Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Hokies' offense leaves something to be desired

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- Nothing's really changed.

If you're Virginia Tech, that's what you leave here thinking.

Despite the victory, despite the shutout, despite the great field goal kicking and the 66-yard punt and stuff after stuff after stuff by the defense, Tech's weakness is still there.

And its weakness is this offense.

This was the year that was going to be different, right? Huge yardage totals, massive points, fireworks galore. Shoot, these guys all but guaranteed it. Look around, they said. The talent! The experience! The potential!

The same.

The Hokies beat Boston College 19-0 here Saturday. It was a nice win. It evened their record. It gave them a positive start to their ACC schedule.

A lot of guys did some impressive things, particularly on defense. It was good to see Jeron Gouveia-Winslow -- who struggled early this season -- get his first career interception.

It was soothing to see Chris Hazley bang home four field goals, extending his streak to eight in a row. It was encouraging to see Bruce Taylor and Steven Friday (two sacks apiece) continue to progress in that front seven.

So nobody should write this performance off as bad. All in all, it was good. But it could have been great, and it wasn't.

Even coach Frank Beamer admits there's something that lingers in the air, something we've seen before: an inability to maximize offensive opportunities, particularly when given short fields.

Early in the game, the Hokies pushed the ball to the BC 12 on a long pass play, then stalled and kicked. In the third quarter -- in the most egregious example of waste -- back-to-back Eagles turnovers set the Tech offense up at the BC 25 and the BC 31. The Hokies netted just six points.

Later, a Tyrod Taylor connection with Dyrell Roberts and a long David Wilson run set the Hokies up at the BC 21. They ran three plays, gained a handful of yards and sent Hazley on again.

"We need to get seven out of those deals," Beamer said. "We had the momentum and field position in the third quarter, and none of us associated with offense wants to settle for three points."

Maybe someday it will come. Maybe this team will just explode for 600 yards and 60 points against somebody and never look back. The Hokies are averaging 28.5 points and 367 yards per game so far, which will rank them around 70th in the nation in the latter category and roughly 60th in the former.

In recent years, Tech's offense has improved as the season's gone on. Maybe that spike will occur again -- only bigger. Maybe this time, the Hokies will hit a gear not seen since Michael Vick dashed through defenses at the turn of the century.

Maybe hoping for that is like tossing dimes in a wishing well.

If it is, the frustrated players will keep chucking as many coins as they can.

"I think at some point, we're going to get on a roll," said tailback Darren Evans, held to 30 yards on 14 carries. "We'll start scoring a lot of points. We saw it last year. We saw it the year before that. It just takes time.

"I don't know why it is like that; it's just the Virginia Tech offense, I guess."

Evans is on to something with that last line in particular.

Identities die hard. There is an established system here run by long-tenured coaches in Beamer and offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring. The formula for winning 10 games a year -- defense, special teams, field position -- has been in place for years.

But the Hokies will never be truly dominant unless they can consistently add that third dimension. They figured they would do it this year, and so far they've fallen short.

"I kind of thought our offense would be a little bit more high-powered, just with all the weapons that we have," Evans said. "It's tough. The first week it was really tough. ... It's kind of tough to explain what exactly is going on or where we're weak at right now."

Beamer pointed to unproductive first-down plays in the red zone. If it wasn't a penalty, it was a missed block or a play call that got anticipated, chewed up and spit out by BC.

Still, Evans insisted play-calling isn't the main problem.

"You can't really knock that," he said. "There's only so much you can do down there [in the red zone]. You can't really air it out down there because you're only 20 yards from the end zone. Most teams, they know -- I mean, they did good at predicting our runs and stuff. That's what it seemed like to me. They fit gaps pretty well."

The easy thing to do is just throw up your hands and say, "Who really cares?" After all, the Hokies won. They did enough to enjoy a relatively stress-free second half.

But bigger games lie ahead. They always do. If you get content with being good and not great, then nothing really changes.

And nothing ever can.

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