Friday, November 07, 2008

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Virginia Tech gets its offense up and running

BLACKSBURG -- Call them legitimate contenders now. They have a tailback who can dominate. They have a defense. They have a kicker. For the Virginia Tech Hokies, that is enough to win the ACC.

They didn't need a late personal-foul penalty to bail them out this time like they did in their other three major wins. They didn't need a punt block or a pick-six or some other football anomaly to mask their flaws.

The Hokies had Darren Evans, Dustin Keys and a run-stuffing defense. And that was enough to make the Atlantic Division leaders look overmatched.

Tech's 23-13 victory over Maryland on Thursday will go down as the night Evans went from prospect to punisher. His record-setting performance -- 253 yards on 32 carries -- becomes all the more amazing when you consider the stellar tailbacks who've come before him at this school. Lee Suggs. Kevin Jones. Cyrus Lawrence. Roscoe Coles. Mike Imoh. Branden Ore.

Evans is only a redshirt freshman, after all. Tech fans can smile pretty wide when pondering the possibilities.

He was the centerpiece of 400-yard attack that didn't try to get too cute. It was exactly the kind of game Tech's offense needed as it stares at a game at Miami in six days.

Miami will be coming off a bye. Tech's bye week spawned some offensive wrinkles, and they worked. Most notably: Tech's use of Greg Boone. The hulking tight end saw his most significant action of the year, finally fulfilling the coaching staff's preseason promise that we'd see Boone excel in a variety of roles.

He caught the game's first touchdown pass, a pretty toss over the middle from Sean Glennon that we've seen sail high and out of the end zone too many times this year. This time, Glennon had the perfect arc and Boone displayed pillowy hands. Seven points instead of three.

But Boone wasn't just a tight end Thursday. He also lined up at quarterback a handful of times. He didn't throw a pass, but he gained 22 yards on six carries despite his obvious intentions.

"I think we can keep developing it," Tech coach Frank Beamer said of Boone's new role. "I think that's got some possibilities right there."

Which brings us back to Evans, whose promise now seems limitless.

His big plays -- a 50-yarder and a 45-yarder -- wowed the crowd and hastened his march to the record, but they weren't his most impressive carries. Those came during Tech's last drive, when everyone at Lane Stadium knew exactly what the Hokies were going to do.

Didn't matter. Evans blasted off left tackle for six. He churned up the gut for three. And on third-and-6, when a first down would seal the game, Tech handed him the ball again.

Evans didn't just get the first down -- he ran through Maryland free safety Terrell Skinner, delivering a crushing forearm that would have made a mixed-martial artist cringe.

It was all over but the victory formation. This one ended with Glennon kneeling in just outside the red zone and flapping his arms to encourage the crowd, a symbolic move that illustrates just how far this team -- or more specifically, this offense -- has come.

The last time Glennon flapped his arms like that here, during the October 4 game against Western Kentucky, he meant it sarcastically. He had struggled. The offense had floundered against a weak opponent. The fans were booing. And Glennon's flapping drew longer and louder jeers.

Not this time. This time, the fans were roaring. Fireworks exploded overhead. And a bunch of players in maroon streamed onto the field, no longer wondering how good they could be.

Call them quite good now.

Call them contenders.

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