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Dec. 5, 2010
By Bill Hass
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – A week before the Dr Pepper ACC Championship football game, Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher was asked if there was a way to contain Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor.
“Can we play 13 (defenders)?” Fisher asked with a chuckle.
Perhaps 15 might have helped. Mixing a few spectacular plays with the poise and savvy of being a senior quarterback, Taylor capped one of his best career performances by leading the Hokies to a 44-33 win over the Seminoles at Bank of America Stadium Saturday night.
The win earned Tech the ACC’s berth in the Discover Orange Bowl.
Taylor, voted the game’s most valuable player, dissected FSU with the skill of a surgeon, throwing for three touchdowns and running for another. Once Virginia Tech got the lead, Taylor helped keep the Seminoles in a position of playing catch-up all night, answering all their scores by leading the Hokies to another.
The game’s most telling statistic was third down conversions. The Hokies converted an astounding 13 of their first 15 chances, most of them because of Taylor’s ability to throw pinpoint passes to the right receiver at the right time.
“The feeling that you have over there on the sideline,” said Tech coach Frank Beamer, “is you feel like he’s going to do the right thing with the ball, he’s going to make good decisions, and this next play may be a big one. That’s a good feeling to have over there.”
Florida State’s defensive plan was to be disciplined, with the linemen and linebackers staying in their gaps to limit Taylor’s scrambling and force him to throw the ball.
“That’s the key to it – don’t get past him, let him come to you,” defensive end Markus White said before the game.
But this isn’t the same Tyrod Taylor that the Seminoles saw when he was a freshman, a quarterback who often left the pocket and made spectacular plays just with his legs. Since then, he has matured into a confident quarterback who stays in the pocket and can beat a team with his arm and his head as well.
Time and again he eluded the FSU pressure, made the right reads and delivered the ball to extend a drive.
“He’s a good, shifty quarterback and the main thing was trying to keep him contained in the pocket,” White said after the game. “When we contained him he made ways to get through lanes in the middle as well as the outside. He kept a cool head; that’s a good thing about that quarterback. They won 10 in a row (actually, it’s 11 straight now) and I see why now.”
The Hokies will go into the Discover Orange Bowl as one of the hottest teams in the country.
“I’m proud of the way we turned things around off an 0-2 start,” Taylor said. “It feels good to go out with a win like this.”
Beamer has said that Taylor isn’t concerned about statistics, only about winning games. But he racked up some impressive stats in this game, completing 18 of 28 passes for 263 yards and the three scores. Those, by the way, gave him 23 for the season, breaking a Tech record. His rushing totals were modest, 24 yards on 11 carries, but he made a couple of key scrambles, including one for a score.
Christian Ponder, Florida State’s starting quarterback, missed the game because of an extremely sore throwing elbow. When blood was drained from it late in the week, Fisher decided not to risk Ponder’s future for the sake of this game.
Backup E.J. Manuel played capably, throwing for 288 yards, but had two interceptions. One was a spectacular play by Hokie linebacker Bruce Taylor, who dove and deflected a pass that went right to teammate Jeron Gouveia-Winslow, who returned it 24 yards for Tech’s first score. The other pick, by Davon Morgan, was on a high pass on a fourth-down play that Manuel said was his fault because he didn’t grip the ball right.
Manuel, who has a fine future, is a sophomore. The experienced Taylor made no such mistakes.
In the first quarter, when he saw that a screen pass to Danny Coale was covered, Taylor changed to a run by tailback Darren Evans, who broke the play for 51 yards and scored from nine yards out on the next play for a 14-3 lead.
In the second quarter, Taylor engineered a 91-yard drive, capped by a 19-yard TD pass to Jarrett Boykin. Taylor avoided a rush by a defensive lineman, rolled to his left and found Boykin on the left side of the end zone for the score. That was on a third-down play.
With the Seminoles having closed to within 21-17 at halftime, Taylor led the Hokies to a score with the opening drive of the second half, hitting a wide-open Coale for a 45-yard score on a crossing pattern. Another third-down conversion.
That was followed by a 67-yard drive marked by two big plays. On one, Taylor made a spectacular scramble of 12 yards, making two defenders miss. He capped the drive with a 21-yard scoring pass by eluding a safety blitz and lofting the ball perfectly to David Wilson out of the backfield. Once again it came on third down.
“I just used my legs to buy a little time to get the ball out of my hands,” Taylor explained in his matter-of-fact way.
Finally, in the fourth quarter, Taylor scored on the ground by rolling to his right, reversing his field, then cutting inside two Seminole defenders and stepping over the goal line on a 5-yard play. Naturally, it was third down.
There was no celebration after that score. He simply tossed the ball to an official in the manner of someone who had done that before.
There wasn’t even a celebration after Taylor kneeled down on the game’s final play. He headed toward the Florida State bench, where the first person he encountered was Fisher. They shook hands and spoke before moving on.
“They did a great job on third-down conversions,” Fisher said, “not only converting them but making big plays. Tyrod did a nice job keeping plays alive in the second half.”
One of the big beneficiaries of Taylor’s ability to read the defense was Coale, who caught six passes for 143 yards. He broke wide open on several plays.
“With those, two people cross and sometimes they can lose you in coverage,” he said. “It confuses them a little bit and they either don’t pass it off or if they do somebody else might come open. When they didn’t pass me off I just found the open part in the zone and luckily for us it happened for us about three times tonight.”
Coale knew when he came open that Taylor would find him.
“He’s not only a tremendous athlete but a great quarterback,” Coale said. “He just might be the best player in the country right now. I’m just glad I have one more game with him.”
So is Beamer, who will coach Taylor one final time in the Discover Orange Bowl.
“I’ve enjoyed a lot of great moments with Tyrod out there,” Beamer said. “He’s meant a lot to Virginia Tech, no question about that.”
And he never meant more than he did Saturday night.
Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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