Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Virginia Tech's Davis has patience rewarded

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Marcus Davis got excited as soon as he heard the call in the huddle. This was his play, the one they'd worked on all week. His chance.

But as he jogged out toward the right sideline to line up as the widest man in the "trips" formation, Davis had to calm himself. This play wouldn't be so much about speed or size or strength -- all those gifts the redshirt sophomore has always had. This would be about trickery and technique -- those things he'd had to learn.

Before he cut inside his man and sprinted up the middle seam, he would need to fool the defender into thinking he was staying put. He would need to sell that he was sitting, then lower his center of gravity, shift his weight quickly and go.

"Usually when you get excited, you get a little energy, you want to move a little faster," Davis said. "But I just told myself, 'Just be patient.' Good things will come to those who are patient."

Davis would know. For three years, he's waited his turn at Virginia Tech. He came to Blacksburg as a quarterback, moved to receiver in the spring of 2008, and has spent most of the time since watching, waiting and working.

Saturday, that all changed. Davis, replacing the injured Dyrell Roberts at wideout, played the most significant snaps of his career in Tech's 26-10 victory over North Carolina. And he made the offense's most significant plays.

Davis caught both of the Hokies' touchdowns. The first one put them ahead. The second one put UNC away. He also made a dazzling 46-yard reception on a quick screen pass, then nearly had another huge gainer on a deep ball down the sideline -- an acrobatic catch that was ruled an incompletion when he dropped the ball after hitting the ground.

In other words, he was everything you could want from a fill-in.

It's fitting that Davis' breakout game came here, at Carolina, where the story all season has been overcoming personnel losses. The Hokies had their own share of attrition this week. In addition to Roberts, they were missing tailback/return man David Wilson (mononucleosis) and defensive end Chris Drager (head injury).

The running game didn't suffer thanks to Darren Evans (90 yards) and Ryan Williams (83). The return game remained in capable hands with Jayron Hosley and Rashad Carmichael. James Gayle stepped in for Drager and promptly recorded two sacks.

But the best next-man-up story was Davis, whose previous highlights had included a garbage-time TD catch against Boston College last season and six grabs late in this year's blowout of Duke.

"I wasn't down because I knew I'd done everything in the preseason and the offseason that I could do," Davis said. "I was playing a lot more than I was last year, so that already was a plus. Not playing? If we're winning, I don't have a problem with that."

But it's always more fun this way, particularly when you get to prove just how hard you've been working.

Davis' first touchdown catch was more about his 6-foot-4 height and 4.4 speed than anything.

"It was actually a miscue on my part, but it all worked out for the best," he said. "I saw Ty scrambling out there so I just tried to go to the open spot. And there it was."

And he did not miss it, turning a 10-9 deficit into a 16-10 lead.

The second score was particularly satisfying for Davis because it took more than just physical tools. Davis learned quickly after switching positions that playing receiver at the college level was an art.

"It's not like high school, where you can just run by somebody or just jump over somebody," he said. "It comes down to the little things -- your cuts, your breaks, the depth of your route."

So that's what he was thinking about late in the third quarter, when he came to the line on that third-and-goal play from the UNC 13.

He sold the sit. He hit the seam. He saw the ball floating toward him as he crossed into the end zone.

Patience had paid off again.

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