Friday, November 06, 2009
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Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: QB Taylor gets Tech back on its feet

GREENVILLE, N.C. -- Some might consider it ugly, or desperate, or remedial. But for quarterback Tyrod Taylor, running the ball is none of those things.

And for Virginia Tech, it's a necessity.

We saw it again Thursday night -- something we haven't seen enough of this year: Taylor in the open field, making defenders miss. Taylor forcing the other team into mistakes. Taylor finding the end zone with his legs.

Including the one sack against him, Taylor was credited with 11 rushing attempts for 61 yards in the Hokies' 16-3 victory at East Carolina. That might not sound like much until you consider what he'd averaged this year coming into this one: 18.8 rushing yards per game.

Thursday's total nearly nailed his average from last year (61.5 per game), when he finished as the ACC's most productive running quarterback and Tech's second-leading rusher behind tailback Darren Evans. Entering Thursday, Taylor was the Hokies fourth-leading rusher this season.

The Hokies often trumpet Taylor's passing efficiency this season, which ranks 12th in the nation. That's a good thing, for sure, a sign of progress. But you don't recruit one of the nation's top-rated dual-threat quarterbacks for passing efficiency alone.

For most of this year, though, that's how they've used him. In three of Tech's games this season, including last week's loss to North Carolina, Taylor finished with negative rushing totals. He ran for a scant one yard against Duke. He rushed for just six against Boston College.

Those are numbers befitting a one-dimensional, sit-in-the-pocket guy -- something Taylor should never aspire to be.

The coaches insist they haven't held Taylor back to protect his body, and maybe they haven't. Maybe Taylor has held himself back -- and not out of fear. Maybe he just became so determined to prove he could pass that he forgot about the attribute that truly sets him apart.

Or maybe it was Taylor's trip to the Manning Passing Academy this past summer, which is operated by a couple of guys -- Peyton and Eli -- who don't exactly encourage tucking the ball and going. They call it a "Passing Academy," after all, not a "Dual-Threat Academy."

Maybe it was the fact that these Tech receivers were older, more experienced, and everyone wanted to make sure they didn't go to waste.

Or maybe it was the fact that they didn't have Sean Glennon here, an ever present reminder that Taylor has a skill that some guys simply don't.

Whatever the reason, Taylor's running ability seemed under-utilized, a gift unwrapped only in emergencies. Taylor scored a rushing touchdown in the 2-minute offense against Georgia Tech and drew effusive praise from Jackets coach Paul Johnson -- a guy who mentors QB Josh Nesbitt, the fourth-ranked rusher in the ACC.

"You can't hem him up," Johnson said of Taylor that night. "I don't know if you can grab him and tag him in a phone booth."

Taylor and the Hokies remembered that Thursday. The junior quarterback scored the only touchdown of the game for either side on a shake-and-bake, 13-yard run in which he juked linebacker Dustin Lineback halfway to paydirt.

Taylor would have notched a second rushing touchdown if he could have held onto the ball a split-second longer early in the second quarter. Instead, he lost the handle inches from the goal line.

Those things sometimes happen. But a lot more good things than bad occur when Taylor runs it. A perfect example: On the first play of the fourth-quarter, Taylor scrambled for a 3-yard gain. No big deal, except the only way the defender could bring him down was by grabbing his facemask.

Boom.

Fifteen yards, the kind of hidden production that helps teams win games.

Taylor's runs also increase the chances for late-hit penalties along the sidelines. Like it or not, officials are more protective of signal-callers than they are of anyone else.

There's no need to protect Taylor anymore, if there ever was one. Many of the season's goals have dissolved, but there are still games left to win.

And Tech has a better shot to do that when No. 5 is on the move.

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