Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Hokies' play meets lofty ranking

BLACKSBURG -- This is how top-5 teams behave. They don't survive; they shred. They don't dally; they demolish. When a team comes in overmatched, they step on them, not around them. They embarrass their opponent and move on.

If you're a Virginia Tech fan, your heart should be thumping today. Your team finally joined the marauders' club -- with no rain, no flags, no potential game-changing drops to cloud the result. Tech's 48-14 win over Boston College on Saturday left coach Frank Beamer scanning his memory for a more complete performance from his team, and he couldn't find the answer quickly.

"We haven't had one like this in a while," Beamer said. "It seemed like everything last year was down to the wire, and everything this year was down to the wire."

And that's what makes this special. It's one thing to be ranked like a national championship contender. At No. 5, the Hokies are by definition in the discussion. But it's another thing altogether to actually play like a top-5 team. That -- even the most ardent Tech fan would confess -- the Hokies have rarely done.

Stirring comebacks, cagey escapes, late-game pullaways -- hey, they're all great, and they count the same in the standings. But they don't inspire big dreams like something such as this.

You've seen it enough on television through the years to know what it looks like. The explosiveness of the Floridas, the suffocating defense of the LSUs, the superb depth of the USCs. "That," you think, "is a team that has what it takes."

So is this.

Tyrod Taylor has never looked better. The junior quarterback has had bigger yardage totals, but his 7-for-10, 126-yard, two-score effort was the work of a man in complete control. Finding Ryan Williams down the middle on third-and-8 on Tech's first touchdown drive was the kind of play he doesn't make last year, and that might have been his sixth-best play of the day.

And Williams? He keeps getting better. The redshirt freshman tailback piled up 159 yards on only 18 carries, adding another fan to his growing list.

"He's one of the best I've ever seen, no question," BC linebacker Mike McLaughlin said. "There's no doubt about that."

And whatever's gotten into offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring, let's hope it stays for the long haul. He'll no doubt point to improved execution from his players -- and that certainly helps -- but he's also called three great games in a row.

His pinnacle moment Saturday came 3 minutes into the second quarter. The Hokies led 17-0 as they took the field to start a drive on the BC 41. The old Stiney probably calls a run here, hoping to chew some clock and not risk a turnover. But this new Stiney? He smells plasma. He sends three receivers deep, another on a crossing route and tells Taylor to take his pick.

"I just had to beat the safety," receiver Jarrett Boykin said. "One man left to go. Tyrod just laid a nice ball in the air, 41 yards, and that was that."

That was that. Because on this day, the defense wasn't going to come close to blowing a four-score lead.

How good was Tech's defense? Darryl Slater of the Richmond Times-Dispatch alertly thought to do the algebra and came up with this gem: The Eagles offense averaged five inches per play in the first half.

But it was that kind of day. The second half turned into the equivalent of an NFL preseason game, with backups rattling sabres out of necessity, but the first-half numbers were so ridiculous that you just started dividing one into another and shaking your head. Three yards for BC? In the entire first half?

"Three too many," Tech cornerback Rashad Carmichael said.

He wasn't smiling, because he wasn't kidding. That's how a player on a top-5 team thinks. And this week, if anyone tells him his team doesn't belong in the top 5, he has every right to tell them they're crazy.

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