Sunday, October 18, 2009
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Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Tech offense fails to counterpunch

ATLANTA -- This was the moment we've been talking about for years, the one where Virginia Tech plays a ranked team on national television and it becomes clear in the first few minutes that the Hokies might be in trouble.

We've been waiting for the different reaction from this offense. The different modus operandi. The moment when offensively, the Hokies rise up and outscore somebody, when they give their defense a well-earned pass for a night.

We're still waiting.

The No. 4 Hokies fell to No. 19 Georgia Tech 28-23 on Saturday night, and most fingers will point to the Virginia Tech defense. But while the Virginia Tech offense didn't lose this game, the Virginia Tech offense also did not win it. And that is what's disappointing, because the opportunity was there.

Georgia Tech had given up more than 1,000 yards combined in the past two weeks. A thousand. Yet when the Hokies were handed the ball in Yellow Jackets territory on two of their first three drives, they came away with zero points.

"I feel bad as an offensive player," Virginia Tech tailback Ryan Williams said. "All the times that we stopped them early in the game, we weren't able to capitalize on any of those. We didn't execute like we were supposed to."

Williams had a valid excuse. The ACC's rushing leader had been battling flu-like symptoms all week -- "I had it all, man. I was drugged up, IV'ed up. I had it all," he said -- and felt weaker than usual.

But the offense as a whole needed to do much more than it did in the first half, when the Hokies held the Yellow Jackets to an average of less than 2 yards per carry. Georgia Tech, which had put up eight first-half touchdowns in wins over North Carolina and Florida State, didn't score a first-quarter touchdown for the first time all season.

Unfortunately for the visitors, neither did Virginia Tech.

"We missed some opportunities that we've got to have in these type of games," said Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor, whose team trailed 7-3 at the half. "If we could take it all back, I'm pretty sure we would have changed the tempo."

Asked what he meant by changing the tempo, Taylor said: "Try to go deeper quicker."

The passing game thrived on Virginia Tech's final two drives -- Taylor made four connections of more than 10 yards en route to a pair of touchdowns -- but by that point, the Yellow Jackets already had seized control of the game with their option attack.

"We can't come out in fourth quarters and try to run the scoreboard up," Williams said. "It's not going to work. We can't do that against good teams like that. We have to come out from start to finish. I think that's what really killed us."

The film room will be a busy place this week, and everybody from players to coaches will have plenty to ponder.

Yellow Jackets coach Paul Johnson clearly won the battle of adjustments, leaving Virginia Tech's defenders grasping at air in the second half. The Hokies often went for the home-run hit when a simple wrap-up would have sufficed. They gave up way too many yards, missed way too many tackles and trudged to the postgame locker room frustrated and confused.

But sometimes that happens. It doesn't happen often to the Hokies' defense, but it happens quite a bit to Georgia Tech's opponents. Josh Nesbitt and Jonathan Dwyer are bona fide stars, and they have a legitimate supporting cast. Sometimes as a defense, you get outschemed, outhit and outsmarted.

That's when you need your offense to punch back and win one. For the Hokies, the wait for that continues.

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