The Run It Back series is a new feature that will be written weekly during the 2020 football season. Whoever the Hokies are playing in the upcoming week, we will run it back and take a look at one of the previous meetings between the two squads, chatting with a member from the team who made a big impact in the game.
The 2006 matchup between Virginia Tech and Wake Forest pitted two ranked teams against each other with the Hokies coming in at No. 19 and the Demon Deacons at No. 14. Wake Forest came into the game with a 9-1 record, fresh off of a 30-0 victory over Florida State and needing just one more victory to clinch a spot in the ACC Championship Game.
It was supposed to be a night full of celebration for Jim Grobe’s resurgent Demon Deacons squad. However, the Hokies had other plans, and it started on the bus ride down to Winston-Salem. Frank Beamer and Bud Foster used a motivational tactic that psyched the team and got them ready for battle.
“We’re talking about some teenagers, some black kids from Hampton Roads or whatever watching Full Metal Jacket,” 2006 whip linebacker Brenden Hill said in a phone interview earlier this week. “Such a dichotomy, such a juxtaposition so to speak, but it was really our mentality in who we were. We were very militant. Especially because we had hit that bump in the road earlier in the season with Georgia Tech and Boston College. After that Boston College game we were just so focused. If I remember correctly, Wake was after we had beaten Clemson. Wake just happened to be next in line. We had gotten our confidence back and our mojo back. Wake just ran into a buzzsaw with us.”
Wake Forest was led by a stout defense and an innovative offense. Redshirt freshman quarterback Riley Skinner was steadily improving throughout the year and the offense was built upon misdirection and getting the ball in the hands of its playmakers.
“Ironically, I see [Wake] as someone who was ahead of the time,” Hill said. “They did a lot of jet sweep type of stuff, and a lot of what I see happening now even with our team and in college football with a lot of spread stuff. They were kind of ahead of the times in terms of other teams we were playing against in that era. I just remember we went into the game really confident in who we were and what we were about.”
Wake Forest won the toss and sent out its offense to get things started. Boy was that a bad decision. From the outset, Virginia Tech’s defense dominated and showed that its preparation had paid off.
On the first play of the game, the Demon Deacons ran one of those jet sweep/reverse type plays. Hill came off the edge and immediately met that ball carrier in the backfield for a 6-yard loss.
“We were one of those defenses that I felt like you could send out on the road to set the tone in that era,” Hill said. “That’s what I remember. First play we just got out to a fast start. I had a tackle for loss on a blitz. It was just downhill from there.”
Foster’s unit forced a three-and-out on the first drive. Three plays later, Sean Glennon connected with Eddie Royal for a 49-yard touchdown. Less than four minutes was off the clock and the Hokies had already deteriorated the Demon Deacons’ spirit.
Wake Forest was able to muster just six points the entire game. The finishing touches on the contest came in the third quarter when Aaron Rouse forced a fumble and Xavier Adibi returned it 35 yards for a scoop and score. Any remaining hope of a comeback was deflated in that moment as Virginia Tech extended its lead to 24-6.
“They had been a dynamic offense with a lot of speed on the outside and things like that,” Hill said. “We just went in there and we were prepared. That’s why I’m so hard on these offenses nowadays because I’m always looking at the offense from if me and my guys and coach Foster were preparing for that, how would it turn out? A lot of times I’m watching whether it’s Tech or other college teams play and I’m like, ‘Man, I could see that from a mile away. We wouldn’t be intimidated by playing against that offense.’
“That’s what I would say about the Wake offense that year is they were very easy to predict. If you studied film on them, we were dictating to them. We just had them on their heels all game.”
It was a masterful performance from the defense that lived in the backfield all night. Despite just one sack, the Hokies still tallied six tackles for loss. Hill finished with six tackles, including two behind the line of scrimmage that lost 16 yards. He also had an important pass breakup and near interception in the end zone when the Demon Deacons were driving. The Hokie defense was locked and loaded from the opening snap due to the work put in before the game even began.
“For the most part, every time 82, [Willie] Idlette came in that motion they gave him that ball for the most part,” Hill said. “There was a tell that we knew he was getting the ball. Coach Foster just kept dialing it up. That’s how we watched film. That’s how we prepared for games. We didn’t have Twitter. We didn’t have Instagram. We didn’t have Tik Tok. We didn’t have any of those things that may be distractions to kids nowadays. We were just locked in on our assignments.”
There’s still one play from the game that still sticks out in Hill’s memory. As Wake Forest was driving in the third quarter down 14-3, Foster brought Brandon Flowers on a corner blitz. The play ended in another tackle for loss, but more so the pre-snap disguise and communication exemplified just how hard that 2006 team made it on opposing offenses.
“There was a play in the game, and I posted it on Twitter last year, where me and Brandon Flowers still talk about it to this day as just an example of how tapped in our defense was with one another,” Hill said. “Coach Foster called a boundary corner blitz for Brandon. Wake comes out, and me just being me, I bluff as if I’m going to blitz and I’m the guy blitzing coming from the field [side]. The quarterback audibles, switches the running back to the other side, and he literally hands the ball to the running back and runs right into Flowers for a tackle for loss on a boundary blitz. All because I didn’t know what they were doing necessarily, but we were gamesmen, we were playing with them.”
Ok so this in football what we would call Teach Tape. This is how talented and cohesive our defense was mentally and in gamesmanship. A little background I’m the guy over the slot. I had been blitzing all night being very disruptive. Coach Foster calls a corner blitz for pic.twitter.com/h9shm3kF7U
— Beta Mode (@BrendenHill) February 25, 2019
Despite the Hokies running roughshod through its competition after the two early losses in the season to Georgia Tech and Boston College, Virginia Tech couldn’t earn a spot in the ACC Championship Game. Instead, the Wake Forest team that the Hokies made look silly on that Saturday night in November defeated Georgia Tech to win its only ACC Championship in football.
“Obviously we didn’t win the games we needed to win, but that’s one of my one regrets about my career is that we weren’t able to play for an ACC Championship that year because I believe we had a team that was good enough to win the ACC,” Hill said.
The 2006 Virginia Tech defense was ranked No. 1 in the nation allowing just 11.0 points per game. The Lunch Pail Defense pitched four shutouts that year and Foster won the Broyles Award for the nation’s top assistant coach. The Hokies lost in the Chick-fil-A Bowl to Georgia to finish 10-3.
“It’s so crazy because in the moment you never really realize how good that defense was, but I think the ACC released the top Virginia Tech defenses of all time and that was the No. 1 defense in Virginia Tech history,” Hill said. “You just kick yourself because would’ve, could’ve, should’ve. Even with all the would’ve, could’ve, should’ve, the team and our camaraderie in a lot of ways was the springboard to that 2007 team and even 2008. Macho was on those teams with us, and the way he ended up leading and influencing and willing his team his senior year to the Orange Bowl.
“In a lot of ways, I take pride in what that team was, maybe able to springboard that run from 2008-2012 in a lot of ways. I think it’s an unsung year because we didn’t win the ACC, we didn’t play for the ACC Championship, but I still think it’s one of those secret gems of Virginia Tech history seasons.”
A Look at the 2020 Hokies
Both Virginia Tech and Wake Forest enter Saturday’s game riding high off blowouts of Boston College and Virginia, respectively. Hendon Hooker had arguably the best game of his career, rushing for 164 yards and two touchdowns plus 111 yards and one touchdown through the air.
“I love Hendon Hooker as our guy,” Hill said. “He has a lot of tenacity and grit. That’s what he brought to the table last year. The thing about Hendon that I always kind of identified was the fact that his high school career he was a winner. He won state championships and his high school team was very successful.
“To me, those are things that you can’t overlook when you’re evaluating. When they were looking at Hendon versus say Ryan Willis last year, I remember the word was, ‘Well, Hendon just doesn’t [play well] in practice, in practice, in practice. He isn’t getting it in practice.’ Some guys are just gamers. Some guys just don’t get it in practice, but they’re just winners. They’re the type of guy you need touching the ball every single play. I think with Hendon at the helm this team is very formidable.”
After a depleted defense allowed 56 points against North Carolina, the Hokies responded by getting five takeaways in the 40-14 win against the Eagles. The majority of the defense, and especially the secondary, was together for the first time after missing time due to the coronavirus and contact tracing.
“Obviously COVID is an issue, but having [Divine] Deablo and those guys in the secondary stabilized I think will stabilize the whole front seven,” Hill said. “Deablo and those guys can kind of fit and fill where our defensive line may have weaknesses. If something pops, we know there’s somebody back there who can make the tackle.”
So what’s Hill’s message for the team this week and going forward?
“My biggest takeaway is that I’m hoping that they stay humble,” Hill said. “We’ve been down for so long that the littlest bit of success, these guys want to talk about players winning Heisman or talking about all of this stuff, it’s just like just keep chopping. You guys haven’t arrived yet. That’s really what I want to see from them. Just keep their head down and treat every game like it’s Clemson. If you get too full of yourself, that’s when you get knocked off. I’m excited to watch them every week. I think they have a good chance to do well.”