Sunday, September 14, 2008
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Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Young squad grows up a little more

BLACKSBURG -- Virginia Tech linebacker Purnell Sturdivant nodded his head.

That deep pass that Georgia Tech quarterback Josh Nesbitt lofted late in the fourth quarter? The one that looked like a touchdown until it soared just out of the reach of receiver Roddy Jones?

Oh, yes, Sturdivant remembered that. And you'd better believe he was relieved when the ball fell harmlessly to the ground.

"That would have been a very big play," Sturdivant said. "Probably something like Boston College last year, if y'all remember that."

Hmm ... let me think ... Boston College. Nope, doesn't ring a bell.

Oh, wait. You mean THAT game. Almost forgot.

Sturdivant's absolutely right. Saturday's 20-17 victory over the Yellow Jackets was that close to being a defeat. And while it wouldn't have been as stunning as the loss against the Eagles -- the Hokies didn't control the game for 56 minutes like they did in that one -- it still would have delivered a major blow to the development of this team.

Instead, the Hokies let out a huge sigh and hit the next rung. They emerged a little better, a little tougher, a little more resilient than they were the week before.

It's going to be like this all year. Games will continue to turn on penalties and pooch punts and those ankle-grabs on fourth-and-7. Because this offense isn't good enough to dominate, and the defense isn't experienced enough to rule week in and week out. Not yet, anyway.

But when everybody gives you a little piece of goodness, it adds up to a chance. That's what happened here Saturday for Virginia Tech.

"These team wins really mean something," said fifth-year Virginia Tech senior Dustin Pickle, who wore grass-stained pants after working on special teams and getting a rare stint at tailback in the 2-minute offense. "As young as we are, when you have a team win like this, you get the feeling that we are going to be a good team.

"Are where we need to be? Not yet. But will we get there? Of course."

They will if tailback Darren Evans can keep churning his sturdy body toward the chains. They will if quarterback Tyrod Taylor can keep making the kind of instinctual plays he made Saturday, like the 2-yard touchdown run he produced just before halftime. They will if punter Brent Bowden can keep angling kicks inside the 10.

And perhaps most important of all? They will if this defense can keep minimizing the red-zone harm. The Hokies allowed nearly 400 yards to Paul Johnson's option attack, but when it came to finding the end zone, the Jackets lacked.

"If you don't score any points, you can't win," Sturdivant said. "I don't care how many yards you have."

For what it's worth, Georgia Tech's top threat coming into the game averaged 2.8 yards a carry and missed part of the game after getting banged up. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster had made Jackets running back Jonathan Dwyer such a point of emphasis this week that he told his players he wanted them to find out what kind of toothpaste Dwyer used.

"Might have been Crest, I believe," Sturdivant said with a laugh. "I'm not sure."

Sturdivant, who combined with fellow linebacker Brett Warren for 26 tackles, was impressed with Nesbitt's elusiveness just like everyone else. But after whiffing on the Georgia Tech QB several times, he wrapped up big when it mattered most.

On the play after the overthrow, the Jackets faced a fourth-and-7 at their own 34. Nesbitt dropped back, scrambled toward the middle and was wrestled to the ground by Sturdivant well shy of the chains.

It was Tech's only sack of the game. Another little piece of goodness to toss into the mix.

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