Tech Defense Holds Blazers
Hokie defense dominates and offense rebounds in second half to beat UAB 31-10.
September 11, 1999

by Jimmy Robertson
Editor, Hokie Huddler

As Tech players walked into the locker room at halftime, perhaps for a fleeting instance the images of Temple and Miami of Ohio flashed through their minds.

Fortunately, Tech's defense buried those thoughts.

Leading just 17-10 at halftime, Tech came out fired up and held Alabama-Birmingham to just three first downs in the second half as the Hokies survived a scare, outlasting a spirited Blazers' squad 31-10 in front of 51,907 fans at Lane Stadium.

"At halftime, several of the players were saying 'Remember Temple, remember that feeling,' receiver Ricky Hall said, referring to Tech's loss to underdog Temple last season. "We didn't want that to happen again."

So Tech's defense, picking up the slack for an offense without starting quarterback Michael Vick, stymied UAB's offense. Tech held the Blazers to a 63 yards of total offense a record low for an opponent, breaking the previous record of 65 yards set against UAB in 1997.

"I've played them all through the years [tough defenses] and this is the toughest one," UAB coach Watson Brown said. "They're the best I've played and that includes Nebraska, Tennessee and Arizona."

And it's fortunate for Tech that it has such a defense because this game had the makings of a nightmare for the Hokies. Tech, which lost to Temple last season and Miami of Ohio two years ago in major upsets, turned the ball over five times in the first half and saw a 17-point lead evaporate to seven at halftime.

But Tech's defense never let UAB get onto the Hokies' side of midfield until the game had been decided. For the game, Tech amassed four sacks, forced two turnovers and held UAB to 2-of-15 on third-down conversions.

"We felt they couldn't drive the ball on us," said defensive end Corey Moore, who finished with three sacks himself. "We didn't get down. I told the guys at halftime that we were the better team. We just needed to go out and play like it."

With Tech's defense holding the fort, the Hokies' offense finally came alive. Led by a rugged running game and the steady play of reserve quarterback Dave Meyer, a redshirt junior making his second career start, the Hokies scored two touchdowns in the final 15 minutes to put the game away.

The first score in the fourth quarter came via the trick play. Offensive coordinator Rickey Bustle reached into his bag of tricks and called for a halfback pass, with former high school quarterback André Kendrick making the throw. Kendrick took the pitch and fired a beautiful strike to receiver André Davis for a 35-yard scoring play that gave Tech a 24-10 lead with 13:43 left in the game.

"As soon as I took the pitch, I started laughing because the free safety came up so fast," Kendrick said. "I was so anxious I just threw it out there. I was kind of scared I overthrew because I was so anxious."

Then, on Tech's next possession, the Hokies took advantage of great field position. Tech marched 49 yards on 11 plays 10 of them running plays and reserve tailback Lee Suggs polished the drive and the Blazers off with a 1-yard run with a little more than two minutes to go.

"To come back and play a second half like we did is what good football teams do," Tech head coach Frank Beamer said. "We didn't turn the ball over offensively in the second half, and defensively, we were very tough.

"Good football teams know how to win in the second half and that's what I thought our football team did."

But things looked mighty shaky at halftime. Tech jumped out to a 17-0 lead - just like it did against Temple last season but saw the Blazers slice into that lead in the second quarter.

Meyer, perhaps showing some nerves in place of Vick, turned the ball over four times in the first half on three interceptions and a fumble. His fumble led to UAB's first score as Blazers' quarterback Daniel Dixon hit a wide-open Percy Coleman along the sideline for a 29-yard scoring strike. That score cut the Tech lead to 17-7 with 3:50 left in the half.

And then on Tech's next possession, Meyer's pass was tipped and intercepted by UAB cornerback James Williams, who returned it to the UAB 45. That turnover, along with a personal foul and offsides penalty on Tech defensive tackle Carl Bradley, led to a career-high tying 47-yard field goal by Jake Arians with 38 seconds left in the half. At halftime, UAB trailed by seven, 17-10.

"In the first half, I forced it a little," Meyer said. "Coach Bustle told me at halftime to keep doing the fundamentals. Don't try to do too much. Just take what the defense gives you and I thought I played better in the second half.

"But turnovers will kill you. As an offense, we can't keep doing that. That hurts."

Meyer finished the game completing 12 of 21 passes for 144 yards, with one touchdown and three interceptions. His lone touchdown came on Tech's first drive of the game when he hit sophomore wideout Emmett Johnson with a terrific 41-yard touchdown pass to give the Hokies a 7-0 lead.

Tech's other scores in the first half came on a 22-yard field goal by Shayne Graham and a 1-yard run by tailback Shyrone Stith, who finished with 124 yards rushing on 29 carries.

Now it's time to turn to Clemson, who pounded UVa 33-14 in Death Valley. The Tigers visit Lane Stadium for a Thursday night tilt on Sept. 23.

"We're happy we won," linebacker Michael Hawkes said. "When it came down to it, we made plays. We made plays when we had to."