games, and it's totally understandable if the players weren't up for those games. These kids aren't robots, and won't always perform at peak efficiency.

But there's something about a night game at Lane that just lights this team up, and lights the fans up. I don't think WVU was very intimidated by the Lane Stadium crowd, but the Hokies were certainly energized by their fans. The ESPN commentators noted several times during the broadcast how loud the fans in Lane Stadium were, and how the team fed off of the noise.

So What Did You Think at Half Time?

It appears that a number of Hokie fans were, uh, quite concerned at half time, with the Hokies behind 14-7, the first time they had trailed all year.

I remember in the 1996 game against UVa in Lane Stadium, the Hoos led Tech 9-7 at half time, and I wasn't worried at all. Tech had taken UVa's best shot, which wasn't much, and you could tell that the Hokies were just toying with them. (Ironically, in 1998, Tech had a 29-7 half time lead, and I wasn't very comfortable at all. The game was just three plays away from being a tie -- my concern wound up being well-founded.)

WVU's 14-7 half time lead was built almost solely on Hokie mistakes. After scoring a TD on their first drive, Tech squandered two more point-blank opportunities. First Vick fumbled into the end zone attempting to perform "The Vick Flip, part 4" -- it was a nice helmet-to-football hit by the WVU defender -- and then Tech was stopped on fourth down inside the WVU three-yard line on a controversial spot of the football.

So, instead of having 21 points, Tech only had 7 points and led 7-0 at the end of the first quarter. This despite the fact that 32 of 36 first-quarter plays took place in WVU territory.

In the second quarter, the Hokies were generous to the Mountaineers, helping them to score twice. The first WVU score came when Andre Davis bobbled a bouncing punt, giving WVU the ball on Tech's 33 yard line. It took West Virginia 6 plays to score.

Then later, when the Hokies stopped a WVU drive, Lee Suggs was blocked into the WVU punter. In college, there is no rule about blocking a player into the punter not being a penalty, so the referee has to throw the flag. The only choice he has to make is whether to give a 15-yard roughing penalty, or a 5-yard running-into-the-kicker penalty.

It was a fourth-and-11, and wouldn't you know it, the Big East refs called the roughing penalty, giving the ball to the Eers on the Tech 33-yard line. WVU scored in 5 plays from there to make it 14-7.

Meanwhile, the Hokies barely touched the ball in the 2nd quarter, it seemed. Tech had a strange 10-play, 22-yard "drive" sandwiched between WVU's scores, and didn't get much else of a chance to do anything with the ball.

So Tech wound up trailing 14-7 at the half, and it wasn't really a big deal. Four plays were all that kept the score from being 21-0 or worse, in favor of the Hokies. Sure, WVU executed well at times, particularly on offense, working the ball to the tight end and mixing it up, more so than they would at any other time in the game.

But the fact is, WVU's lead was not built on solid ground. They were playing nearly mistake-free football and capitalizing on Tech's numerous mistakes, and I found it hard to believe that they could keep it up for the second half, as well.

I'm not saying that Tech had 'em where they wanted 'em, but I could see the Hokies coming back in the second half. I did not foresee 41 straight points, but nonetheless, the comeback did occur.

"The Block"

Everybody saw it, and everybody's talking about it, and for posterity's sake, I've got to mention it. On Andre Davis's 76-yard punt return for a TD, Wayne Ward, who is having a phenomenal year on special teams, absolutely crushed WVU's Kyle Kayden on a comeback block.

Davis indicated in his post-game comments that he knew Ward was coming back to make a block, but Ward ran past him, and he didn't actually see the block. "I heard the crowd, though," he told Tech radio broadcaster Mike Burnop, "and I knew Wayne had gotten him."

Ward's block, as big as it was, is still second to the hit that Rusty Pendleton laid on a Syracuse player in 1992 in the Carrier Dome. Pendleton blindsided an Orangeman, hitting him cleanly in the chest, and the Syracuse player just folded up around the point of impact, like a crash test dummy. If I remember correctly, Pendleton's hit received Block of the Year from CNN.

Not to take anything away from Ward's hit, mind you. ESPN got some good footage of it, so you'll see it again. And again, and again.

Next Up: Road Trip to the Jiffy Pop Dome

On Saturday, October 21st, Donovan McNabb will return to the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, but this time, he's faster, and he's wearing a #7 jersey for Virginia Tech.

Virginia Tech's last memory of the Carrier Dome is Syracuse QB McNabb lofting a game-winning TD across the field to the Orangemen tight end. The defeat was a crushing one that prevented the Hokies from having at least a share of the Big East championship in 1998.

McNabb was incredible in that game, and a true freshman named Michael Vick who was being redshirted for Virginia Tech saw the whole thing from the sidelines. He didn't play, of course, and perhaps the outcome of that game would have been different if he had.

Now the Hokies return to the scene of the crime, with revenge on their minds. They also have a huge monkey that they need to get off their backs, not having won in the Carrier Dome since 1986, when a guy named Dooley was coach.

For the Hokies, the road to the Big East championship goes through Miami this year, but it makes one heck of a detour in Syracuse first. There's some business that needs to be taken care of there.

I'll return next week with a game preview and prediction, and oh yeah, I'm going to predict the Hokies to win.


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