Saturday, September 26, 2009

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Devaluing offensive stats is part of the problem

BLACKSBURG -- Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer repeatedly has said he does not care about stats.

He does not care about total yards. He does not care about offensive rankings.

All that matters, he says, is the scoreboard.

But that's too simplistic. Myopic. It's well past time that he did care about stats, and offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring should join him. They should start today, when the No. 11 Hokies host No. 9 Miami.

Set a goal for total yards gained. Announce it to the team.

Then meet it -- or admit failure, regardless of what the scoreboard says.

Why? Because Tech's defense does. And Tech's defense is the foundation upon which this program is built. If caring about statistics and defensive rankings is good enough for coordinator Bud Foster, who has consistently fielded some of the top units in the nation, it should be good enough for Stinespring, who has fielded some of the worst.

Just look at what happened this week, following Tech's come-from-behind, 16-15 victory over Nebraska. Tech's offensive players continued to talk in nebulous terms about needing to do the little things, to study film, to eliminate the minor errors that are keeping them from becoming the powerful unit they want to be.

Tech's defensive players, meanwhile, were results-oriented and clear: Their current rankings -- 107th against the run, 27th against the pass, 77th overall -- are unacceptable. Foster talked about being "embarrassed" by all the rushing yards they've allowed. They're giving up too many big plays, missing too many tackles, and it needs to stop.

"We'll fix it by Miami," defensive back Eddie Whitley said this week. "Trust me."

But by Beamer's definition, there's nothing to fix. By Beamer's definition, the Hokies' defense did exactly what it was supposed to do against Nebraska -- keep points off the scoreboard by turning potential touchdowns into field goals.

Field goals are worth next to nothing in college football. Tech yielded five of them last week and nothing more. Yet Tech's defensive players still expressed their disappointment in having allowed 343 yards to the Cornhuskers, including 207 on the ground.

"We feel like we've been playing good defense, but we haven't been putting up the stats," linebacker Cody Grimm said. "Too many yards. We've got to clean that up before this week.

"There's definitely pride [in the unit]. We want to carry on the tradition of the Virginia Tech defenses."

Tech's offense has a less pristine tradition, as everyone knows. The Hokies were 105th in total offense last year, 100th in '07, 99th in '06. They're 78th this year, despite a 605-yard outburst against Marshall on Sept. 12.

It's time these rankings started resonating with Beamer and Stinespring. Otherwise, their futility against the best will continue.

The reason Tech often looks bad against top teams is because great programs don't allow gift scores.

Alabama's not going to throw you four interceptions and let you run back two for touchdowns. Nebraska's not going to muff three punts and set up short fields. At some point, you're going to need to move the ball on your own, sustain some drives and finish them.

As a top-10 team, Miami fits the not-going-to-beat-itself profile. So Tech's offense should set an ambitious -- but reachable -- goal today. Let's say 375 yards.

Last year, Georgia Tech finished 50th in the nation in total offense with an average of 372.4 yards a game. While 50th shouldn't be the ultimate goal of any offense, Tech needs to start somewhere.

The first step is admitting there's a problem. The next is addressing it in clear, tangible ways.

Foster has done both. Beamer and Stinespring? To this point, it seems like they're just watching the scoreboard and hoping.

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