LSU presents tougher challenge to VT

A look at LSU's first opponent of the 2002 season - No. 16 Virginia Tech.

Like every other football team heading into its season opener, Virginia Tech had some questions it was eager to have answered.


Was quarterback Grant Noel ready to go after seriously injuring tearing his ACL? Yes


Would tailback Lee Suggs regain his original form after suffering the same injury during the 2001 season opener? Yes


But as implausible as its sounds, there are still questions about the Hokies after their 63-7 pasting of Arkansas State on Sunday in the Hispanic College Fund Classic. Any time you can score 56 unanswered points in the first half, you have to wonder if your team was adequately tested.


Virginia Tech had to replace eleven starters from the 2001 squad, and LSU is expected to provided the first real challenge to the Hokies when the two meet Sunday at 1:30 p.m. (CT) at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, Va.


As for Tech head coach Frank Beamer, who picked up his 150th career win against Arkansas State, he was satisfied that every element of his team put points on the scoreboard.


"We had some good plays all the way around," said Beamer. "I like it when our special teams scores our defense scores and our offense scores. We've won a lot of ball games doing that."


The Hokies acclaimed special teams got into the act first against Arkansas State when DeAngelo Hall returned a punt 69 yards for a touchdown. Only a couple days earlier, Beamer was considering using someone else on punt returns in order to keep Hall healthy for his primary duties at cornerback.


The first of five Arkansas State turnovers set up the next Tech score, coming on a 32-yard touchdown run from Suggs. The nation's leading scorer two years ago, Suggs was pulled from the game by the middle of the second quarter with 87 yards on seven carries.


"It's great to finally put all the questions to rest," said Suggs. "People were asking me last April if I'd be back and they didn't believe me when I told them yes. Now they have their answer.


Hall made the score 21-0 on ASU's next possession when he picked off a pass from Indians' quarterback Elliot Jacobs and returned it 49 yards for a touchdown.


Noel provided the first scoring pass later with 5:40 to go in the first quarter, connecting with tight end Jeff King from 19 yards away. Noel was also lifted in the second quarter after having thrown only five passes and completed two.


"It's a misfortunate for me," Noel said about the early route. "I wanted to come out with the offense and get some work done. After what happened four months ago, I'm just happy to be out here with the team."


The Hokies did not have a negative-yardage play in the game until the final two minute of the first quarter. To that point, they had also only run two plays on third down.


Facing a second-and-12 at the ASU 19, Noel handed off to Kevin Jones who covered the distance to give Virginia Tech a 35-0 lead with 2:11 remaining in the first quarter. The score tied a school and Big East record for the most points in a period.


Bryan Randall took over for Noel in the second quarter and added two rushing touchdowns and another passing. While Noel's strength is as a dropback passer, Randall excels with the ball on the ground. Using a variety of quarterback draws and option plays, he scampered for 36 yards on five carries. Randall's first score came on a 12-yard run at the 12:14 mark in the second quarter.


Arkansas State shot itself in the foot once more on its next possession. A mishandled snap wound up in the hands of defensive lineman Jason Lallis, who covered the 59 yards to the end zone to give Virginia Tech a 42-0 lead.


Randall went to the air for the next Hokies' score, finding true freshman running back Mike Imoh in the back of the end zone for a 19-yard scoring play.


Randall left the game in the third quarter after a 5-yard run put a cap on the day's scoring.


Virginia Tech finished the game with 300 rushing yards and 101 passing. Randall and Noel combined 8-of-13 passing. Beamer called off the dogs early in the game by not returning punts after his team scored a school-record 56 points in the first half.


"I think we'll play better next week than we did today," said Noel, who had no complaints after taking a shot to his repaired knee in the first quarter. "We know we're going to play a good team and we're going to be up for the game."


Arkansas State was limited to 227 total yards, 73 of which came on a touchdown pass from Jacobs to Mike Cox in the third quarter. The Indians faced Tech's third- and fourth-string players and walk-ons for most of the second half. They converted only three of their 14 third-down opportunities and had to punt the ball away nine times. 


The only low points of the game for VT were penalties (10 for a loss of 84 yards) and an injury to defensive tackle Mark Costen. He was diagnosed at halftime with a kidney bruise and his status for the LSU contest was not certain.


Soon after the end of the game, Beamer cashed his reality check when talking about his upcoming opponent. In doing so, he noted there were more than a few empty seats in the newly expanded south end zone.


"We're playing a team that takes football very seriously next week," said Beamer. "We need the crowd to be right next week and the players will have to work hard this week to be right."


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