Thursday, November 06, 2008
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Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Ground-breaking advice: Run the ball

BLACKSBURG -- Run the ball, run the table.

Virginia Tech cannot do the second without doing the first.

The Hokies can do it with Darren Evans, Jahre Cheeseman, Josh Oglesby, Dustin Pickle or some combination thereof, but they must do it. They can do it between the tackles or around the ends, with clever counters or smash-mouth dives, but they must do it.

Because without it, they are toast.

Over the past 10 days, we've heard a lot about control. The Hokies control their own fate in the Coastal Division. They control their own destiny in the conference. That's all very nice. But you know what real control is? A dominant running game.

Something Tech has been lacking for most of this season, and something the players desperately want back.

"If you're getting four or five yards a pop, you can definitely feel the defense wearing down," Tech guard Nick Marshman said. "You can definitely feel them getting frustrated that they can't stop it.

"As an offensive line, that's what you want. You want to be able to just run it, run it, run it, run it, wear 'em down."

In Blacksburg, there has been no better formula for winning. Since 1999, the Hokies are 86-8 when they outrush their opponents. They're 9-19 when outrushed.

Tech has been outrushed in all three of its losses this season and gone 4-0 when holding the edge on the ground. The lone outlier was the Georgia Tech victory, when the Yellow Jackets won the rushing battle but lost the game.

"I think we'd like for it to be better," Tech coach Frank Beamer said of his rushing attack. "There's no question about that."

And there's no question it's the key tonight against Maryland, and next week against Miami, and the following week. ...

Run the ball, run the table. And it has to start tonight.

We don't know for sure which quarterback we'll see play the majority of the game, but we do know one thing: If Tyrod Taylor plays, he won't be at full strength.

When Taylor went down with an ankle sprain on the first play of the Florida State game, the Hokies lost more than just a quarterback. They also lost their best ground threat, a guy averaging 5.4 yards per carry despite sacks counting against him.

You won't see 5.4 yards per carry out of Taylor tonight, provided you see him at all. That rushing onus falls squarely on the tailbacks and the blockers in front of them, and Beamer knows how crucial that operation is.

"Absolutely," he said. "No question. The better you can run it, the better you can throw. I think that's critical on this home stretch right here."

Run the ball, run the table. Above all else, there must be commitment. It's not too late to streamline priorities. Tech did it in 2006 -- stressing run, run, run while almost completely ignoring the pass after an abysmal offensive performance against Boston College -- and Branden Ore responded with back-to-back 200-yard games.

Evans isn't the caliber of Ore yet, but Tech would take 100 from him. After all, he hasn't done it yet. No Tech tailback has this year.

To add juice to the backfield, the coaches moved Cheeseman from fullback to tailback, his more natural position. And maybe that's part of the answer.

But more likely, the answer is attitude. Determination to run even if it's not working early. Evans averaged 5.1 yards a carry against Florida State but was only given four totes in the second half.

That's hardly a way to establish control.

"When a team's running the ball against you, it wears you down eventually," Tech defensive lineman Orion Martin said. "Over four quarters, you start hurting a little bit. If we're able to run the ball, it keeps us off the field and the clock ticking."

The threat is there on the other side. Maryland boasts the ACC rushing leader in Da'Rel Scott. He has a sore shoulder, but the bet here is he will play -- and play a lot.

So odds are the Hokies will need a big night from their tailbacks to win that all-important rushing battle.

Run the ball, run the table.

Or run out of hope in a hurry.

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