Virginia Tech 51, Georgia Tech 7
Virginia Tech might not yet have the offensive firepower of No. 1-ranked Southern California, college football's two-time defending national champions, or the depth and experience of No. 2 Texas. But four games into the season, the No. 4 Hokies have proved they have two of the most important ingredients -- a stingy defense and opportunistic special teams -- required for winning a second consecutive ACC title and possibly securing a spot in the national championship game in the Jan. 4 Rose Bowl.
On Saturday, the Hokies crushed No. 15 Georgia Tech, 51-7, in front of a sellout crowd of 65,115 at Lane Stadium. In what was supposed to be the Hokies' toughest test yet, they scored a touchdown on a blocked field goal and scored two more on interceptions during the third quarter.
"I think this is a football team that is relentless, that's a word I like," said Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer, whose team has outscored its last three opponents 141-7. "I think they keep the pressure on you."
The Hokies (4-0, 3-0 ACC) pressured the Yellow Jackets (3-1, 1-1 ACC) from the start and kept it on them for 60 minutes. Virginia Tech scored in the first quarter on Marcus Vick's 13-yard pass to tight end Jeff King and again on D.J. Parker's 78-yard return of King's block of a field goal attempt.
"It's momentum. It's points. It's everything," Beamer said. "There's no bigger play in college football, especially when it's a blocked field goal."
It was all the points the Hokies offense needed, as Georgia Tech quarterback Reggie Ball seemed uncomfortable throughout the game. Ball, who played less than a week after he was hospitalized in Atlanta with viral meningitis, was sacked twice and threw for only 143 yards on 11-for-27 passing.
With Virginia Tech leading 31-0 late in the third quarter, Ball threw an 11-yard touchdown to Calvin Johnson. It was the first touchdown allowed by the Hokies since the first quarter of their season-opening, 20-16 victory at North Carolina State. They were coming off 45-0 shutouts of Duke and Ohio in their previous two games.
"Anybody is going to be mad when somebody scores on us, regardless of when it happens in the game," Hokies linebacker Xavier Adibi said. "We just wanted to redeem ourselves."
With what was about to happen, Georgia Tech Coach Chan Gailey might have been better off taking his Ball and going home. The touchdown only seemed to irritate the Virginia Tech defense, which had posted 12 consecutive scoreless quarters before Johnson scored.
After Brandon Pace kicked a 29-yard field goal to put the Hokies ahead, 34-7, with 2 minutes 13 seconds left in the third quarter, the Yellow Jackets took over at their 16. On the first play, Ball threw to the left side for Johnson, but Adibi intercepted the pass and returned it 25 yards for a touchdown, leaping over two Georgia Tech players at the goal line.
"Reggie was kind of looking at his receiver the whole time," Adibi said. "I just stayed with him and stepped in front. We dream about plays like that."
Then Ball must have felt like he was having a recurring nightmare. After Virginia Tech kicked off with a 41-7 lead, Georgia Tech started its next possession at its 25. On its second play, Ball threw to the left side again for wide receiver Damarius Bilbo. Hokies defensive end Chris Ellis intercepted the pass and ran it back 29 yards for a touchdown. Pace's extra-point kick made it 48-7 with 1:29 to go in the third quarter.
"Ball dropped back and I knew that's where he wanted to go," Ellis said. "His deep balls weren't working well, and I don't think he had the strength or energy to throw it downfield anymore."
With its defense and special teams scoring three touchdowns in a game for the first time since 2002, Virginia Tech's offense didn't have to do much. Vick completed 13 of 18 passes for a career-high 223 yards and one touchdown. Tailbacks Mike Imoh and Cedric Humes combined to run for 92 yards and each scored a touchdown. The Hokies were 6 for 6 in red-zone scoring opportunities.
"I think they're the best team I've seen since I've been in the ACC," said Gailey, in his fourth season at Georgia Tech.
Beamer hopes his team doesn't believe it's that good as it prepares to play at West Virginia on Oct. 1. Two years ago, after the Hokies beat Syracuse, 51-7, to improve to 6-0, they lost to the Mountaineers, 28-7, on the road the following week. Virginia Tech lost five of its last seven games and finished 8-5.
"I was feeling good and thought things were right with our football team, and we went over to West Virginia and got hit right in the mouth," Beamer said. "I've got a feeling we're walking into that same atmosphere this time."