- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 5, 2005

At the rate Marcus Vick is improving, college football fans could be begging for a Virginia Tech-USC Rose Bowl showdown by season’s end.

You see, unlike the two quarterbacks at the top of the BCS and Heisman pyramids, USC’s Matt Leinart and Texas’ Vince Young, Vick is still far from a finished product. And yet just eight starts into his college football career, Vick already is leading the nation in passing efficiency. He’s already a far more accurate passer than either Young or his ballyhooed brother. And he’s far more dangerous as a runner than Leinart, if not quite the elder Vick’s equal in the open-field nitro-freak department.

Fact is, Marcus is just a defining big-game performance from igniting a late-season Heisman hype-athon of his own. And when No.5 Miami (6-1, 3-1 ACC) comes calling on No.3 Virginia Tech (8-0, 5-0) tonight with the nation’s top-ranked defense in front of a packed house at Lane Stadium and a national TV audience, Vick will have just the sort of stage that lends itself to instant superstardom.

“We don’t call him ‘MV2’ for nothing,” said Virginia Tech’s All-American cornerback Jimmy Williams earlier this week. “The sky’s the limit for Marcus. He just gets better every week.”

Marcus arrived at Virginia Tech with the same frame (6-foot-1, 215 pounds), .50-caliber arm and sub-4.3 speed that made his brother a Blacksburg icon. But unlike Michael, who was a very raw pocket passer as a first-year starter, the younger Vick has always been a far more accurate marksman. Just ask Mike.

“He’s definitely ahead of where I was,” said football’s most electric commodity in a sideline interview with ESPN during the Hokies’ 30-10 victory over No.13 Boston College last week. “He’s much more comfortable in the pocket, much more patient at going through his progressions.”

The elder Vick also led the nation in passing efficiency during his first season behind center, completing 90 of 152 passes for 1,840 yards, 12 touchdowns and five interceptions while leading the Hokies to the national title game in 1999. In just eight games, Marcus has virtually matched that production, completing 109 of 158 passes for 1,534 yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions. And it doesn’t take a degree from MIT to figure out that Marcus is completing a much higher percentage of his passes (69.0 compared to 59.2).

And Michael isn’t just paying loyal lip service to his sibling. Marcus’ superior passing skills are readily apparent to most observers.

“At this point, I think Marcus is better,” said Miami safety Brandon Meriweather earlier this week after an extended film-study session. “He’s a better passer. He sits in the pocket better. He looks like a quarterback right now. Michael Vick looked like a running back playing quarterback early in his career. Marcus is looking to throw the ball.”

In fact, the Virginia Tech coaching staff felt Marcus spent the first third of the season looking to throw the ball too often, ignoring potential running lanes while waiting for receivers to break open. As a result, he was sacked 10 times in Tech’s first four games and gained only 57 rushing yards on 37 carries (1.54 yards a carry).

In an effort to prompt Vick to use his extraordinary athleticism as a runner, Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer inserted a handful of designed running plays for Vick into the team’s game plan against West Virginia. And in the Hokies’ last four games, Vick has exploded as a rushing threat, gaining 262 yards on 47 carries (5.57 yards a carry) and absorbing just six sacks.

“We are a much more dynamic offensive team when he’s ready to take off instead of getting too comfortable back there in the pocket,” Beamer said. “He’s really been good there of late. Some of that is scheme stuff, designed runs that we called. But a lot of it is Marcus just figuring out the timing and knowing when to scramble. The beauty of using your legs a little more, of course, is that it opens up the passing stuff. It’s a win-win deal.”

That run-pass combination has proved particularly potent in Tech’s last two games. In a 28-9 victory over Maryland, Vick tortured the Terps on the ground with a career-high 133 rushing yards. Boston College watched that film and last week left linebacker Brian Toal in the box as a spy against his designed runs only to watch Vick pass for a career-high 280 yards. All told, he rolled up 676 yards of total offense against the Terps and Eagles, posting his first two 300-yard games in consecutive weeks.

And perhaps the scariest thought for both Miami and a Texas team hoping to hold off the Hokies in the BCS standings is that Vick is just beginning to understand how to balance his dual-threat gifts. His defining game (see Young vs. Michigan in the Rose Bowl) seems to be waiting out there in the ether.

“Virginia Tech is more than just Marcus Vick,” Meriweather said. “But you do get the feeling watching him mature on video right before your eyes that you better get him now before he figures it all out.”

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