The Road to Jacksonville: A Preview of the Dr Pepper ACC Championship Game
Nov. 28, 2007
By Al Featherston
Saturday's Dr Pepper ACC Football Championship Game will test one of the basic tenets of football math - that one starting quarterback is better than two starting quarterbacks.
In fact, there's an old coaching cliché that goes, "If you have two starting quarterbacks, it means you really have no starting quarterbacks."
Coastal Division champion Virginia Tech (10-2), which surged into the title game behind the play of alternating freshman Tyrod Taylor and red-shirt junior Sean Glennon at quarterback, is trying to prove that coaching maxim wrong. The Hokie duo will have to make its case against Atlantic Division champion Boston College (10-2), which rode the strong right arm of senior quarterback Matt Ryan all the way to Jacksonville.
Ryan is a classic star quarterback - a durable, effective field commander with the knack for making the winning play.
"The mark of a good quarterback is: `Can he win?'" Boston College coach Jeff Jagodzinski said. "Matt has shown that he can do that."
He showed it in the first Boston College-Virginia Tech game on Oct. 25 in Blacksburg, Va. With the Eagles trailing 10-0 and less than five minutes to play, Ryan directed two late touchdown drives, scrambling out of trouble with 11 seconds left to make the 24-yard, game-winning touchdown pass to running back Andre Callender.
"He showed me so much," Virginia Tech linebacker Xavier Adibi said. "I didn't think he was a quarterback who could run, but he ran well enough to buy himself time. He showed great poise and a great arm. He's the heart of that football team."
Ryan will enter the ACC title game on the cusp of some pretty significant records. He has thrown for 3,953 yards in 12 games - just 539 yards shy of the ACC single-season record of 4,491 yards that was set by NC State's Philip Rivers in 2003. With two games left (the match-up in Jacksonville and a bowl game), there's an excellent chance Ryan can claim that record. And with 28 touchdown passes so far, he's within reach of Rivers' single-season ACC record of 34 touchdown passes.
But his impact goes far beyond numbers. His knack for making the winning play under pressure earned the Exton, Pa., product the nickname of "Matty Ice."
"Our mentality on defense is: `Give Matt a chance ... give Matt a chance'," BC free safety Jamie Silva said. "Just having him on the other side of the ball - we have great confidence in him."
But while Ryan tries to claim his place among the pantheon of great ACC quarterbacks, Virginia Tech has found success with a different approach. Hokies' coach Frank Beamer juggles Glennon, a senior with a classic drop-back style, with Taylor, a true freshman with a strong arm and quick feet.
Beamer alternates his two quarterbacks by feel - sometimes series by series ... sometimes swapping them back and fourth on alternate plays.
"What we do is try to get the best out of the two guys' abilities," the Virginia Tech coach explained. "We've got two guys who can win football games. Their abilities are different, but not their abilities to win."
The end result is a quarterback package that makes life miserable for opposing defenses.
"I don't recall playing against a team that had a two quarterback system," Boston College linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar said. "Virginia Tech has two talented quarterbacks. Glennon can really throw it. So can Taylor, but he can also run the ball. They are two dangerous QBs ... we'll just do what we have to do."
Glennon ended the regular season with better passing numbers, throwing for 1,462 yards and eight touchdowns. He completed 62.2 percent of his passes and actually finished with a better passing efficiency rating than Ryan's. Taylor threw well too - 880 yards, a 54.4 percent completion rate and five touchdowns. But his real value has been in his net 395 yards rushing (second only to tailback Branden Ore for the Hokies). He ran for six touchdowns.
"Two quarterbacks give you a problem, especially when they attack you in such different ways," Jagodzinski said. "It's a difficult test for your defense to prepare for two different styles."
The Eagles did not have to deal with the rotating quarterbacks in first meeting in Blacksburg. Taylor was hurt and Glennon went the distance - throwing for 265 yards and two touchdowns. He also scrambled effectively on a wet field.
But Glennon's running ability isn't anything like the chaos that Taylor can bring with his feet.
"Taylor is so creative," Jagodzinski said. "He's like [former Virginia Tech quarterback Michael] Vick (was) in that you see him make plays when plays are not there. And he can still throw the football. He's not just a runner."
So how do you defend him?
"Play 13 on defense and see if you end up getting caught?" Jagodzinski suggested.
The irony is that Beamer didn't intend to play the Hampton, Va., product this season. His prize recruit - from the same Tidewater Virginia region that produced Michael Vick - was rated the No. 7 quarterback prospect in the nation.
"We originally planned to red-shirt Tyrod," Beamer said. "We won 10 games with Sean last year. But we got a couple of guys hurt on the offensive line and decided we needed more mobility at quarterback. Plus, being around Tyrod, we were all impressed with his maturity."
Taylor led the Hokies to three straight wins as a starter, but he was knocked out of his fourth start at Duke.
"When Tyrod was hurt in the Duke game, Sean came in and played great," Beamer said. "Seeing that, our thought process changed and when Tyrod came back, we decided to use both of them."
The Virginia Tech coach admits that he was inspired by Florida's success a year ago, when the Gators won the national championship using a system that rotated passer Chris Leak and runner Tim Tebow.
So far, the unusual rotation has worked as well for the Hokies as it did for the Gators in 2006.
"We are certainly in a better position offensively than the last time (we played Boston College)," Beamer said. "Tyrod, he's a weapon. He can really throw the football and he can get himself out of trouble. You think he's sacked and all of a sudden, he turns it into a five-, six-yard gain. He's just a guy who can make plays. Sean has been in the system four years and with him back there, the ball is usually going to the right place."
Still, the question remains: Can two productive Virginia Tech quarterbacks trump Boston College's single star quarterback?
That's a question that can't be answered until the ACC's two best teams face off Saturday in Jacksonville.