Saturday, October 06, 2012
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Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Hokies' time of possession has to improve against UNC

This week's Q&A-Mac is brought to you by the least exciting key to the game ever: You're about to read all about it.

Q: Woohoo! So the key to the Virginia Tech-North Carolina game is net punting average?

A: OK, that actually might be less exciting. But no, the key to today's game is time of possession.

Q: Great. Think I'm gonna head on over to the Extra section now ...

A: Wait! Come back! I promise this'll make sense.

Q: All right, I'll bite. Time of possession, eh? Wow, tell me more.

A: Tech ranks 100th in the nation (10th out of 12 ACC teams) in time of possession, holding the ball a little more than 27 minutes per game. That's awful, you guys. It's also not like Tech at all.

The Hokies were third in the country in TOP last year, 18th in 2010. Even in 2008, when they ranked a woeful 103rd in total offense, the Hokies were third in the nation in TOP.

Q: So why is that a big deal? Nobody really wants that 2008 offense back, do they?

A: The point is, that's better than what we're seeing now, because controlling the ball has been part of this team's winning formula forever. This year's Hokies have team-wide problems, and owning time of possession can be attainable a team-wide goal, a significant first step in regaining an identity.

Today, the offense will be successful if it gets better first down production, avoids turnovers and moves the chains early in the game, even if points don't come of the drive. Think of picking up 10 yards as a touchdown, then try to do it again.

Q: Yeah, but UNC just put up 66 points against Idaho last week. Aren't the Hokies going to have to score a bunch to beat the Tar Heels?

A: Maybe. But coach Larry Fedora's up-tempo offense is all the more reason to strive for efficient, methodical drives. The less this thin Tech secondary has to be on the field against that, the better.

Q: If Tech wins time of possession by three minutes and loses the game by 30, will you admit this whole discussion was nonsense?

A: Yes. But that won't happen.

Q: Moving on. Is this the most interesting Virginia-Duke game you can recall?

A: Yep. Not only are the Cavaliers giving Phillip Sims his first career start at quarterback, but Duke is eager to prove its 4-1 record is for real. Should be a good watch.

Q: What would you consider a successful day for Sims?

A: No turnovers. That's it. That's what's been killing the Cavs, and that's what has to stop with the new guy under center.

Q: Your pick for the World Series?

A: I'm going with Oakland in the American League. Love the bullpen, the power, the vibe - all of it. In the National League, I'll take San Francisco.

Q: Another Bay Area Series, eh? Who wins it, and will there be another earthquake?

A: A's win it. No quake, unless you count all those owners who shelled out $100 million-plus on their rosters falling off their chairs simultaneously while watching a team with a $49 million payroll dogpile on the mound.

Q: Comment of the week on the blog?

A: Let's go with Tom L, on the Tech-UNC matchup: "The DBs will be the ones everybody will be watching but the key to Tech's win will be the pass rush. Stopping the run is paramount but the pass rush will be critical.

"The DEs have been missing in action so far and need to step it up. They need to shed blocks, not hand fight the whole play, and get to the QB. Oh, and when they get to him, make the tackle, not run by. The pass rush will be the determining factor in this game."

Q: Wait. What does that have to do with time of possession?

A: Not a ton. But I figured we'd sneak some good football analysis in here, too.

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