It would seem imprudent to challenge No. 1-ranked Florida State's all-American wide receiver, Peter Warrick. But that's the way Virginia Tech cornerback Anthony Midget and the No. 2 Hokies have played wide receivers all season -- and that's what they say they will do Tuesday night in the Sugar Bowl.
"We can't double-team him every play, that's not what we do," Midget said today, referring to Virginia Tech's usual defensive strategy. "From what we've seen on tape, people have been more effective getting up on Warrick. People who play him aggressive have had success containing him, so that's what we'll do. We'll challenge him."
Told of Midget's comments, Warrick just said: "On January 4th at 7 o'clock, we'll see."
Midget, a 5-foot-11, 187-pound senior from Clewiston, Fla., had his moments this season, en route to being named to the all-Big East Conference first team. Some of the best occurred in the Hokies' 43-10 win over then-No. 19 Miami on Nov. 13 -- the game that left many believing Virginia Tech might end up playing for the national championship.
Midget made three interceptions that night and helped hold Miami's first-team all-Big East wide receiver, Santana Moss, to four catches for 25 yards. But the thing Midget remembers most about that game is the pain. He can't forget the grimace that was hidden under his facemask at the mere thought -- not to mention the act -- of lifting his right leg.
"I learned a lot about myself in that game," said Midget, who played despite a pulled groin, one of those lingering injuries that is slow to heal fully and at its peak is excruciating. "I knew my team needed me and I knew in my mind and in my heart I wanted to be out there, but I can't say that I knew if my body was going to respond. Sometimes, it didn't want to. But my team needed me in there, needed me to make big plays."
The Hokies will need him even more Tuesday. Warrick, who caught 71 passes for 934 yards in nine games this season, is as elusive as anyone in college football. But for the off-field problems that left him suspended for two games, there are few who doubt he would have finished no worse than second in the voting for the Heisman Trophy. And many observers consider him the nation's best player, regardless.
Florida State finds many ways to get the ball into his hands. He runs reverses, takes snaps from center and returns punts. And he does this against the backdrop of an offense that includes a polished quarterback, Chris Weinke; a speedy running back, Travis Minor; and a deep group of receivers, six of whom have caught at least 12 passes.
Virginia Tech's defensive backs are trying not to sound too impressed, but even while doing so, they make clear how daunting their task is.
"They do some different things with [Warrick], but still their offense is predictable," Virginia Tech cornerback Ike Charlton said. "Peter Warrick runs every route the same way. It's all film study. Once he has the football, the problem is that too many people have been looking to get a kill shot on him and you're not going to get a kill shot on him -- ever. We just have to focus on making nice tackles and get him down any way we can. We swarm to the football, that's the way we play. And this game, especially, we just have to make sure we have 11 guys there all the time."
The Hokies may want 11 guys there to tackle Warrick, but the reality is Midget will have the initial honor most of the night. Virginia Tech's aggressive defensive tactics often involve blitzes that leave its cornerbacks in man-to-man coverage against wide receivers.
And for all the criticism Virginia Tech's secondary has taken this season, the unit still ranks seventh nationally in pass efficiency defense and yields just 171.4 yards passing per game.
Midget has been particularly consistent. He first injured his groin in the first quarter against Pittsburgh, and the Panthers went on to pass for 427 yards. He remained hobbled and played sparingly the following week against West Virginia, when the secondary gave up two late fourth-quarter touchdowns and the Hokies nearly lost. In the Hokies' next game, against Miami, Midget decided he would not leave the field. He rode a stationary bike on the sideline to keep his leg muscles loose while the Hokies' offense was on the field, and though he often limped back to the line of scrimmage, he refused to rest.
"He was all heart that game," Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer said. "And it was just what we needed."
When Midget was healthy this season, Virginia Tech yielded no more than 226 yards passing to any team and allowed no player to reach 100 yards receiving. Florida State, meantime, threw for no less than 229 yards in a game, and Warrick went over the 100-yard receiving mark five times.
"We know they are going to look to pass the ball and look to get the ball in the hands of Peter Warrick," Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. "He's a good receiver, but what scares me most is when he has the ball in his hands and is looking to run. The key for us is good tackling. We've just to got to keep him in a phone booth, so to speak, box him in.
"I'm not trying to pretend that is going to be an easy task. But I am confident in what Anthony Midget and Ike Charlton and the rest of our secondary can do out there. Those guys haven't backed down to anyone all year . . . and they won't start now."