Sunday, December 05, 2010

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: When you're patting backs, don't forget Stinespring

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Bryan Stinespring shut all of us up.

Well, maybe not ALL of us. There will still be some out there who will give the credit anywhere but to the man who calls the plays for the Virginia Tech offense.

But the reasonable among us should have no complaints with Blacksburg's most frequent target. Not today, after the Hokies sprinted past Florida State 44-33 in the ACC title game.

Not after Tech rolled up 442 yards (6.2 per snap) in the highest-scoring contest in event history. Not this season, after 11 straight victories -- most of them won more with attacking rather than defending -- netted the Hokies an Orange Bowl berth.

You want to give most of the credit to Tyrod Taylor for that? Go right ahead. The senior quarterback deserves as much credit as he can get.

He was brilliant Saturday night, perhaps the best he's ever been, throwing the ball with confidence, escaping that vaunted FSU pressure like a magician, making this game look so simple.

He's indispensable. Voting for the MVP of this one was easier than those $100 queries on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?"

But the million-dollar question for the Hokies this season wasn't whether Taylor could lead this team like a champion. We knew he could. We'd seen him do it. What we hadn't seen was Stinespring put it all together as the commander of this offense.

With a wealth of talent at his disposal, Stinespring had no excuses this year. He knew that. And after an 0-2 start in which the biggest plays didn't get made, he deserved the heat that came his way.

Now, though? Fair is fair. And the fair thing to do is to point to Stinespring and say: "Fine job."

Tech tight end Andre Smith finished this game covered in end zone paint and grass stains. That didn't come from blocking. That came from diving for passes and getting tackled after catches.

Why is that significant? Because it shows you just how diverse and -- brace for it -- unpredictable Stinespring's offense has become. Yes, he sent those talented tailbacks between the tackles, a Tech staple for the past two decades. Yes, he used the sure hands and speed of Danny Coale, Jarrett Boykin and Marcus Davis on the perimeter.

But Stinespring also targeted the tight end, something he's done all year, something this team didn't always do. He called for flares in the flat to David Wilson -- one of which went for a third-quarter touchdown. He designed plays that left receivers roaming in acres of green space; all Taylor had to do was get it there.

Time after time, Stinespring's play-calling put the Hokies in manageable third-down situations. Tech converted 13 of 18 on third down, including 12 of their first 14. That demoralized a Seminoles defense that entered the game tied for the ACC lead in fewest points allowed per game (17.8).

"It was all about the players on third down," Stinespring said. "All I had to do was send in the plays. They did just a great job executing what I sent in all night."

That's a nice thing to say, what you'd want him to say. But isn't it nice to hear "executing" in this context? Used to be, we didn't hear the Hokies offense say the word "executing" unless it was preceded by "We need to do a better job of ..."

And that's the difference now. You expect this offense to execute, even in the big games. The Hokies finished the regular season averaging 408 yards per game, and it didn't stop Saturday, and we shouldn't expect it to stop against what likely will be Stanford in the Orange Bowl.

As the final seconds ticked off the clock, a smiling Stinespring walked along the sidelines, congratulating his players. He put his arm around Wilson. He gave Smith a high-five. He shook Eric Martin's hand. He patted Darren Evans on the shoulder pads.

No water coolers came. Offensive coordinators don't get water coolers.

But when offensive coordinators succeed, they do get something special all their own, something Stinespring has earned:

Silence. And a nod for a job well done.

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