Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: No. 5 provides fans great theatre

BLACKSBURG -- From snap to whistle, the play took 12 seconds. The screams started about six seconds into it. You know the ones. They come from the grandstands after a play breaks down, the quarterback starts scrambling and the receivers ditch their initial routes.

The reason for the screams? Panic. Fear. But most of all, suggestions. Everybody at Lane Stadium saw an open man somewhere.

Tyrod Taylor didn't.

Not yet.

"The play was supposed to go to the left," the Virginia Tech quarterback said. "It didn't open up like we'd wanted it to."

No surprise there. All day long against Nebraska, Tech's offense looked like a man trying to cut 10 acres of wet grass with a hatchet. The Hokies began the second half with four straight three-and-outs. They gained a whopping five yards in the entire third quarter.

Punt. Punt. Punt. Punt. Punt. Turnover on downs. That's it? For the 13th-ranked team in the nation?

But as usual, Tech's defense kept the team in it. And suddenly, miraculously, Danny Coale had plucked an 81-yard pass out of the air down the right sideline. Now the Hokies had it third-and-goal from the Nebraska 11, trailing 15-10 with less than a minute to go, needing one last miracle.

So Taylor scrambled to his right.

"There's always a chance," Tech coach Frank Beamer would say, "when you've got a Tyrod."

And there's also time. Taylor has his faults, and many were on display Saturday, but the one thing he can do as well as anyone is buy some. Taylor's mental clock was ticking -- somebody's gonna hit me in 5, 4... -- but he kept scrambling to his right. He waved for receiver Dyrell Roberts to cut to the quarterback's right.

Roberts had seen that wave dozens of times. They run the "scramble drill" every day at the end of practice. So he faked the other way, then obeyed.

"It felt like that play took the whole fourth quarter," Roberts said. "That was the longest play I've ever been associated with in my life."


The last time a ball had been thrown Roberts' way, it was on fourth down. He dropped it. Got past the chains, made a cut, saw the ball and dropped it. The sell-out crowd had groaned. That was it, wasn't it? Turning it over in their own territory with 2:07 to play?

But his teammates came over, one by one, and told him not to worry. That everybody makes mistakes. That he needed to be ready if he got another chance.

And this was it.

"Really, somebody was just supposed to get open," Roberts would say. "We really don't have any set way it's supposed to go. We just all run our routes, and whoever comes open comes open. Today it just turned into a scramble drill...I was the one who got open."

Taylor saw him. And the last two seconds of the 12-second play were a blur.

"Oh, yeah," Roberts would say. "He fired that one. He put something on that. That's one of the fastest balls Tyrod ever threw to me."

And Roberts caught it. Touchdown.


When Rashad Carmichael sealed the 16-15 Tech victory with an interception, the crowd streamed onto the field and began snapping photos with camera phones. Most were shouting to nobody in particular. Holy Tyrod, that was ridiculous! Holy Coale, they did what? Holy Dyrell, he caught it! They did it!

They won!

One improbable drive had erased three hours of heartburn. Soon, the Hokies will look at the film and pop the antacid, trying to figure out to fix all that's wrong with this offense before playing Miami next week. When your two most important offensive plays come on the "scramble drill," something's not right.

But for the Hokies, Saturday was no time for that. Roberts let out a primal scream of joy inside a mass of Tech fans. Taylor sprinted to midfield to celebrate with teammates.

"I tried to do an interview," Taylor said with a smile. "But the fans didn't allow it."

And they shouldn't have. This was their moment.

They'd put up with a lot before the 12 seconds of bliss.

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