Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Offense makes a comeback

LINCOLN, Neb. -- Tyrod Taylor dashed out of bounds after another huge gain, stood tall in front of the Virginia Tech section and pounded the football against his chest.

Remember that stuff? You know, offense?

The defense and special teams helped, as they usually do.

And for the third straight week, major penalties played in Tech's favor late in the game. But Saturday night -- surprisingly, encouragingly -- was about offense.

Design. Execution. Even dominance at times.

Who knew the Hokies had this in them?

Frank Beamer saw it coming. The Tech head coach kept telling us they were getting a little better, blocking a little more effectively, running sharper passing routes in practice.

But not even he could have predicted that such a breakout would come here, in this atmosphere, with a record crowd showing up at Memorial Stadium to urge on an unbeaten Nebraska team.

The Huskers are beaten now. Topped 35-30 by a Tech team that suddenly looks pretty darn formidable.

That's because they actually appear to have an offense now. A unit that came in ranked 112th out of 119 Division I-A teams amassed 377 yards, a season high and 105 more than their average over the first four games.

An "attack" that had been riddled with confusion, broken plays and general ineptitude came prepared Saturday night.

The Tech offense sandwiched six straight scoring drives around halftime in building a 28-10 lead in the third quarter.

And these weren't your typical Tech scoring drives, either, where the defense hands the quarterback the ball and says, "Just don't turn it over." These were genuine clock-spinners, with third-down conversions and an effective run-pass blend.

Granted, the red-zone offense needs some tweaking. The Hokies settled for field-goals far too often, or they could have easily put this game away by halftime.

But anyone who wants to blame play-calling alone needs to remember that Taylor -- who rolled up 87 rushing yards and 171 passing yards to improve to 8-0 as a starter -- missed a wide open Greg Boone on a well-designed pass route in the second quarter.

Consecutive marches of 54, 54, 66 and 61 yards resulted in only 12 points, but they showed balance and precision that were absent in comeback wins over North Carolina and Georgia Tech.

Play-action worked beautifully.

Roll-outs bought time and space.

And athletes, experienced and otherwise, made huge plays.

In the first half, a pair of deep completions from Taylor to Jarrett Boykin -- one to each sideline -- revealed the kind of threat most were convinced Tech did not have.

Tight end Andre Smith hauled in a couple of long-gainers. Kenny Lewis Jr. and Darren Evans ran effectively behind an offensive line that looked more like the one we thought we'd see when the season began.

And when the offense had to deliver, after Nebraska ran a punt back 88 yards for a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter to cut the deficit to 28-23, the unit got it done.

Facing third-and-3 from their own 45, Tech called the perfect play.

Taylor made the perfect pass to a wide-open Dyrell Roberts, and the Hokies picked up the first down en route to their final score.

That's the way it's supposed to look.

You know. Offense.

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