Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Dynamic duo: Taylor and Williams spark Va. Tech offense

Tyrod Taylor and Ryan Williams have sparked the Hokies' offense this season.

ATLANTA -- They have their best leader at quarterback since Bryan Randall, their most productive tailback since Kevin Jones.

They have a pair of pro prospects on their offensive line, a go-to receiver headlining their wideouts, a veteran tight end who was named All-ACC.

They've averaged 38.7 points per game in their past three outings -- all blowout victories.

So why do the Virginia Tech Hokies still worry us on offense?

Maybe they don't worry you any more. Perhaps you've seen enough improvement this year to feel good about what you're going to get Thursday night, even against a rugged Southeastern Conference defense orchestrated by one of the legends of the game.

If so, we're glad you're reading this, Mr. Stinespring.

Just kidding. There could be some fans who feel this way, too. And if that's you, congratulations. You've reached the long-awaited Phase 2 of Tech fandom, the place where you're confident the Hokies will swing with both fists when it matters most.

The skeptics among us? We've seen way too many one-armed skirmishes to join you -- yet.

The Hokies can talk all they want about 10 wins and conference pride and all the other motivating factors heading into the Chick-fil-A Bowl. But the biggest thing they need to do is show up on offense in a big game.


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Not only would that increase their chances of winning, but it also would remove the albatross that's hung around this program way too long. It would lend credence to the theory that next year could be special, restoring faith that Tech can get it done in the marquee matchups.

They're not there yet, but that's not to say things haven't gotten better. Before the season, Tech sent out brochures with its season-ticket renewal forms promising that 2009 offense would be "at least as explosive as it was last year." That sounded like a threat more than anything.

You mean you're going to rank at least 105th in yards per game? Promise?

But to their credit, the Hokies have far exceeded that. They've moved up to 55th in the rankings with an average of 388 yards a game, the first time they've been better than 99th since 2005. They're 15th in the nation in rushing, 28th in scoring.

That's real, tangible progress.

"I'm proud of this offense," Tech offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring said Tuesday. "We've faced, I think this is the sixth, maybe seventh, team that is ranked in the top 25 in total defense. We've played good defenses throughout the year, and we've gotten better as the year's gone on.

"If you're better at the end of the year than you were at the beginning, that excites you."

It wasn't hard to be better offensively than the Hokies were the first time they came down here this year, when they managed only 155 total yards in a 34-24 loss to Alabama. Since then, they've established an identity as a run-heavy unit that also can throw when it needs to.

Don't expect the Hokies to stray far from that script, even thought they've had a month to draw up Tennessee-specific schemes.

"You get to the bowl games, there's a fine line," Stinespring said. "What got you to that game? How did you get here? What were the common factors in how you got to this ballgame? Because that's going to carry you."

That's easy to identify. Tailback Ryan Williams has blossomed into one of the best tailbacks in the nation. Something seemed to click with quarterback Tyrod Taylor after that miracle drive against Nebraska. Together, they form the nucleus of a unit that doesn't have any glaring weaknesses.

Unless you count the dubious past -- and it's hard for most of us not to.

Given that, a move to Phase 2 would be most welcome.

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