Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Boykin grants Taylor comfort

BLACKSBURG -- Originally, Tyrod Taylor planned to throw to tight end Andre Smith over the middle.

Then he saw flanker Danny Coale zipping across the field. Another option for the Virginia Tech quarterback.

But when trouble arrived at that moment, when defenders collapsed on him and began dragging him to the ground Saturday, Taylor did what he often does: He found Jarrett Boykin.

The 17-yard, first-quarter completion from Taylor to Boykin was merely one highlight in Tech's 38-10 victory over N.C. State, but it said so much about how valuable the sophomore split end has become. Boykin is a safety net and a big-play threat, a possession receiver and a high-wire performer, a comforting presence in almost any situation.

Facing third-and-a-mile? Find Boykin.

Need a quick score? Find Boykin.

Falling backward in the arms of a defender? Find Boykin.

"He has a knack for getting to the ball," Taylor said. "Anything I put around him, he's going to pretty much catch. That's in practice and in games.

"He's just a great receiver to have on your team."

Boykin made six catches for a career-high 164 yards Saturday, the kind of performance that just doesn't happen in Blacksburg. The Hokies have been and will continue to be a run-first program, but Boykin's emergence this season -- combined with his youth -- bodes well for a more balanced attack in the future.

Boykin's big day pushed him over the 700-yard mark for the season. That might not sound like much considering the NCAA leader, Greg Salas of Hawaii, had nearly double that total coming into this weekend. But around here, that's rarer than a healthy meal at Hardee's.

Only eight players in Tech football history have eclipsed 700 receiving yards. None had done it since Ernest Wilford in 2003.

You may recall that some pretty outstanding receiving talents have come through the program since. Nothing is more bittersweet for a Tech fan than seeing Eddie Royal, Josh Morgan or David Clowney make a huge play as a receiver in the NFL, where they all currently earn paychecks.

Sure, it's great to see them succeed, but why didn't we see the Hokies take better advantage of that ability when they were here?

Tech's argument then was that there simply weren't enough footballs to go around to get all of them big numbers. And maybe there's something to that. But there's also something to be said for identifying the most productive member of the corps, then utilizing his talents again and again.

That's what the Hokies are doing with Boykin. He's part of a solid, young collection of Tech receivers -- Coale, Dyrell Roberts, Marcus Davis and Xavier Boyce all have skills, and none is an upperclassmen -- but he's still managed to separate himself.

Taylor-Boykin connections accounted for 83 percent of Tech's passing offense Saturday. Several of those catches dazzled, like the diving snare he made in the end zone for Tech's final touchdown.

Or the 48-yard pass he hauled in on third-and-18, setting up a Ryan Williams scoring run.

Or the 35-yard grab in the third quarter, where he twisted his body midstride like a Claymation character.

"I thought he made a couple great adjustments to the ball and got those big claws up there and grabbed it and came down with it," Tech coach Frank Beamer said. "He had big plays in the ballgame. Huge plays. ... He's very, very dependable."

That's the word Taylor used, too: Dependable. But Boykin is also 6-foot-2, 215 pounds with giant hands, good speed and supreme body control. In other words, he's an NFL scout's dream.

That doesn't mean there aren't other good options at Tech. After all, Coale and Roberts were the targets on that miracle drive against Nebraska earlier this year. Taylor will continue to look for them like he did on that first-quarter progression Saturday.

But just like then, Boykin will never be far from his mind.

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