Posted: Thursday September 29, 2005 1:23PM; Updated: Thursday September 29, 2005 7:23PM
Hokies' defensive end Darryl Tapp has been wreaking havoc in opponents' backfields, registering three sacks this season.
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Following three consecutive dominating victories, the most recent coming against then-No. 15 Georgia Tech, a whole lot of people are talking about Virginia Tech right now. But Hokies' coach Frank Beamer is focusing on another team: West Virginia.
Saturday marks the third time in its past four visits that Virginia Tech has gone to Morgantown, W. Va., with an undefeated record and No. 3 ranking. The two previous games proved to be gut checks -- with drastically different results.
In 1999, the Hokies were rolling at 7-0, having won their first six games by an average margin of 32.1 points, only to find themselves down 22-21 to the Mountaineers with less than a minute remaining. Then redshirt freshman quarterback Michael Vick scrambled 26 yards down the right sideline with 23 seconds left to set up Shayne Graham's game-winning field goal and Virginia Tech rolled on to an undefeated regular season and a berth in the national title game, the Sugar Bowl.
The Hokies' 2003 trip to Morgantown, however, didn't go so well. Behind 178 yards from running back Quincy Wilson, West Virginia came out and stomped 6-0 Tech, 28-7, in a nationally televised Wednesday night game, sending the Kevin Jones/DeAngelo Hall-led Hokies -- a team Beamer privately considered to be the best of his then 17-year tenure -- spiraling to a disastrous 8-5 finish.
The latter experience was fresh in Beamer's mind from the moment the Hokies walked off the field last Saturday following their awe-inspiring 51-7 rout of the Yellow Jackets. "I reminded [our players] about it in the dressing room after the game," said Beamer, whose 2003 team was also coming off a 51-7 victory (over Syracuse) before visiting West Virginia. "We've been a very good football team so far, but it's only four games into the season. The last time we went to West Virginia we were six games into the season and feeling pretty good about ourselves and we got whacked upside the head."
Such is the history of the Virginia Tech-West Virginia rivalry, which after 32 consecutive meetings is not scheduled to continue after this season. Unpredictability often reigns. West Virginia was 2-4 going into that 2003 game, though it ended 8-5 and co-Big East champion. Just last year, the Mountaineers were the ones with the undefeated record and top 10 ranking, but fell 19-13 to a then 2-2 Tech team that didn't lose again until the Sugar Bowl. This season both teams enter the game 4-0, though West Virginia is currently unranked.
Beamer's caution aside, it's hard not to feel good about the way his team is playing. After a shaky opener against N.C. State, the Hokies' ferocious defense has given up one touchdown in the last 15 quarters, forcing 10 turnovers and ranking third in the country in yards allowed per game (219.8). Senior defensive end Darryl Tapp has emerged as the second coming of former Tech All-America Corey Moore, senior cornerback Jimmy Williams may be the best in the country at his position and sophomore Xavier Adibi, sidelined for six games last season by a torn biceps tendon, is tied for the team lead with two interceptions.
"We've played Miami when they've had some of the top-ranked defenses in the country," said fifth-year West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez. "This is the best defense we've seen, period."
Meanwhile, first-year starting quarterback Marcus Vick is progressing quicker than anyone outside of Blacksburg expected. After going a modest 10 of 21 for 108 yards, but making several big plays with his feet in the opener against N.C. State, the junior was an exceptional 13 of 18 for 223 yards last week. Much like his brother during his freshman season, Marcus is looking more comfortable with each game. "Marcus has been consistently getting better," said Beamer. "Every week you see a little improvement."
Finally, the Hokies' special teams -- the trademark of any good Beamer squad -- have been exceptional. Tight end Jeff King, who also happens to be the Hokies' top receiver, blocked a field goal against Georgia Tech that D.J. Parker returned 78 yards for a touchdown. Kicker Brandon Pace has made 7 of 8 field-goal attempts and punter Nic Schmitt has pinned seven of his 19 kicks inside the opposing team's 20.