October 4, 2009
Virginia Tech concocted a foolproof recipe for defeat Saturday at Duke.
The Hokies committed 12 penalties, many of the brain-cramp variety, for 105 yards.
They yielded pass completions of 26, 48, 55 and 74 yards.
They got snookered by a fake punt.
They allowed their heretofore comet of a tailback to be tackled behind the line six times.
They lost the turnover battle.
But they won.
They melted cheddar on a beef patty and didn't get a cheeseburger. They mixed OJ and Stoli and didn't get a screwdriver.
The can't-exhale-until-the-end final at Wallace Wade Stadium was 34-26, and for that Tech must thank quarterback Tyrod Taylor, his suddenly resurgent receivers and two outrageous plays by defensive end Jason Worilds.
"We've got to be better than that," coach Frank Beamer said, his tone more relieved than angry.
Indeed, one week after a breakout rout of Miami, the sixth-ranked Hokies (4-1, 2-0 ACC) struggled against a program that's won four ACC games this decade, an annual opponent they had limited to 34 points in the last five years combined, a team that hasn't beaten a top-10 foe since 1989.
This marks the second consecutive season the Blue Devils (2-3, 0-1) have given Tech fits, and without question they are on the uptick under coach David Cutcliffe. Moreover, Cutcliffe and his staff devised a sage game plan that dared the Hokies to throw and exposed some of their warts at linebacker and defensive back.
Taylor made them pay. He threw for two touchdowns and a career-best 327 yards, his first game of more than 200 yards since 2007. He completed 17 of 22 passes without an interception, and on the few occasions his aim wasn't precise, he gave his receivers a chance to make a play.
And that they did, none more spectacular than Jarrett Boykin outmuscling cornerback Leon Wright in the end zone for a 28-yard, second-quarter touchdown. Boykin appeared to be out-of-bounds as he ripped the ball away from Wright, but replay official Joe Rider confirmed the call on the field.
Correct decision or not, the overriding point is that the Hokies continue to diversify what seemed a hopelessly stagnant offense.
Take Taylor's 62-yard connection with Boykin on a third-quarter third-and-34. Coordinator Bryan Stinespring usually white-flags such predicaments with a draw play. Saturday he let Taylor fling it deep.
"We can do that week in and week out," said Boykin, whose lost fumble was the game's lone turnover. "It's there all day every game."
Once Taylor established his passing chops, Duke's defense backed off, creating running space for Ryan Williams and Josh Oglesby. Williams was stopped for negative yards six times, double his total from the opening four games, but he rumbled for 55 yards in the final quarter.
While the offense encouraged, however, the defense alarmed. Duke netted 397 yards, the second-most Tech has allowed a conference opponent in five-plus years of ACC membership.
"It seemed like we kept getting them in third-and-long and they kept hitting big plays," said linebacker Cody Grimm, visibly exhausted after a career-high, 14-tackle afternoon in the 80-degree heat. "We've got to clean it up."
Coordinator Bud Foster guaranteed they would.
"We're going to be a good defense before it's all said and done," Foster said. "I want everybody to understand that."
If so, Foster needs to have more guys perform like Worilds, who arguably spared the Hokies eight points — the difference between two field goals and two touchdowns.
Worilds' first save came early in third quarter when he chased down Conner Vernon on a simple slant route that missed tackles turned into a 74-yard gain. His pursuit slowed Vernon enough for Kam Chancellor to make the tackle at the 7-yard line, after which the Blue Devils stalled and settled for a field goal.
"I was 100 miles an hour after him and fortunately I caught him," Worilds said.
In the fourth quarter, Worilds found himself in man-to-man coverage against tight end Brett Huffman, breaking up what would have been a 19-yard touchdown pass from Thaddeus Lewis. Again, Duke kicked a field goal.
"It goes to show what kind of dynamic player he is," Foster said of Worilds. "He's just a phenomenal player."
That Virginia Tech required such to dispatch Duke was surprising. That Worilds, Taylor and precious few others summoned the quality performances to avoid defeat was commendable.
"We won," Grimm said. "That's the only stat that matters."
David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at email@example.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime.
Next gameWHO: Boston College (4-1, 2-1) at No. 6 Virginia Tech (4-1, 2-0).
WHEN: Noon Saturday.
TV: Raycom 27 35.
More on Page 4• Sophomore Andrew Lanier makes first start at right tackle.