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.
Virginia Tech was tired of it. All week in the leadup to the showdown between 4-1 squads, the Hokies had incessantly heard about Clemson’s running backs, James Davis and CJ Spiller. The media had donned the two tailbacks ‘Thunder and Lightning’ for their explosive style of play.
All it did was create more motivation for Bud Foster’s defensive unit.
“That was the whole talk,” 2007 free safety DJ Parker said in a phone interview earlier this week. “I think that fired up Bud Foster a little bit like, ‘Hey, we’re going to shut these guys down.’ We really went into that game knowing if we could control the run game from them, we had a great chance of winning.
“It was a big week for us. We knew they had the special entrance coming down the hill and getting all rowdy. I remember us having a great preparation that week and Bud putting together a great game plan as far as their tendencies with what they like to do when we went into that game.”
It’s why when the Hokies took the field in front of a raucous environment at Clemson Memorial Stadium, head coach Frank Beamer sent his defense out onto the field against Clemson’s speedy offense.
It was a response right away to show that Virginia Tech was up to the task. It was a test that was passed with flying colors in the beginning stages of the game. Three plays in, with the Tigers facing a third-and-19, Parker ignited the spark on defense.
Clemson quarterback Cullen Harper misfired on a pass to the chains and the opportunistic Parker was waiting to make a play on the ball. He intercepted the pass and followed a convoy to the end zone untouched for a 32-yard pick six.
“Once we saw what they were doing early on, I knew I had responsibilities to make certain checks,” Parker said. “I know particularly on that certain play, I made the right check. I got us to a defense that countered what they were trying to do to us on offense. We got lucky. It was a tipped overthrow a little bit. Tips and overthrows, as a DB we say you’ve got to have them. Tips and overthrows, you’ve got to make those plays. Luckily it was a bad throw by the QB and it went off the receivers hands. Kind of landed right in my lap.
“We’re taught to take that one to the house. You get your hands on the ball, we’re going to crib it. I think that really set the tone for us. Once that happened, I just saw the fire in the guys’ eyes when I came to the sideline after. We knew it was going to be one of those special nights where we start rolling in all three phases of the game.”
The special night was just beginning for the Hokies. Following consecutive three-and-outs, Virginia Tech’s defense took the field again and exhibited the excellence behind Foster’s game plan. Macho Harris laid the lumber on a screen pass to Jacoby Ford for a jarring blow that Hokie fans still remember. It was a consistent theme in the night anytime the Tigers went to one of the staples of their offense.
“[Torrian Gray] drilled into our head all week that they like to run these bubble screens,” Parker said. “‘When they’re in this formation, they’re going to run the bubble screen.’ Every time we saw that formation, myself, Brandon Flowers, Macho Harris, and Kam Chancellor, our eyes would light up. We had a little signal to ourselves to let them know, ‘Hey, here comes the bubble screen.’ Once we did that signal, it was kind of like the green light for Macho or Brandon to just attack it.
“They did that every time. I remember them laying some big hits. I think Macho knocked a guy out the game. Brandon Flowers had a big hit on one of the screens. When you get a big hit like that, that just sets the tone. That lets the other team know what type of day it’s going to be. How physical you’re going to be and to buckle up your chin straps.”
After a 32-yard field goal from Jud Dunlevy, Parker and Co. took the field and forced their third three-and-out of the game. It was time for Eddie Royal to deliver some magic. The swift receiver fielded the punt and took it 82 yards to the house.
Just over 10 minutes into the game, Virginia Tech led 17-0. Clemson’s offense had six possessions in the first quarter. The result of those six possessions? Six total yards, a pick-six and five three-and-outs. Death Valley was indeed lifeless.
“When you take the life out of a stadium, you feel the energy,” Parker said. “You feel it in your bones. I remember when I had my interception, I came to the sideline and we’re just on the sideline looking into the crowd. We’re talking back to them, and they just had this shock face. They didn’t know what to say, what to do. From that point on, we went out there on defense and we just saw it in Clemson’s eyes that they knew they were in for a long night.”
The highlight reel didn’t end there, though. After Clemson’s offense finally got on the board with a 33-yard field goal in the second quarter, Harris returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown. Virginia Tech had not put up any offensive touchdowns, yet it led 24-3 with 6:59 left in the first half. No half of football better encapsulated Beamer Ball.
“That’s the perfect game. If someone asks you what Beamer Ball is, I would recommend they go back and watch that 2007 Clemson game,” Parker said. “I would say that 2007 game was the definition of Beamer Ball as far as having an impact in all three levels of the game. For us, our mindset the whole time with that defense was we have to score. We want to get the offense 7-14 points. That was our mindset every game. That’s what Bud drilled into us. There were times we had to pick the offense up, so we can score too. Why not? We were all about takeaways, and I think that interception kicked us off. With Macho returning his kick, Eddie returning his kick…that just took the life out of the stadium.”
From there, the Hokies controlled the game, heading into the half up 31-8. Things got a little dicey in the fourth quarter when Clemson cut the lead down to 34-23. However, Virginia Tech put the finishing touches on a final drive that ended with Brandon Ore’s 2-yard plunge finding paydirt to bring the contest to the final score of 41-23.
Virginia Tech’s defense fulfilled its goal. Davis and Spiller were limited to a paltry 12 carries for 12 yards combined. As a whole, the Hokies’ defense allowed just eight rushing yards on the night.
“The whole thing for us was to be disciplined, everyone fit their gaps within Bud’s scheme,” said Parker, who finished that 2007 Clemson game with the pick six, four tackles, and two pass breakups. “We knew if we did that we were going to come out on top. That was our main focus as far as making sure everyone contained them, and we were just really disciplined. With those backs, if you run that misdirection, they can hit one hole and it’s lights out from there. We made sure we controlled our gaps so they wouldn’t hit their head on the goalpost breaking off long runs.”
Virginia Tech finished the 2007 season 10-3, eventually losing to Kansas in the Orange Bowl. The season was marked by the heartbreaking loss to Boston College and tale of redemption for the Hokies to come back and beat the Eagles in the ACC Championship Game. Many forget that the veteran-laden Virginia Tech squad was one loss away from potentially playing in the National Championship that year in a crazy college football season.
“One thing I want to say, that 2007 team was probably one of the best that came through Virginia Tech,” Parker said. “Those 2004-2007 years, I’m not sure that we got a lot of recognition for what we did during that time was pretty special. Being ranked No. 1 defense, No. 1 secondary, having the offense that we had, I hope that people don’t forget about us at times. Those were fun times.”
Thoughts on Current State of the Program
Frustrations have been brewing in and around Blacksburg due to the performance of the 2020 Hokies. Virginia Tech sits with a record of 4-5, having lost four of the last five and three straight. It doesn’t get any easier on Saturday night with No. 4 Clemson waiting in the wings. So where do the issues lie within the program according to Parker?
“I kind of feel like the last couple years we haven’t had any identity,” Parker said. “Who are we as a Virginia Tech program? Back then we lived on Beamer Ball. That’s who we are. We played tough defense. We’re going to score the ball when we can. Always had a really good backfield, really good running back who’s going to run the ball. And we can put it in the air when we needed to. I just feel like we haven’t had that.
“If the culture is not right, kids are not going to stay, especially with this portal thing right now where kids can put their name in the portal and transfer whenever they want. We’ve got to have a great culture and a culture where the kids believe in the head coach and the coaching staff and what they’re trying to do.”
Where else does Parker see a place where improvements could be made? It starts with a return to dominating the state in recruiting.
“I watch these games on Saturday and I see some kid from Richmond or the 757 or just from somewhere in Virginia playing at these other schools,” Parker said. “How are we losing the recruiting battle? How are we letting these kids get out of state? We’re not going to get all of them, but we have to get the ones we want. I think that’s the different thing. Back then, during my process, we were guys who were saying, ‘Hey, if all of the VA talent comes together in one school, this could be pretty special.’ I’m not sure if the kids are really saying that these days. I think kids are just open to going to the SEC or wherever they want to go. We’ve got to keep the VA talent in VA and keep them away from that school down the street.
“I’m hoping we can get it turned around and Fuente can get those guys rolling and get the recruits that’s needed to get the program back on the national map.”