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 7-0 Virginia Tech Hokies were locked in a back-and-forth scrum against the 5-1 Pittsburgh Panthers. However, a deafening silence had fallen over Lane Stadium.
It was like the Virginia Tech fanbase had suffered the loss of a loved one. The hopes and dreams of a return to the National Championship rested in the athletic ability of Michael Vick. All of that was left up in the air when Vick was walloped by Pitt’s defense, forcing him to exit the game for the second time, this time for good.
Vick came to the sidelines in a boot and on crutches to support his sprained ankle. Couple that with the loss of explosive playmaker Andre Davis, who was already out with a foot injury, and the fate of the Hokies’ undefeated season now rested on the shoulders of redshirt senior Dave Meyer.
“There was always a clear understanding, and this was something I had to come to grips with pretty early on, that Mike was a generational talent and he was very special,” Meyer said. “Everyone wanted to see him play. I was a competitor, I wanted to play, but the only time I was going to be playing was when everyone was disappointed to see me.
“It happened a few times, most memorably when Mike did that flip in the air in his first game and sprained his ankle. We were all thinking it was worse. The gasp when he got hurt there. On this one, no one really knew how bad it was. He went into the locker room, put a boot on, and came back out… Everyone knew, ‘OK, we can’t rely on Mike’s crazy skills and ability here. We’re going to have to all step up.’”
“All backups have to be ready,” Meyer said. “Especially with Mike’s style of play, I knew I was always one snap away. Every time he took off running, I think he had the entire stadium holding their breath.
“Every player looks forward to a chance to show what he can do, especially in big moments. Preparing as a backup looks very similar to preparing as a starter except without the reps in practice. The film study and mental preparation is basically the same.”
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Coming out of halftime and tied 20-20, Eric Green made the first big play for Virginia Tech in the second half, intercepting John Turman’s pass at the Hokies’ 20-yard line to end a 12-play drive.
Meyer took the field for the first time with one thought running through his head.
“The team needs me and it’s on,” Meyer said.
The strong-armed quarterback got the nerves out of the way with a 29-yard completion to Browning Wynn on third-and-nine to move the chains and avoid a three-and-out. From there, Meyer rode his bell cow back Lee Suggs all the way down the field. Jarrett Ferguson finished off the drive with a 6-yard plunge to give Virginia Tech the 27-20 advantage.
“Lee was a great back and an absolute stallion,” Meyer said. “The offensive line that year and the year before was strong, smart and experienced. They controlled the line of scrimmage. The coaches worked that to our strength and ran it down their throats.”
After the two sides alternated punts, the Panthers got the ball back and knotted the score at 27-27 right before the end of the third quarter. Then, the mistake that couldn’t happen happened.
Following a 17-yard run by Suggs to begin the drive, Meyer put the ball on the ground and Pitt recovered the fumble. All it took was one play for Turman to connect with Antonio Bryant for the 29-yard touchdown, his third of the day. In a matter of 25 seconds, the Hokies had gone from up seven to down seven entering the fourth quarter.
“In quarterback training 101, you always learn you can never get too high and you can’t get too low,” Meyer said. “You’re the nerve center of the offense, so you have to keep things cool and you have to stay positive and looking forward. Whenever I fumbled or threw an interception, it was always, ‘OK, let’s regroup. Let’s get our marching orders. Let’s get back and move the chains and put points on the board.’”
Despite the letdown, Meyer calmly took the field and went back to work. Virginia Tech engineered a drive down the field behind the legs of Suggs and Andre Kendrick. On a second down play, Meyer rushed over left end and got popped on his throwing arm. Facing a third-and-7, Meyer exerted all his strength with an arm that felt like jelly to find Emmett Johnson, who made a nice adjustment coming back to the football, for a 29-yard gain down to the 3-yard line.
“I don’t know why this sticks out in my memory, but I remember my arm being numb for an entire series,” Meyer said. “I got hit on the throwing elbow during a scramble in the fourth quarter. I basically lost all the feeling in my arm. It was the wildest thing, and the only time it ever happened to me in my career. On the call deep down field where Emmett had to come back for the ball, I basically pushed the ball like a shot-put. My entire arm was pins and needles.”
Suggs capped off the drive with a 3-yard score on the next play to make it 34-34 with 12:16 remaining in the fourth. Suggs finished the game with 164 yards on 28 carries and three touchdowns.
The next three possessions – two from Pitt and one from Virginia Tech – all ended with no points on the board. A Panthers’ punt gave the ball back to the Hokies with 4:52 remaining and set the stage for Meyer to deliver his signature moment with everything now slowing down.
“The game is so fast, and it’s too fast in the beginning when you get in,” Meyer said. “Then, all of a sudden you acclimate, and everything slows down and your brain settles. Once your brain and your body are in a place where you can take things in and think and respond instead of just reacting, it surely makes a difference.”
Meyer began the drive with a scramble and quick screen pass to set up a third-and-1. Suggs easily picked up the first down on the carry and extended the drive. Facing another key third-and-5 two plays later, the Hokies were bailed out when Pitt’s defender broke early and interfered with Shawn Witten on a pass that would have been stopped before the first down marker.
With another set of downs, Meyer and Co. started operating like a well-oiled machine. After a missed shot on a deep ball, Meyer dialed in three straight completions for first downs, the last being a well-executed shovel pass to Andre Kendrick to get the Hokies into field goal range.
“I was just calling bread and butter, standard stuff,” Meyer said. “Stuff that I knew we could execute well. We could protect up front, and our guys could run their routes. It was my fifth year, so I knew that offense really well.
“Once we got down the field, coach [Rickey Bustle] signaled in and was trying to get my attention. They said to run the shovel pass. Coach Bustle and Coach [Billy] Hite, those guys and Coach [Frank] Beamer were always watching two plays ahead and three plays ahead… We had set them up with a couple of rollouts. That was one of the things I remember is just how well it all came together.”
From there, the offense caught Pitt off guard by handing it straight up the gut to Ferguson from the fullback position on consecutive plays, totaling 16 yards. All it took then was a 27-yard field goal attempt that Carter Warley nailed to give the Hokies the 37-34 lead with 20 seconds remaining. The defense sealed the deal by sacking Turman on the last play of the game.
“I remember the smiles of my teammates and the coaches after the game,” Meyer said. “The energy and emotion in the stadium was top three that I experienced during my time in Blacksburg. I think the entire stadium, players and coaches included, were swirling in the same emotions of excitement, joy and relief.
“I remember Mike [Vick] being very, very happy for me. Mike was always such a special teammate. He saw me as a big brother. I was a huge fan of Mike. I think everyone on that team would tell you I thought the world of Mike and I did everything I could to help that guy get better. He was just really happy for me, happy for the way that game ended, the last drive, we were still undefeated.”
For Meyer, it was the moment that became synonymous with his name for the Virginia Tech faithful. They’ll remember the way the Hokies were dealt a bad hand in that game, yet Meyer confidently rallied the troops to victory. And they’ll remember the way he remained his same humble self, crediting his teammates and coaching staff for keeping the undefeated season alive. In fact, it’s the same way Meyer is all these years later.
“It’s a special memory, and I run into people on the job at work and Hokies that will still bring it up. That’s their memory of me,” Meyer said. “I’m blessed to have that as the memory that many people think of.
“That was just special for everyone involved. Losing our best player. Everyone stepping up. Executing on that last drive. Everything had to work to get us in that spot, and we all brought it together. I’ll take that as my Hokie memory and what sits in fans’ minds any day.”