The 1993 Independence Bowl: Jeff Holland
Virginia Tech 45, Indiana 20
by Will Stewart,
TSL Extra, Issue #14

To find out about the beginning of the Beamer Bowl era at Virginia Tech, you have to go all the way back to 1993, and the Poulan-Weed Eater Independence Bowl. It was a humble beginning, but for the Hokies and their fans, Tech's 45-20 win over Indiana felt like the pinnacle of college football.

Just one year after finishing 2-8-1, Virginia Tech had surprised the nation by going 8-3, including 4-3 and a fourth-place finish in the first year of Big East round-robin play. Under first-year offensive coordinator Rickey Bustle, the Hokies had a high-powered offense that set a Tech record by scoring 400 points and averaging 36.4 points per game (a mark that is now third behind the 1999 and 2000 Hokies).

Tech's attack featured a 2,000 yard passer in junior quarterback Maurice DeShazo (129-230, 2,080 yards, 22 TD's, 7 INT's) and a 1,000 yard rusher in sophomore tailback Dwayne Thomas (1,130 yards and 11 rushing TD's). They also had a future NFL pro-bowler in receiver Antonio Freeman, who caught 32 passes for 644 yards (20.9 yards per catch) and 9 TD's. The Hokies had the tenth-ranked rushing offense in the country.

DeShazo's stellar junior year would make him a legitimate Heisman candidate entering his senior season in 1994. His 22 TD passes were a Tech single-season record that still stands, and Thomas's 11 TD's were the most since James Barber had scored 13 in 1972. Meanwhile, Freeman's 9 receiving TD's were a Tech single-season record. With unanimous All-American Jim Pyne anchoring the offensive line at center, the Hokies were an offensive powerhouse.

Defensively, it was a different story. The Tech defense was in its first year of a new eight-man front "attack" scheme, which had been implemented by new defensive coordinator Phil Elmassian. The Hokies were starting a slew of freshmen and sophomores, with senior linebacker Ken Brown, senior whip linebacker Dwayne Knight, and senior defensive back Tyronne Drakeford being the only starters on the defense that weren't freshmen or sophomores.

Among the younger players, the Hokie defense featured future stars in linebacker George DelRicco, defensive end Cornell Brown, defensive tackle J.C. Price, and defensive backs Antonio Banks and Torrian Gray.

That young defensive nucleus would go on to be one of the all-time great Tech defenses in 1995, but in 1993, they were learning on the job, and it showed. The Hokies had some good defensive outings (7-point first halves against Rutgers and Miami, plus strong showings at Virginia and West Virginia), but it frequently got slaughtered, too, most notably against Boston College (a crushing 48-34 defeat in which the Eagles had over 600 yards of offense).

Sophomore lineman Jeff Holland played a key role on that defense. J.C. Price would later be an All-American in 1995, but in 1993, he and Holland split time evenly at the tackle position. "We were co-starters, 50-50," Holland recalled in a recent interview with the TSL Extra. "He started six games, and I started the other six."

Like the defense as a whole, Holland had his moments in 1993. The high point of his season came when he recovered a fumble against the Virginia Cavaliers and turned it into a short touchdown run in a 20-17 Hokie road victory. That was Tech's last game of the regular season, and it came after the Hokies had already earned an Independence Bowl bid the week before by pasting Syracuse 45-24 in Lane Stadium.

Holland, now the Town Planner/GIS coordinator in Smithfield, Virginia and a sometimes TSL columnist, remembers the Independence Bowl vividly, as do most of the players, coaches, and 6,500 or so Hokie fans who made the trip to Shreveport, Louisiana that year.

As noted earlier, 1993 was the first year of round-robin play in the Big East, and the league had done well. West Virginia (7-0 Big East) posted an undefeated 11-0 record and got a Sugar Bowl invitation to play Florida. Miami (6-1) went 9-2 overall and headed to the Fiesta Bowl to play Arizona, and a Boston College team coached by Tom Coughlin and quarterbacked by Glenn Foley went 5-2 in the conference and 8-3 overall, with an invitation to the Carquest Bowl to match up with Virginia. Those three teams, along with the Hokies, gave the Big East four ranked teams at the end of the season.

"All three (Tech) losses were to ranked teams on the road," Holland remembers (21-2 at Miami, 14-13 at WVU, and 48-34 at BC). "It wasn't that bad of a season, although West Virginia, we should have won. We did pretty good on defense. We had our moments. We were either really good or really bad."

The Big Ten and Indiana had an impressive year as well. The conference sent seven teams to bowls that year, and Indiana had posted a strong 8-3 record, their best since 1988. "Looking at their schedule," Holland says, "they were kind of in the same boat as us. They were 8-3, and their losses were to Big Ten powers, and most of them were close."

The Independence Bowl bid was, of course, Virginia Tech's first bowl bid under coach Frank Beamer, and it was the first Virginia Tech bowl bid since the 1986 Peach Bowl. The Indiana Hoosiers had suffered no such drought, going to six bowl games in eight years under coach Bill Mallory. The Hoosiers were 3-4 in the previous seven bowls under Mallory, and they entered the 1993 Independence Bowl with a reputation as a tough, physical defensive team, giving up just 14 points a game.

The game was billed as Virginia Tech's high-powered offense versus Indiana's stingy defense, but before it was over, the story would be the Hokies' defense and special teams, and a frantic 35 seconds at the end of the first half that sealed Indiana's fate.

Bowl Week

It has taken years for the Virginia Tech Hokies to get any national respect, and some would argue that they don't have it even now, after two straight 11-1 seasons in 1999 and 2000, and a trip to the national championship game in 1999. But imagine what it was like back in 1993, as the upstart Hokies from the fledgling Big East prepared to kick it off against a big, bad Big Ten team.

"We were excited to play a Big Ten team," Holland remembers. "They did have an arrogance about them, like they were Big Ten power football, and back then, the Big East was the new kid on the block. We were all expecting that.

"They brought their whole team, including all their freshmen and redshirts, so at all the pre-game functions, they outnumbered us. We only brought 60 or 70 guys." (For the record, the Hokies traveled with 65 players, and Indiana brought a staggering 109).

By all accounts, the Hokies and Hoosiers got along during the week building up to the bowl. They weren't going to be the best of friends, but there was little belligerence between the two teams as game day approached.

Holland concurs. "They were okay at all the team functions, when we had both teams there. They were definitely nicer than Tennessee (whom Tech would play in the 1994 Gator Bowl the next season) as far as getting along."

But the Hokies and Hoosiers weren't necessarily pals. "Then at the pep rally the night before the game was when they started to talk trash. Things like, 'What's a Hokie?' and all that. But I guess they had to do that, peer pressure and all. They had to talk a little smack."

Traveling for their first bowl game in seven years (and the first under Beamer), and facing a team from a tradition-laden power conference, a natural question is what the Hokies were looking to accomplish. A good showing? A win? A blowout?

"We were looking for a win," Holland notes. "We knew our offense was going to score. We were just hoping the defense would show up for four quarters."

Speaking of the Tech defense, they noticed that the media buildup during game week centered on the Hokie offense and the Indiana defense. There was little to no mention of the Tech D. "That was used as a motivator," Holland remembers, "and it definitely motivated us."

Game Time

Friday, December 31st, 1993 dawned bright and beautiful in Northwest Louisiana. The Hokies were appearing on ESPN for the first time since a nationally-broadcast 38-13 win over UVa in 1990, and the weather obliged. It was sunny and 49 degrees when the ball was kicked off at 12:42 Eastern Standard Time.

In hindsight, the mismatch on the line of scrimmage was immediately apparent. The Hokies kicked off, and from Indiana's opening drive onward, the Tech defenders created havoc in the Hoosier backfield, pressuring Indiana quarterback John Paci relentlessly. The smaller, quicker Tech defenders simply ran around, over, and through Indiana's hulking offensive line, none of whom were shorter than 6-3 or weighed less than 285 pounds.

Meanwhile, behind the blocking of senior Jim Pyne, the Hokie offense was enjoying great success running up the middle against Indiana's defense. Tech moved the ball well on their first drive but did not score. Indiana responded by scoring a TD on their second possession when Paci hit star receiver Thomas Lewis on the right sideline. Lewis broke a tackle and raced 75 yards for the score, putting the Hoosiers up, 7-0.

On the Tech sideline, nobody panicked.

"Personally, I liked it whenever we scored first, because I always thought we were going to win. That was my mentality," Holland admits. But in just the first ten minutes of the game, he had seen how things were going. "The offense was moving the ball easily. I knew we were going to be okay. They got that one long touchdown, but that happens. I thought we were in good shape."

The Hokies came back strong. Tech responded with a 14-play, 73-yard drive and scored on Dwayne Thomas's 13-yard reception off a double-screen, making it 7-7 at the end of the first quarter.

Tech stuffed Indiana, got the ball back, and went on another long drive, going 59 yards in 7 plays and making it 14-7 on fullback Joe Swarm's 6-yard run.

With the game threatening to slip away from Indiana, the Hoosiers returned the kickoff 51 yards (the Hokies had a miserable day in kickoff coverage), followed immediately by a 34-yard pass that took the ball inside the Tech 15. The Tech defense stiffened and limited Indiana to a 26 yard field goal, and it was 14-10, Tech.

Then the Hokies did their best to keep the Hoosiers in it. DeShazo threw an interception that Indiana turned into another field goal (14-13), and then DeShazo threw an incompletion to Thomas that was actually a lateral. Thomas failed to cover the ball, and Indiana recovered deep in Tech territory.

The bleeding stopped on the very next play when Paci threw an interception in the end zone to Tyronne Drakeford. The Hokies were done helping Indiana score points.

35 Seconds

With the score 14-13, time was winding down in the first half. The Hoosiers were trying to tack on more points and had the ball at the Tech 49-yard line with 35 seconds to go when Paci dropped back to pass. He was hit by George DelRicco and Dwayne Knight, and he fumbled the ball. J.C. Price pursued it and tried to pick it up, but all he could manage to do was kick it farther downfield.

Defensive end Lawrence Lewis drew a bead on the bouncing ball and ran it down. As he approached it on the 20 yard line, it hopped obligingly up into his arms, and Lewis ran into the end zone untouched. It was 21-13, Hokies, with 23 seconds to go.

"I remember J.C. claiming he kicked it (on purpose)," Holland smiles, "but I don't know about that. We got all the right bounces that year."

Back the Hoosiers came with another long kickoff return, this one to the Tech 42. Indiana completed an eight-yard sideline pass to the Tech 34, but the referee ruled that the Indiana receiver was in bounds, and the clock expired.

Or did it? Indiana was trying to call a timeout after the play, and after a huddle, the referees decided to grant them the timeout (the replay clearly shows that they did not get it called in time). One second was put back on the clock, and while Tech Coach Frank Beamer raged on the sidelines, Indiana lined up for a 51-yard field goal.

Big mistake. On the field goal attempt, Holland muscled the Indiana snapper aside, burst up the middle, raised both arms in the air, and blocked the field goal with his left hand.

The ball fluttered over the line of scrimmage and downfield, where Tech freshman defensive back Antonio Banks was waiting on it all alone. "You're supposed to get away from the ball in that situation," Banks told the press after the game, "but it came in so high and looked so good that I just had to go for it."

Banks hauled the ball in on the Tech 20, cut right, reversed his field, and raced down the left sideline for a shocking touchdown that made it 28-13, Hokies, with no time left in the first half. Banks was met in the end zone by the Tech assistant coaches, who had left the press box and were on their way to the locker room when Banks pulled his feat.

"It seems like for the last eight or nine years, Tech always scores in bunches, I mean real quick," Holland says. "I don't know if that's just luck or what."

The Second Half

Whatever it was, the flurry finished off the Hoosiers. The second half was yet to be played, but there was never any doubt how it was going to go. The Hokie defense was stuffing the Hoosier offense (Indiana had just 5 yards rushing in the first half and 133 total yards, 109 of which came on just two plays). Tech had scored on offense, defense, and special teams.

Neither team scored in the third quarter. The Hokies added a little drama in the quarter with another DeShazo interception (in Indiana territory) and a fourth-down stop of the Hoosiers (at the Tech 31-yard line), but the quarter was played mostly between the 30's, and neither team seriously threatened. Paci put together a string of incompletions, and he was pulled from the game in favor of backup Chris Dittoe.

In the fourth quarter, with just under ten minutes to go, the Hokies finally scored again when DeShazo hit Freeman with a 42-yard TD pass that made it 35-13. Freeman's score came just a minute after Indiana had failed on a fake punt attempt, when a wide-open Hoosier receiver had dropped the ball. It was just two plays later that DeShazo hit Freeman.

"Once DeShazo hooked up with Freeman and it was 35-13," Holland says, "I knew we had them then. I knew they weren't going to score on our defense anymore."

The turn of events (from failed fake punt to long TD surrendered) broke what was left of Indiana's spirit. Indiana fumbled inside their own 10-yard line on the next play from scrimmage. The Hokies scored again and would eventually run it up to 45-13. They gave up a 42-yard TD reception by Lewis late in the game to make the final margin 45-20.

"We shut 'em down," Holland says of Tech's defensive performance. "We finished with six or seven sacks and probably should have had more."

The victory, following a seven-year bowl drought, released a flood of pent-up emotion in the Hokie faithful who were on hand. As the clock wound down, Tech fans poured out of the stands and lined the sidelines and end zone, creating a logjam on the sidelines. And when the Hokies ran out the clock, the fans flooded the playing field.

Holland didn't miss the opportunity to capture some memories on film. "I went back in the locker room and got my camera and took pictures of people celebrating on the field."

In the final analysis, Virginia Tech simply dominated. They only outgained Indiana 318 yards to 296, but Holland notes, "That was probably our best defensive game all year. You take away a couple of big plays, and they wouldn't have had anything."

Indeed. Indiana gained 188 yards on four plays, but just 108 yards on their other 64 plays (1.69 yards per play). Tech held the Hoosiers to just 20 yards rushing for the game, and if not for a 37-yard fake punt late in the fourth quarter, Indiana would have had negative rushing yards on the afternoon. Tech held Indiana to 4-of-16 third down conversions. Receiver Thomas Lewis (6 catches, 177 yards, 2 TD's) was the lone bright spot for the Big Ten team.

The reason why the Hokies D played so well? "They weren't ready for our speed," Holland says simply.

After the Game, Divergent Paths

Though the 1993 Independence Bowl was the beginning of a string of bowl trips for Frank Beamer's Hokies, it was the end for Bill Mallory's Hoosiers. Indiana has not played in a bowl game since that fateful day in 1993, and the Hoosiers haven't even won more than five games in a season since going 7-4 in 1994. Indiana sunk to a 2-9 record in 1995 and then went 3-8 in 1996, leading to Mallory's dismissal.

For the Hokies, the 1993 Independence Bowl was a launching pad to future greatness. The team would stumble a bit in 1994, as DeShazo's performance under new offensive coordinator Gary Tranquill suffered (his yardage and completion percentage were comparable to 1993, but his TD-INT ratio slipped to 13-13). The 1994 Tech defense would suffer from injuries and a lack of depth, causing them to fade down the stretch.

But in 1995, they would come back strong behind a defensive nucleus that showed itself in the Independence Bowl, plus a redshirt junior quarterback named Jim Druckenmiller, who played one uneventful series in this Independence Bowl.

Holland put the Independence Bowl into its proper perspective. "After that game," he remembers, "I knew Tech was going to be good as long as Beamer was there. Elmassion's (preseason) prediction was right, we went to a bowl. He was extremely happy with our defensive effort. I remember on the team bus on the way back to the hotel, he was already starting the celebration." Holland laughs. "It was one of the few times I saw him happy. We dominated the whole game.

"After that season, I knew we were going to be good. I remember me and J.C. were talking, and we were saying, 'You know, we've got two more years of this stuff. We're going to be good.'"

And it all started in Shreveport, Louisiana, on a sunny New Year's Eve day.



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