Hokies run down Tigers

BLACKSBURG, Va. -- The hype leading up to LSU's Sunday showdown with Virginia Tech was enormous.<br>Thousands of Tiger fans made their way to the campus town nestled between the Appalachian and Blue Ridge Mountains. They danced in the streets in the days prior to the match-up of two of the top 20 teams in the nation, anticipating what many analysts expected to be one of the best college football games of the year.

On Sunday, that dancing turned to disappointment for LSU fans as a nationwide audience watched on ABC as No. 16 Virginia Tech pounced on the 14th-ranked Tigers, defeating coach Nick Saban's troops 26-8 at Lane Stadium's Worsham Field.

LSU (0-1) was the highest-ranked team Virginia Tech (2-0) has ever beaten at Lane Stadium, eclipsing the Hokies win over No. 16 Syracuse in 1999.

The loss ended a streak of six wins for LSU dating back to last season and stopped a run of six straight wins in season openers for the Tigers. Against ranked opponents, the Bayou Bengals have fallen hard in debut games. They are now winless in their last five opening contests against team in the top 25 and 6-13-1 all time.

Dropped passes, blocked punts, execution era and penalties were the stories of the game for the men from Baton Rouge. Miscues haunted the Tigers all afternoon long against the Hokies, sending Tiger fans home disappointed and wondering just how good is their LSU team for 2002.

"Right off the bat, mental errors, penalties, mistakes killed us," Saban noted after the game.

The afternoon could not be summed up in a better fashion.

After holding Virginia Tech's offense to three-and-out on their first series of the game, LSU All-American candidate Domanick Davis seemed to take the wind out of the Hokie faithful as he returned a punt 81-yards for a touchdown. On the return, however, the Tigers utilized an illegal block below the waist. The penalty negated the touchdown return and kept the momentum from swinging Cajun style.

The Tigers' special teams blunder would foreshadow the rest of the contest for LSU and provide a contrast to the crisp execution of Virginia Tech's special teams. These troubles and others would run rampant for LSU the rest of the afternoon.

Virginia Tech was able to enjoy comfortable field position the entire game, starting their drives on average from their own 42-yard line. Keeping the Tigers back was Hokie punter Vinnie Burns, a product of St. Augustine High in New Orleans. His first effort of the day was a 58-yarder and he followed it with a 53-yard effort.

LSU punter Donnie Jones, however, struggled in the early going, logging a 12-yard punt on his first effort. The Tigers started their next possession at their own 15 but moved backwards. This forced Jones to kick from deep in his own end zone. DeAngelo Hall, who returned a punt for a score in Tech's opener against Arkansas State, fielded Jones' kick at the LSU 44 and returned it to the 27.

The Hokies made short work of the short distance and scored in six plays on a two-yard run from Kevin Jones with 30 seconds left in the first quarter.

On an afternoon in which former Hokie quarterback and current Atlanta Falcon Michael Vick had his jersey honored in front of 65,049 fans, Jones, the Hokies' current No. 7, stole the show with teammate Lee Suggs. The senior Suggs ran for 91 yards on 22 carries while the sophomore Jones gained 70 yards on 14 carries.

Donnie Jones encountered further difficulty in the second quarter when Tech's punt rush broke through and blocked his kick. It gave the ball to the Hokies at the LSU 29, leaving little work for the VT offense to get its next score.

Bryan Randall, the Hokies' option specialist, took over for starting quarterback Grant Noel in the first quarter and played the remainder of the game. Knocking on the LSU red zone, Randall faced third-and-four when he found Cedric Humes on the right sideline for a 17-yard gain to put Tech at the LSU 6. One play later, Suggs went behind left tackle and covered the rest of the distance for the touchdown.

"I think I did a pretty good today," Randall said after finishing 5-for-9 passing for 47 yards. "I think I did a good job moving the ball with the offensive unit. I'm very confident right now."

Randall was also credited with 14 rushes but gained only four yards after taking three sacks at the hands of the LSU defense. The Tigers were able to rattle the redshirt freshman when his pocket collapsed.

As well as the LSU defense played for considerable stretches in the game, the LSU offense did not. The Tigers struggled to put together consistent drives throughout the day and narrowly escaped being shutout for the first time since 1993.

Turnovers, dropped passes, and a stingy Tech defense helped to stall the LSU offense Sunday, keeping the Tigers out of the end-zone for the first three quarters and allowing the LSU offense to pick up just 214 total yards on the afternoon.

Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer, who earned his fourth career win over a ranked team and first at Lane Stadium, was quick to credit his defensive unit. One task at hand for the Hokies, he said, was to stifle LSU's passing game and prevent yards after the reception. He credited his team speed with keeping the Tigers reined in.

"I've said before I thought the first-unit was the fastest group we've had here and that's saying something because we've had some fast guys," Beamer said. "They're starting to play fast.

"We wanted to stop the run and not let them run after the catch, and there wasn't much running after the catch."

Virginia Tech started its first drive of the second half in prime territory. Starting from the 50, the Hokies set Carter Warley up for a 41-yard field goal that produce a 17-0 lead for the home team.

The Hokies added another touchdown early in the fourth quarter after Jones converted a third-and-10 play with a bit of improvisation.  From the LSU 36, he ran right and encountered a host of Tiger tacklers. Breaking the grasp of more than one defender, he high-tailed back to the left side and wound up down at the 2-yard line.

Suggs took over from their and logged his second score of the day.

The Tigers' lone touchdown came early in the fourth quarter when running back LaBrandon Toefield scored from one-yard out after Matt Mauck led LSU on a ten-play, 82-yard drive. It was the lone highlight for the Tigers who only made it into the red zone on that one possession.

"[We were] kind of frustrated out there," LSU quarterback Matt Mauck noted after completing 15-35 passes for 134 yards with one interception. "I don't think we showed the kind of team we are today. Hopefully we're going to improve upon that."

The mistakes continued for LSU well into the closing minutes of the game. Virginia Tech had backed off of its special teams pressure but still managed to block another LSU punt when the Tiger protection broke down. The ball rolled back out of the end zone to give the Hokies a safety.

"We can improve a whole lot and, believe it or not, before the season is over we're going to do some great things," Davis said. "We have too many weapons, too many great players and something great is going to happen, I believe. We can't keep killing ourselves."

 


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