Sunday, September 4, 2005
Vick's stats ordinary, but his impact extraordinary
By Pat Forde ESPN.com
RALEIGH, N.C. -- Virginia Tech relied on an old family recipe to win a ferociously contested football game Sunday night: a dollop of defense, a sprinkling of special teams and a dash of Vick.
Coat it in a Beamerball batter and you have comfort food for Hokies fans. The ingredients blended beautifully in 1999 and 2000, when Michael Vick was the spice in a 22-2 run that is the high-water mark in the school's gridiron history. The ingredients came together just well enough Sunday to beat self-destructive North Carolina State 20-16, with Marcus Vick now the special seasoning.
"I had fun watching him," Tech teammate Jimmy Williams said with a wide smile.
Marcus Vick made plenty of big plays and, more importantly, avoided bad ones in his first start for Virginia Tech.
Beats watching C-SPAN, doesn't it, Jimmy? With his NFL celebrity big brother cheering him on from the sideline, Vick The Younger continued the family tradition of startlingly athletic plays in a maroon uniform.
He turned certain sacks into breathtaking scrambles. He engineered an 88-yard third-quarter scoring drive that tied the game. He threw a deft finesse pass for the winning touchdown.
His final stats were ordinary (31 rushing yards, 108 passing yards) but his impact was extraordinary.
"I think Marcus showed he's going to be dangerous," Tech coach Frank Beamer said, looking drained and disheveled. "... He just out-athleted a couple guys, and that's hard to do against NC State."
Marcus showed one other important thing: he's going to be smart with the football. Despite being the focus of considerable pregame hype, he never looked rattled. Despite making his first collegiate start -- and playing his first game since 2003 after being suspended all of last year for legal problems -- he never made any plays that seriously hurt the Hokies.
In addition to the error-free QB play, Tech won with a defense that gave up a touchdown on State's opening possession and then kept the Wolfpack out of the end zone. And it won with a game-ball-worthy performance by roly-poly punter Nic Schmitt, who punted his weight (he's 273 pounds and kicked it six times for 274 yards).
"He's a weapon," Beamer said.
The Wolfpack, meanwhile, were aiming weapons at their own heads. A team that committed way too many penalties last year was flagged a dozen times for 105 yards Sunday night, several of them crippling.
Cornerback A.J. Davis' two personal-foul facemask penalties -- both away from the ball -- enabled Tech scoring drives. And a running-into-the-kicker penalty late in the game allowed the Hokies to run precious minutes off the clock. Combine those flags with punt returner Darrell Blackman's brainlock fielding of a punt at his own 1, and you have a team that tried hard to beat itself.
"Penalties set up a touchdown for them and took away scoring opportunities from us," coach Chuck Amato said.
Three turnovers didn't help either, especially when compared to Virginia Tech's zero in that category. The biggest part of protecting the ball was the mature play of Vick.
"That was my whole mindset," he said, "to not hurt my team."
And when his team needed rescuing, Marcus did that, too. The Hokies gradually came out of a conservative gameplan that called just a single first-half run for Vick (and never once put the ball in the hands of speedy sophomore Eddie Royal from scrimmage). In the second half they turned the redshirt sophomore loose to make plays with his crazy-fast feet.
In the middle of that 88-yard drive, Vick popped a quarterback draw out of a congested middle of the field and flashed down the left sideline -- cruising right past big bro -- for 24 yards. For the average QB, that play is a two-yard loss.
"It wasn't how it was drawn up," Vick admitted. "I had to sort of make some extra moves. ... I just had to work some magic."
Four plays later he waved the wand again, slipping through three tackles for the most impressive two-yard scramble of the young season. For a guy who had worn a no-contact yellow jersey and was prohibited from full-speed scrambling all August, in order to protect his valuable body, this was flat-out fun.
But the capper came early in the fourth quarter. Vick rolled left from the NC State 19-yard line, squared his shoulders and wrist-flicked the ball into the corner of the end zone. Split end David Clowney finished his corner route by cradling it for the winning score.
"Incredible throw by Marcus," Clowney said. "He threw the ball to a point where only I could have caught it."
Several other throws were less artistic, as Vick's 10-for-21 stat line showed. He'll need to continue polishing his touch, but critically reviewing the film is always more enjoyable when you're 1-0 than 0-1.
Bottom line for Vick: it was just enjoyable to be on a football field again.
"I think he feels like he got a big weight off his shoulders," Williams said.
"A lot of people said I'd never play football for Virginia Tech again [after being suspended]," Vick said. "I came out and proved them wrong."
In doing so he offered proof positive of his family heritage.
He ran like a Vick. On a couple occasions he threw like a Vick. Most importantly, he won like a Vick.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.