Friday, November 14, 2008

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Tech careens off course with odd calls on offense

MIAMI -- Give the offense this, and only this: It was unpredictable. But not in the way Virginia Tech should want it to be.

On Thursday night, Virginia Tech's offense was unpredictable in the same way a car with a blown tire is unpredictable. You don't know whether it's going to go right or left, but either way, you can assume the result will not be good.

So much for last week's lessons. A dominant running game? A safe, efficient passing attack? A physical strategy with few frills but plenty of production? That all seems so distant now after this disjointed performance, a 16-14 loss to Miami at Dolphin Stadium that crippled Tech's chances of winning the ACC's Coastal Division.

With Tyrod Taylor healthy again, the Hokies decided to alternate quarterbacks. That can work. We've all seen it happen. But the way they did it Thursday defied logic.

They ran the option with Sean Glennon and tried to throw deep with Taylor. Shouldn't it be the other way around?

Glennon finished the game 6-for-8 for 98 yards. But when the Hokies faced a third-and-19 deep in Miami territory late in the first half, the coaches lifted him. Does anyone believe Taylor, at this stage of his career, has a better chance to complete a 19-yard pass than Glennon?

Unpredictable -- and ineffective.

Sure, Miami's defense is better than Maryland's. But that shouldn't have prompted a complete overhaul of a strategy that worked so well last week. The Hokies finally seemed to have an offensive identity in that game, a blue-collar approach that yielded 400 yards and 60 minutes of control.

Instead, the Hokies got cute, and the result was ugly.

The cutest -- and ugliest -- moment came with about 2 minutes to play, as the Hokies tried to put together a game-winning drive. Tech faced a third-and-2 from its own 40-yard line.

You have several options here that make sense.

1. Run Taylor, either to the outside or up the middle; 2. Throw a short pass to Darren Evans or Greg Boone, both of whom had made similar catches earlier; or 3. Hand the ball to Evans, who ran for a record 253 yards last week.

So what did the Hokies do? Naturally, they gave the ball to Dustin Pickle, their fourth-string tailback. He lost a yard. Taylor was sacked on the next play, and that was that.

The coaches will tell you that Pickle is always the tailback in the 2-minute offense. He's a hard worker and a great guy. But perhaps the plays that decide the season should be put in the hands of somebody with more than four carries this year.

In fairness, those guys struggled, too. The Hokies ran six offensive plays the entire third quarter. They lost 11 yards on those six plays. Both times, their quarterbacks -- first Taylor, then Glennon -- were sacked on third down. Basically, nobody looked comfortable or confident in this offense, a complete 180-degree turn from last week.

A word here about the defense. Tech's defenders weren't perfect, but they gave the Hokies every chance to win. Four times Miami marched inside Tech's 12-yard line. And three times, the Hurricanes had to kick a field goal.

Unfortunately for Tech, though, even the good news had its downside. This was the final test for defensive coordinator Bud Foster before today's job interview at Clemson. He passed. And Thursday night just reminded us all how valuable he is to this program and how difficult he would be to replace.

There'll be plenty of time to ponder that possibility in the days and weeks to come. But first, the Hokies need to fix the offense.


They might want to try something predictable. It's better than a blown tire.

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