Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Ground game finally takes off for Virginia Tech

BLACKSBURG - If the big men aren't happy, nobody's happy. And the big men at Virginia Tech hadn't been happy all year.

Saturday was the first step in changing that.

Virginia Tech ran the ball in its 37-0 victory over Bowling Green. Not perfectly. Not overwhelmingly. But assertively and effectively - something we hadn't seen in the first three games.

The big men in particular enjoyed the change.

"That's what you live for being a lineman - moving a man from pointA to point B against his will," right tackle Vinston Painter said. "We get our chance to do that in the running game, and we relish it. That's what we enjoy doing the most."

And let's be honest: pistol, spread, quick-pace, single-wing, whatever - it's what the Hokies must do to be successful.

There's a nugget in the weekly Tech media notes that gets updated constantly but never goes away, no matter who the opponent is. Sports information director Bryan Johnston says he's put it in there every week for at least the past five years and probably closer to a decade.

Those of us who've covered the team all that time tend to skim past it, like that billboard committed to memory on your route home from work.

But sometimes we need to pause and look it over, think it over. Repeat it.

Here is the blurb:

Under head coach Frank Beamer (312 games), the -Hokies are 184-34-2 when outrushing their opponents, 26-65 when being outrushed and 1-0 when the rushing total is even.

Make it 185-34-2 now. And it's not so important that the Hokies outrushed Bowling Green; it's that they made it a priority to do so.

The coaches didn't even have to say anything for the players to understand that.

"It's more so a universal feeling around," Painter said. "That's just what we've been. We've always had great running backs come through here. Once we get those guys going, it gets everybody kind of cranked up on offense, and it gives Logan [Thomas] opportunities to play action and do what he needs to do.

"It makes it easier because the defense doesn't know what's going to come next. It just opens a lot more doors for us offensively."

Against Georgia Tech, the Hokies passed more often than they ran. The offense looked sluggish until the final minute.

Against Pittsburgh, the Hokies passed more than they ran - mostly out of necessity after the team fell behind 21-0. The offense looked disjointed and unsure.

The Hokies averaged 5.7 yards on their 43 rushing attempts Saturday, and that takes into account the negative yardage of two Bowling Green sacks. They passed the ball 29 times.

That's a good ratio.

"When you can run the ball, it makes the defense second-guess themselves," Thomas said. "[The linemen] played with a confidence; they played with an attitude. That's what we've wanted them to play with. They were a little bit nasty up there, and that's what we needed."

Who will carry the ball in the future? That's no more clear this weekend than it was last. If anything, it's even more muddled.

Tony Gregory, who appeared to be fading from the four-man rotation, wound up getting more than twice as many carries as any other running back.

He did well. He's back in it.

Michael Holmes (51 yards and a touchdown on four carries), J.C. Coleman (45 on four, plus a scoring catch) and Martin Scales (15 on three, including a touchdown) each did something positive at some point in this one.

Beamer said he'll evaluate the film before setting the rotation for next week.

"They all have a place," he said.

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