Hokies will make it close, Colorado will attack deep

Originally Published: December 4, 2002
By Kirk Herbstreit | Special to ESPN.com

Everyone knows the running game of No. 14 Virginia Tech, with a healthy Kevin Jones rejoining Lee Suggs in the backfield, is a big key against No. 1 Miami. But the Hokies cannot expect to be competitive by simply running the ball, and that is where quarterback Bryan Randall comes in.

Randall will have to throw the ball accurately for Tech to beat the Hurricanes. Not only will he have to hit the running backs out of the backfield and receivers on underneath crossing routes, he will also have to scramble.

Bryan Randall
Bryan Randall will have to be effective with his arm and feet for Virginia Tech to win.
Pittsburgh's Rod Rutherford did a nice job of avoiding the initial Miami rush and was able to find some running lanes because of UM's man-under coverage, in which defenders are responsible for a particular man, and Randall will have to do the same.

The Hokies will have to control the clock and keep the Miami offense on the sideline, and when the Hurricanes do get on the field the Virginia Tech defense will have to play its most physical game of the year.

A lot of people were surprised when the young Tech defense played so well during an 8-0 start. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster had his unit playing a physical style that dropped off somewhat in games against Pitt, Syracuse and West Virginia, but the Hokies regained some confidence by holding Virginia to 203 total yards last week.

They have regained a little of that edge, with guys like free safety Willie Pyle coming up and making hits, but it will take their best effort to slow down Ken Dorsey and the rest of Miami's weapons. Virginia Tech must contain Willis McGahee and get pressure on Dorsey in obvious passing situations.

For VT to be competitive it has to play "Beamerball", adhering to coach Frank Beamer's philosophy of outstanding defense, a strong running game and play-action passing on offense and scoring via blocked kick or kick return on special teams.

When people first started talking about this game back in September and October, saying the Hokies would be able to go into the Orange Bowl and run all over the 'Canes, I was skeptical. I thought Virginia Tech would have Miami's attention, the Hurricanes would be ready for an opponent they respect and Tech would get blown out.

And while I still believe Miami will play hard and with urgency with a berth in the Tostito's Fiesta Bowl at stake, it would not be a shock to see the Hokies make this game competitive.

Jones is back in the lineup, Virginia Tech gained some momentum last week and the Hokies have nothing to lose. Miami will wins, but by just a touchdown in a hard-fought game.

No. 9 Oklahoma vs. No. 12 Colorado
The big question for Oklahoma heading into the Big 12 championship game is whether the defense can get some confidence back after being torched by Oklahoma State last week. Can the players believe in one another and go back to the kind of defense they played in big games against Texas, Iowa State and Texas Tech?

If teams have a quarterback who can throw the ball vertically they can make some plays against the OU defense. That puts pressure on Colorado QB Robert Hodge and wide receiver Derek McCoy.

As much as people talk about the powerful CU running attack, which could be without both Chris Brown and Bobby Purify against Oklahoma, this game will come down to Buffs being able to have balance on offense and make the Sooners respect the deep threat. That will open some holes for whoever runs the ball.

If you have a chance to watch this game closely you will develop an appreciation for the play calling of the Colorado staff. Offensive coordinator Shawn Wilson uses a lot of formations and motions to open lanes and angles, giving the backs room to run, but that can only work with the true threat of a drop-back passing game.

But Wilson does a good job of coming up with schemes to exploit the weaknesses of opposing defenses, and don't be surprised if the Buffs watched the tapes of OU's losses to Texas A&M and OSU. The Colorado staff will try to exploit man coverage like the Aggies and Cowboys did, using certain schemes to confuse the secondary and cause broken coverages.

That will be a necessity, because OU will likely get back to being aggressive on defense, attacking the line of scrimmage to take away the running game. The Sooners will continue to do that until they give up a big pass play downfield.

When Oklahoma has the ball look for it to lean on running back Quentin Griffin to pick up valuable yardage, then hand the ball to Kejuan Jones in short-yardage and goal line situations.

One of the better ways to get to the Buffs' defense is to get one-on-one opportunities in the secondary, and for that to work OU quarterback Nate Hybl will have to be accurate. He threw three touchdown passes in the first meeting with CU and must be accurate to prevent the Buffs from loading up on Griffin and Jones.

It will be interesting to see how these teams adjust to each other the second time around. It's going to be a chess match early, with the coordinators trying to get a feel for the other guy, but after the first few series it will get back to good, old-fashioned football.

I look for this to be the best game of the day. Colorado comes in with confidence and Hodge has developed nicely, but because OU is coming off a frustrating loss look for the Sooners to regroup. Expect the Oklahoma defense to set the tone and come together to lead OU to victory.

No. 4 Georgia vs. No. 22 Arkansas
The Georgia offense is finally healthy with receiver Damien Gary coming back from a torn leg muscle and Terrence Edwards' shoulder having healed on the other side, and that will be a huge boost for quarterback David Greene.

With the Bulldogs having added confidence in the passing game look for running back Musa Smith to find some openings and make some yards.

But the real advantage for UGA will be its superior defense. Coordinator Brian VanGorder was named a finalist for the Frank Broyles award honoring the nation's top assistant coach, and he has had his guys playing well all year.

The 'Dawgs are second in the SEC in scoring defense at 16.3 points per game and defensive end David Pollack has been among he SEC sack leaders all season.

He and his mates will try to take away Fred Talley and the Arkansas running game, forcing quarterback Matt Jones to execute through the air. That is not what the Razorbacks want and they will be in trouble if it happens.

Georgia will finish the season in grand fashion, hitting on all cylinders on offense and playing super defense in a convincing win that sends them to the BCS with plenty of momentum.

No. 7 Washington State vs. UCLA
Injured Washington State quarterback Jason Gesser must play through the pain of a high ankle sprain if the Cougars are to have a shot to win. He has practiced some this week and coach Mike Price is optimistic, but no one will know for sure about Gesser's status until he gets into the game and finds out how the ankle responds to live action.

Jason played with cracked ribs earlier this season and is the toughest QB in the nation, so he will play through the pain. But the pressure will fall squarely on backup Matt Kegel if that ankle is tweaked and Gesser has to come out.

That could spell trouble, not only because Gesser is WSU's best player but because he is their guts and heart. The Cougars lose a lot of intangibles without him in the mix, evidenced by the way the whole team lost confidence when Gesser left in the fourth quarter of the loss to Washington.

Washington State's defense has played well all year and the Cougars will have to rely on it even more this week, while running back Jermaine Green will have to make plays regardless of who the QB.

Price will not scale back his game plan much if Gesser is out, but Jason has too much heart and wants the Rose Bowl too badly for him to miss this game.

For UCLA, the question is how freshman quarterbacks Drew Olson and Matt Moore will respond in a big game with so much national hype surrounding it. Both played in a 52-21 loss to USC, and whoever shows more against Washington State will likely get the bulk of the time.

The Bruins were shredded by the USC offense last week and this week and they will likely need to outscore WSU, so the defense just needs to keep them close.

This will be a battle of the QBs, and I like Washington State to win behind the heart of Jason Gesser.

Kirk Herbstreit is an analyst on ESPN's College GameDay.

Kirk Herbstreit

College Football analyst
Kirk Herbstreit has been an ESPN college football studio analyst since August 1996. Herbstreit, who joined ESPN in September 1995 as a college football sideline analyst for ESPN2, is also a game analyst for ESPN's Thursday night college football telecasts.