January 26, 2011
A season in review.
Virginia Tech's steady success through its first six years in the ACC was synonymous with nasty, unflappable defense, and the relationship generally hasn't been subject to the usual cycles of personnel and attrition. Even in a season when defensive coordinator Bud Foster welcomed back fewer than half the number of returning starters (four) as the Hokie offense (nine), the game plan didn't figure to change: The offense would look to pound away between the tackles about two-thirds of the time, confident the defense and special would keep the score within reach. The results of that philosophy – six straight 10-win seasons with three conference championships despite consistently dreadful offenses – speak for themselves.
There was no change in philosophy in 2010 – the Hokies ran on a little over 62 percent of their offensive snaps – or in the results: They won nine straight ACC games en route to the conference title and their third Orange Bowl bid in four years, finishing off the first perfect ACC record since eventual BCS champ Florida State went 8-0 in 1999. Yet again, Tech finished as the highest-ranked team in the conference in the final polls, for the seventh season in a row.
The balance of the latest run, though, was a little off, beginning with the rebuilding defense, by any measure the worst Foster unit since Virginia Tech defected to the ACC in 2004. The Hokies yielded more points (20.6 per game) on more yards (361.5) than at any point since they joined the conference and finished seventh against the run in the ACC alone, its usual perch in the national rankings. Boise State dropped 33 points on Tech to open the season, Stanford unloaded for 40 to close the season, and much of the ACC seemed to find the Hokie D uncharacteristically manageable in between.
In the meantime, the veteran offense was as advertised, in form and function. It remained a run-first affair, as always, with four different players – quarterback Tyrod Taylor and running backs Darren Evans, Ryan Williams and David Wilson – combining for 2,600 yards and 30 touchdowns on almost 40 carries per game, good for the No. 2 ground game in the ACC behind only the triple-option extremists at Georgia Tech. But the attack really blossomed with Taylor's underrated efficiency in the play-action game: He led the conference in passer rating, yards per attempt, yards per completion and completions covering at least 25 yards, cruising to Offensive Player of the Year honors as the captain of the highest-scoring offense in the league.
If that impact can boiled down to two sentences, it's this: Over six years from 2004-09, the Hokies won a grand total of seven games (and lost 15) in which they allowed at least 20 points. In 2010 alone, they won six games when opponents scored twenty. Somehow, Taylor flew under the national for failing to create a singed imprint of Michael Vick's face in the turf on a long, winding touchdown run or something, but he leaves Blacksburg with the five-star hype sufficiently fulfilled.
That leaves a gaping question mark for 2011, considering towering, 6-6/240-pound successor Logan Thomas has barely played and both Evans and Williams are on their way to the draft with two years of eligibility remaining apiece. You can almost hear entire sections of the playbook going back under lock and key from here. If you have to say goodbye to your best offense in a decade, though, at least there's a championship to ease the sting.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.