1996-1999: Run/Pass Balance? Depends On Who You Ask

Andrew Weber-US PRESSWIRE

How do you win handily while completing just 9 passes per game? Friend of the website, 1Iron takes a brief look at how a program can rise to prominence while limiting focus to the facets of the game at which it can truly excel.

It only takes ten yards to earn a first down and in the twenty-five plus years of Virginia Tech football under Coach Beamer, the Hokies identity has been to grind the way forward behind a cadre of physically dominating linemen. Here we come, stop us if you can! No guessing here, in Rickey Bustle's thirteen plus years, six as the OC,we were Dive Right, Counter Trey and Stretch Right. In 1998, the Hokies completed just 103 passes as a team for just over 1,300 yards in 12 games. And we called that success!

That stretch from the 1994 Weedwhacker Bowl in Shreveport to the 2000 National Championship under the legs and arm of Mike Vick will serve as the peak of offensive dominance in the annals of Virginia Tech Football as we know it today. Let's face it, Va Tech is not an offensively focused organization who optimizes the talent it recruits and coaches them up beyond their level of talent...sorry, we're just not. The evolving result is top in-state talent continues to be courted and shipped away to those respective schools that play fast, score points and look good doing it!

When you desire to be in the NC conversation, yet the necessary steps to attain that level of proficiency are not an evident day-in, day-out culture in the hallowed halls of Merryman Center; the horsepower behind the machine sputters come game day. When the heat is on no matter the sport or profession, you, me, we ALL revert back to our level of training not our potential or level of efficient practice. The one incontrovertible fact in football is stats don't lie - it is what it is. When looking at the journey between '95-'99, Tech saw some of its most prolific numbers relative to the anemia that's been experienced once Bustle moved on, and Stinespring's infinite wisdom led the "Three and out" brigade.

With horses like Ken Oxendine, Shyrone Stith, Marcus Parker, Dwayne Thomas, Brian Edmonds and Lamont Pegues toting the rock for an average of 220 yards per game and 101 TD's collectively, we became a formidable opponent vs. anyone who dared to face the Maroon and White. It wasn't until 1999 when we'd showcase a player who would singularly average over 101 yards per game in Shyrone Stith. And then he was surpassed by Lee Suggs the following year with an average just under 110 yards per game. Hey, ride the ponies!

"We Are, HOKIES" began to resonate around the country,especially on Thursday nights. Somehow, someway in Blacksburg, VA the leadership perhaps believed its own press with the flash and dash of the newly found speed and athleticism that emerged from the 757. Getting caught up in the now instead of focusing on the process to teach, to develop and to build depth would later come back to haunt the future success and undoubtedly the reputation of VT that affects those young studs who've grown up watching their local heroes.

Not every athlete or QB can be transformed into a Wide Receiver or Defensive Back. Well maybe in Virginia but not if you're trying to substitute crystal for the now air-filled trophy case. But it would take until 1998 for us to have a WR average over 50 yards per game and the following year Andre Davis inked his name into the history books with nine touchdowns and fell just 38 yards shy of the elusive 1000 yard reception mark in a year - undoubtedly his career was slighted as two more passes in his direction would have earned that 1000 yard gold star, thus making him the first of his kind at Tech.

The Hokies are a team that carries the mail. We don't have to send it through the air, do we? Through the two seasons in '95 and '96, we looked like the Air Raid days of Don Strock some twenty plus years prior with Jim Druckenmiller throwing the ball all over the yard to anyone who wanted to catch it going 293 COMP - 542 ATT - 16 INT and 31 TDs; 17 TDs in '96 alone to just 5 interceptions. However, during the four year span of the '96-'99 seasons VT was far more conservative in their Air Raid attack averaging nearly 56% completions on 892 attempts and averaging 168 yards per game - we're efficient. We didn't turn it over with only 32 INT, less than 3% per attempt and 11% of our throws went for 62 TDs during that four year stretch. For some schools that's two solid years based on their philosophy. For VT, that's five long years of incremental growth; our golden years leading to the peak of the journey.

Fortunately, change has occurred and once again a new foundation is under construction with Hokie stones from our local markets in Marshawn Williams, Greg Stroman, Jaylen Bradshaw and D.J. Reid . The best news is the invigorated spirit of rebirth being felt in Blacksburg that's resonating outside Beamer's well-publicized five hour radius, which is supposed to be VT's recruiting sweet spot. With continued success outside our geographic center, the message will create synergy within our own state keeping our best talent home. Spring hopes eternal and with that the end of marginally inept offensive prowess, we can no longer be offensive on offense.

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