TSL Defensive Player
of the Game

picture: hokiesports.com
#42 James Anderson
LB, 6-3, 222, rSr.
Score: 48.3 points

Click here for an explanation of the award and how the scoring is done

Until late in the game, Chris Ellis was the frontrunner for the defensive player of the game, but then James Anderson finished his Tech career with a 39-yard interception return for a touchdown. Anderson added five tackles, a fumble recovery, and 0.5 TFL for good measure.
Total: 48.3 points.

2nd: Chris Ellis, 30.0 points (3 tackles, 1.5 sacks for 10 yards, 1 forced fumble, 2 passes defensed, and 1 QB hurry).

It's a shame this game was overshadowed by the controversy that followed it (and it's a shame this game analysis was delayed so long by that same controversy), because it was a memorable contest. The Hokies did something they almost never do: they overcame a double-digit fourth-quarter deficit to win, an event so rare that it always takes its place in Hokie football legend. This game did just that, but unfortunately for all the wrong reasons, not because of the comeback. The Stomp and all that followed it have been covered in detail here and elsewhere, so there will be little discussion of it in this analysis. Instead, we'll talk about the key elements that took Tech to the win.

Like many games, this was a tale of two halves. Louisville led at the break 17-10, and Tech blew them out 25-7 in the second half, for a 35-24 Hokie win. The Hokie defense clamped down on the Cardinals after half time, and Marcus Vick's passing efficiency went up dramatically from the first half to the second half. It was the seniors that brought Tech home to the win, as all three fourth-quarter touchdowns were scored by seniors, including a game-icing interception by James Anderson, a great Hokie whose Tech career was once completely in the dumps.

The Comeback

Remember the euphoria you felt after VT's come from behind win over Georgia Tech in 2004? The Yellow Jackets were leading by eight points with 5:24 remaining, and the Hokies exploded for 22 straight points to win 34-20. In this game, Louisville was up by 11 points with 13:37 to go, and the Hokies blew up for 22 points – again – to win by 35-24.

The win marked just the eighth time in Frank Beamer's 19-year Tech career that the Hokies have trailed going into the fourth quarter and have won the game. Going into this game, Tech was 7-60 when trailing entering the fourth quarter under Beamer. Run the math - there's roughly a 10% chance that the Hokies will come back when trailing after three quarters, and in this game, they did it.

In the GT game, the Hokies got their 22 points off of two pass plays and an interception return. This time around, the scoring came from a pass play, a run play, and an interception return.

The First Half

Much has been made of Tech's five first-half personal foul/unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, plus a sixth that was offset by Louisville, and a seventh (Vick's stomp of Dumervil) that wasn't called. The Hokies had just one such penalty in the second half, and that too was offset by Louisville, so it didn't go into the record books.

The penalties were embarrassing, except for a couple that were borderline calls (must … not … talk … about … refs … right … now!). I would counter that a bigger problem for the Hokies in the first half was that they couldn't stop the run, couldn't stop the pass, and couldn't move the ball on offense.

Louisville's first two possessions, when combined, read like this: 21 plays, 162 yards, and two touchdowns. That's an average of 10 plays, 81 yards, and seven points on two possessions. Their next eleven possessions? 47 plays, 212 yards, and 10 points. That works out to 4.3 plays, 19.3 yards, and one point per possession. Here that is, in easily-digestible table format:

Louisville's Possessions
Possessions Ave Plays Ave. Yards Ave. Points
1 and 2 10.5 81 7.0
3-13 4.3 19.3 0.9

Louisville's last 11 possessions included a 2-play, 58-yard drive for a touchdown. Take that out of the equation, and 10 of Louisville's last 11 possessions averaged 4.5 plays, 15.4 yards, and 0.3 points. After some early success, the Cardinals mostly stood still on offense.

(Note that the yardage listed for possessions includes penalty yards, so Louisville's yardage totals will not match up with their statistical totals.)

As usual, I started getting off on numbers and got sidetracked. The point is that Louisville enjoyed nearly all of their offensive success in their first two possessions. (Boy, the more I do this, the more I realize how quickly Bud Foster adjusts. He doesn’t wait until half time to fix what's broken. Sometimes teams will have some early success against Bud's defense, and then wham! The door slams.)

Hunter Cantwell, Louisville's backup walk-on quarterback who was pressed into service after the injury to Brian Brohm, was shaky in the early going, for the most part. Cantwell missed his first five passes, partially due to the fact that Vince Hall absolutely blasted him on an early 3rd and six pass. After that, Cantwell missed Montrell Jones badly, then overthrew a wide-open Jones on a play where Tech's Justin Hamilton had bitten on the play-action, leaving Jones running down the middle by himself.

Cantwell got his act back together just in time to complete his first pass of the game, an 11-yard slant for a TD to Mario Urrutia.

What kept the Cards going on that drive were two things: the running of Michael Bush (5 carries, 37 yards) and a fake punt on 4th and six from their own 34. Kolby Smith took a handoff on a nifty trick play and motored 30 yards to keep the Cardinals going, and that play completely froze Tech's kick-blocking units for the rest of the afternoon. The Hokies didn't put up much of a fight on punts and field goals after that.

On Louisville's second possession, Vince Hall and Jonathan Lewis blasted Cantwell, bloodying his nose. It wasn't broken, though it was thought to be at the time. That set up a 2nd and 18, and this time, Noland Burchette rocked Cantwell on an incomplete pass. The Hokies were in good shape, but Burchette was called for unsportsmanlike conduct for dancing after the play.

Cantwell had to take a break to collect himself, and at this point, I was thinking, "Play man coverage with four guys and send the linebackers every play." Cantwell's passing had been iffy, and now he was hurt, and I thought the Hokies should have gone for the kill. Bud Foster had sent all three linebackers on a couple of plays, and Louisville wasn't leaving backs in or max-protecting enough to get the job done. Combined with Cantwell's inexperience at reading defenses, the result had been a couple of free shots, and they had paid off. I would have kept going after him.

The Hokies chose not to, though, and it cost them. After Cantwell re-entered the game, Tech rushed four linemen on 2nd and 14. Cantwell threw a 7-yard completion. On 3rd and seven, Tech again rushed four, giving Cantwell enough time to throw downfield to Joshua Tinch, who juked a late-arriving D.J. Parker for the touchdown. 14-3, Cards.

From that point on, Louisville didn't have nearly as much success offensively. They already had nine of their 20 first downs, and though they would occasionally snap for a big play – for the remainder of the game, they had plays of 33, 34, 29, and 29 yards – Louisville only had one possession with more than two first downs. That possession was the last one of the first half for the Cardinals, when they used a 34-yard rush by Bush to get into field goal range and kick a 35-yarder for the 17-10 half time lead.

Meanwhile, the Hokies were an offensive coordinator's nightmare. Get a load of Tech's average down and distance for the first half:

VT's 1st Half
Down and Distance
Down Ave. Distance
1 10
2 11.2
3 13.3

Do you believe that? The Hokies, on average, backed up on first and second downs. To say that their average first-down distance was 10 yards also isn't accurate, because the Hokies had two penalties, a pass interference and a personal foul, that backed them up to 1st and 25 twice.

Nic Schmitt punted three times, on 4th and 20, 4th and nine, and 4th and 26.

The offense looked marginally competent just a few times. Cedric Humes had a couple of nice runs, and Marcus Vick converted a 3rd and 12 and a 3rd and 18 with passes to Josh Hyman of 20 yards and 24 yards. Those two completions got Tech into range for Brandon Pace's first field goal.

The other time the Hokie offense looked good in the first half was also Marcus Vick-related. Tech took possession midway through the second quarter, and Vick hit Jeff King for an 18-yard pass to the Louisville 37. Two plays later, on 2nd and 6, Vick was under center, stood up, pump faked, then hit Justin Harper open in the middle of the field. The Hokies flooded that side of the field with receivers, and the linebacker on the play who would have had the best coverage on Harper followed Vick's eyes on the pump fake to the outside. The LB overran the passing lane, and that left Harper open.

VT had been running a lot of quick hitting passes from under center, and when they ran the pump fake, Louisville totally bought it. Harper used his athleticism to turn the short pass into a 33-yard TD.

Prior to the passes to King and Harper, Vick had missed seven straight attempts.

Here's a look at the first half stats.

First Half Stats
Stat Louisville Virginia Tech
Score 17 10
Rushing yards 95 77
Pass Yards 129 93
Total Yards 224 170
Penalties/Yds 3/19 5/75
Time of Poss. 13:18 16:42

Louisville' stats are eerily close to what you'd get if you took their season stats and divided by two. Louisville was averaging 494.7 yards per game -- 300 passing, 194 rushing -- coming in. They averaged 247 total yards per half (they got 224 here), 150 passing (129 here), and 97 rushing (95 here). The Hokies hadn't really slowed the Cards down much, despite Brohm being out.

First Half Notables

The Second Half

Let's revisit the first half statistics and compare them to the second half statistics:


First Half Second Half
Louisville VT Louisville VT
Score 17 10 7 25
Rushing yards 95 77 32 110
Pass Yards 129 93 87 110
Total Yards 224 170 119 220
Penalties/Yds 3-19 5-75 2-30 2-18
Time of Poss. 13:18 16:42 10:21 19:39

The second half was a beatdown. Extrapolate it out to a full game, and Tech would have trounced Louisville 50-14, with 220 rushing yards and 440 total yards, with just 238 by the Cards. That's reminiscent of the whippings the Hokies put on Virginia and Boston College. When the Hokies were good this year, they were very, very good, and in the second half of the Gator Bowl they were good.

VT's second possession of the second half was the one that turned the game. The drive started with 11:26 to go on Tech's one yard line, and from there, the Hokies drove 16 plays for 88 yards, keeping the ball for 8:14. Marcus Vick asserted himself with a nifty 28-yard completion to Justin Harper on 2nd and 11, plus a 17-yard scramble on 2nd and 7. The Hokies converted a fourth down with Cedric Humes and essentially settled down and made a statement after a ratty first half. Tech only got a field goal out of it, but the drive sent a message to Louisville that the rest of the game was going to be a rough ride for the Cardinals.

Not right away, though. After the two teams traded possessions, the Hokies had an inexplicable brain spasm on defense, giving up a two-play, 58-yard TD drive that put them down 24-13. On the first play, the Cardinals ran a reverse, with Michael Bush handing off to Harry Douglas for a 29-yard gain. The play was almost a disaster for the Cardinals, as Vince Hall was hot on Bush's trail. Had the 6-0, 236-pound Hall seen the reverse coming, he would have killed the 5-11, 170-pound Douglas. Hall didn't sniff it out, though, and Douglas got away with his skin and a long gain.

On the next play, Cantwell hit tight end Gary Barnidge wide open down the middle for the touchdown. On the play, Hall and Adibi dropped back into coverage, and Cantwell threw over the top of them. Tech rover Aaron Rouse (or Cary Wade, whoever was in at the time) and free safety Justin Hamilton were nowhere to be found, and it wasn't clear from the NBC replays where they were, so once Cantwell got the ball over Hall and Adibi, it was seven points.

After that, it was all Hokies. On Tech's next play, Marcus Vick dropped back, and despite a head-grazing face mask by a Louisville defender (that wasn't called), followed by a late hit (that wasn't called), hit David Clowney for a 54 yard gain.

Then Hokies ran Cedric Humes off left tackle, where Frye and Reggie Butler absolutely cleared out the Cardinal defensive line. That left Louisville defensive end Zach Anderson uncovered, but Anderson hesitated because of a fake end-around to Josh Morgan. Humes blew by Anderson into the second level of the defense, where he ran through an arm tackle by safety Johnathan Russell on his way to a 24-yard touchdown.

After that, the avalanche started. Louisville put up a fight, picking up two first downs before the Hokies overloaded the right side of Louisville's offensive line on a passing play, springing Chris Ellis for a crushing hit that forced a fumble. The Cardinals committed two pass interference calls -- their only penalties of the second half -- on Tech's ensuing possession, leading to a five-yard pass from Vick to King that made it 28-24, Hokies.

Then whip linebacker James Anderson put the cherry on top of his Tech career with an athletic one-handed interception for a 39-yard TD and the final margin. It seems like a lifetime ago that Anderson was playing the backer position in Tech's 2002 loss to Syracuse, wandering around the field aimlessly, making just two tackles out of 100 Syracuse offensive plays. After two quiet years, Anderson moved to whip for the 2004 season and was a great success.

Second Half Notables

Closing Thoughts

This game won't be remembered as the rare, exciting comeback it was. It will instead be remembered as the game in which Marcus Vick drove Tech fans and the media over the top with his, well, over-the-top step on the back of Elvis Dumervil's leg. The play not only helped finish off Vick's Tech career (that, and a speeding ticket on an expired license), it combined with a handful of other personal fouls to ignite a debate among Tech fans and the Tech beat media about whether or not Frank Beamer's program has a discipline problem.

The national uproar caused by Vick's stomp caught me off guard, as I have mentioned in a previous article. But the lingering discontent over trash talking by Hokie players and lack of discipline on and off the field that finally bubbled over didn't surprise me as much. Describing the Hokie program as undisciplined may or may not be fair. Certainly, the Hokies have had a lot of off-field problems, but the poor sportsmanship is a relatively recent thing, and might even be an unfair accusation. The 2004 Hokies won the ACC sportsmanship award for football, and the 2005 version, until the last couple of games of the season, was a disciplined unit that finished second in the ACC in fewest penalties.

Nonetheless, the 22 penalties for 218 yards that the Hokies racked up in the six quarters spanning the ACC Championship game and the first two quarters of this game got everyone's attention, including that of Frank Beamer, who has vowed to cut down on undisciplined play. Vick's stomp, the unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, and the personal foul penalties will characterize this game in the future, not the comeback spurred by great Hokie seniors.

Even in victory, this game felt like a loss in many ways. Marcus Vick lost his Tech career here, and the Hokies lost some national, regional, and local respect. It's odd that an 11-2 season should end with such a bad taste in everyone's mouth, but that's the 2005 Gator Bowl for you. It can't be undone, and it is what it is. Time to move on, because I don’t even have the energy at this point to criticize the reffing, which would be like shooting fish in a barrel.

We'll follow up soon with a quick look ahead to next season. The Hokies head into winter workouts soon, then regroup for spring practice, starting in March.