By Bill Roth
When the final Associated Press college football poll is released, Virginia Tech figures to be ranked somewhere in the top 10. And when the 2010 preseason poll is released, the Hokies figure to be there as well.
Such is the reward for soundly beating an SEC team in prime time, as Tech did on New Year’s Eve when it toppled Tennessee 37-14. Never mind that the Vols, like half of the SEC, finished 7-5. Put a whipping on an SEC team, especially one of the league’s traditional powers, and the voters notice.
And with 13 starters expected to return, including the big guns that provide the major firepower on offense, the 2010 Hokies figure to start somewhere near, or in, the top 10 again this fall. Keep in mind that two of the Hokies’ Coastal Division rivals, Georgia Tech and Miami, will return substantially more players than the Hokies in 2010, so don’t be shocked if all three teams are ranked in the top 15 in the preseason.
In their final five games of 2009, Virginia Tech’s offense averaged 436 yards per game. That number includes 438 yards in the Chick-fil-A Bowl against a Tennessee defense that was among the nation’s best. Those are really impressive numbers for any team, but eye-popping for the Hokies, who have been waiting for their offense to jell for quite a while.
Tailback Ryan Williams rushed for 100-plus yards in each of the final five games, and finished the season with 1,655 yards, breaking Kevin Jones’ single-season record. He had 10 100-plus yard games for the season, which is also a school record. Williams, Josh Oglesby, David Wilson and Darren Evans – Tech’s 2008 record-smashing back – will make for quite an impressive backfield quartet next fall.
Tyrod Taylor returns at quarterback, of course. Taylor threw for 2,311 yards and 13 touchdowns this past season. He was intercepted just five times and showed his poise and leadership skills throughout the season. This, of course, followed a sophomore campaign in which he threw seven touchdowns and 10 interceptions. That’s quite an improvement. In fact, Tech averaged 9.6 yards per pass this season, a new school record.
Receiver Jarrett Boykin turned into a true deep-threat target for Taylor. Boykin had 835 yards for the season, which was the fourth-best season in school history. Boykin leads a tremendous group of returnees at receiver. In fact, eight of the Hokies’ top nine pass catchers will return in 2010.
On the defensive side of the ball, Tech is truly coming off of one of its most remarkable season-ending performances. Opposing offenses did not score a single second-half point against Tech in the Hokies’ final five games – 30 offensive possessions, zero points.
That’s simply incredible – 30 possessions without even a field goal? Cross-sport metaphor time: Tech’s 2009 defense put up late-inning “goose eggs” like Mariano Rivera.
“Once we get a handle on what the other team is doing and we get a feel for their play-calling, we feel like we can make the right adjustments,” defensive coordinator Bud Foster said following the win over Tennessee.
Tech held its final five foes to under 300 yards and was amazing against a high-powered Tennessee offense. Tech allowed just five yards rushing against the Vols. And with six sacks, the Hokies turned Vols quarterback Jonathon Crompton into a human piñata.
Now Tech will have some huge holes to fill when spring practice begins. On defense, Tech loses Cody Grimm, Kam Chancellor, Stephan Virgil, Cordarrow Thompson and Nekos Brown. On offense, the departed include linemen Sergio Render and Ed Wang, plus tight end Greg Boone and fullback Kenny Jefferson. Beamer’s team will also have to replace both kicker Matt Waldron and punter Brent Bowden, who were both first-team All-ACC picks.
Those personnel losses are probably reason enough for Georgia Tech fans to pencil their squad as the team-to-beat in the ACC next year. The Jackets could return 20 starters. But they’ve got to come to Blacksburg, and that match-up has a chance to be one of the real marquee games of the 2010 season in the ACC.
This 2009 season was one of the most memorable in school history and the players on this team deserve a lot of credit for battling back and finishing on such a strong note.
Some other thoughts:
Offensive play of the year: Tyrod Taylor’s 81-yard pass to Danny Coale in the final minute of the Hokies’ game with Nebraska. The Hokies trailed 15-10 in the final minute before Taylor’s bomb down the right sideline put Tech in position to score. Taylor’s game-winning pass to Dyrell Roberts created one of the most dramatic finishes in Lane Stadium history. Ryan Williams’ touchdown run against N.C. State, dragging a Wolfpack player with him, finishes a close second.
Defensive play of the year: Grimm forced three fumbles in four plays against N.C. State, which, while technically not a ‘single play,’ is an amazing feat. It tied an NCAA record for forced fumbles in a single game. There were so many really remarkable defensive plays, sacks and interceptions that it’s hard to pick one. Grimm’s strip of a Miami receiver in the back of the end zone, and Jason Worilds’ strip of a Duke receiver, also in the end zone, are among the other memorable singular plays.
Special teams play of the year: Jacob Sykes’ blocked a Miami punt that Matt Reidy picked up on the 1-yard line and returned for a touchdown in the Hokies’ 31-7 win over the ‘Canes. Dyrell Roberts’ touchdown return against Alabama is a close second.
Offensive player of the year: Williams. Tech’s remarkable tailback shattered all the Tech and ACC freshman records. He also set a school record for touchdowns and rushing yards.
Defensive player of the year: Grimm. From walk-on to All-American. This kid had more fun playing football at Tech than any kid I can remember. “He’s a pain in my &*^,” Tennessee offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said. The new poster child for the walk-on program at Tech.
Special teams players of the year: Bowden and Waldron share the honor in a close edge over Jayron Hosley and Roberts. Bowden and Waldron were both first-team All-ACC performers.
Coaching moves of the year: Linebacker Lyndell Gibson moving into the starting lineup for the East Carolina game. The redshirt freshman from Virginia Beach took advantage of his opportunity in Greenville and beyond, and came through in a big way. He was really good in the bowl game against Tennessee, too. Bryan Stinespring’s ‘window dressing’ against Tennessee. The Hokies had a ton of new looks to their offense, with players going in motion and lining up in new spots, but essentially ran the same plays they had all year.
Best performance by an opposing player: Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh was the most dominating defensive tackle Tech has seen since Miami’s Warren Sapp, and the Hokies faced him twice. In the 2008 game in Lincoln, Suh was running sideline to sideline and making plays, so we had a hunch of what the guy would be like as a senior. Wow. What a player! In the 2009 game in Blacksburg, he stayed more at home and was batting down passes like he was spiking a beach volleyball. He was named the AP college football player of the year, and should have a terrific NFL career starting next fall. Mark Ingram won the Heisman Trophy, and the Alabama tailback did rush for 150 yards against the Hokies, so he got serious consideration here. Same for Georgia Tech quarterback Josh Nesbitt, who rushed for 122 yards and three touchdowns against the Hokies.
Best Band (other than the MV’s): Alabama. Rammer Jammer, Yellow Hammer.
I have a 'Bama co-worker who agrees that Ryan Williams is every bit as good as Mark Ingram. They are remarkably similar in every respect: age (same recruiting class), size, build, running style, strength, determination, durability, speed – you name it. Where it really gets interesting is in comparing their statistics. Ingram has four more yards on the season than Williams in one more game and about 30 fewer carries for a half-yard/carry better avg. But 0.5 yards, when you're putting up the kind of numbers these guys are (6.2 vs. 5.7) is a marginal difference (< 9%).
The only distinguishing statistic between them that stands out is Ingram’s 246 yards (on 24 carries vs. USC). RW didn't have a game like that, but he did have more 150-plus yard games (5 vs. 3) and more (by rush) TD's (19 vs. 15). Ingram had 30 pass receptions for 347 yards and three touchdowns vs. 14 for 180 yards and one touchdown. In the aggregate, very, very similar stats.
However, Ingram played as a true freshmen, and if we compare his first-year numbers vs. Williams’, there's no discussion. In retrospect, it's clear that the coaches made the right call to redshirt Williams last year on account of his struggles picking up blocking schemes in the passing game (or when he wasn't toting the rock). He's emerged as a complete player in just his first season of play. As my friend says, a rock star.
Larry Cherney, Annandale, Va.
Interesting note. Tech running back coach Billy Hite says Williams is the best running back he’s ever coached, and the kid put up amazing numbers this season. He did it with both power and speed, just like Ingram. It’s a very valid comparison.
I look forward to reading the Roth Kroger Report Mail Bag every time it is published on the hokiesports.com Web page. Your articles and questions are always interesting and informative. One quick question concerning the VT football program. I think Tyrod is coming along nicely as a quarterback, but with him being a rising senior, I am concerned that the cupboard may be bare when he leaves. Can you give us some insight to his backups and their abilities? Thanks Jim Schollhammer from cold Crystal Lake, Ill.
Thanks for your note. Tyrod will return this fall for his senior season, of course, and in the spring, we’ll have an idea of his backups. Ju-Ju Clayton will be a redshirt sophomore, and Logan Thomas will be redshirt freshman. In addition, the Hokies have verbal commitments from two highly regarded high school quarterbacks. Quarterbacks coach Mike O’Cain finally has what he wanted all along, a tiered system of quarterbacks. If all goes according to form, he’ll have one player in his fourth year (Taylor), one in his third (Clayton), one in his second (Thomas), and two in their first years. O’Cain likes the quarterbacks to serve as mentors to each other and having at least one in each class has been one of Tech’s goals.
Do you think the hoops squad has the same panache to get some big wins versus the blue bloods of the ACC (Carolina and Duke)? Is Coach Greenberg ready to take the guys to their highest level? It’s exciting! Stuart Lyon, Harvey, Ill.
I’m sure Coach Greenberg is ready, but the Hokies probably need a few more horses to consistently run with Duke and UNC year-in and year-out. But the progress the program is making certainly is exciting; you’re right.
What a weekend! The Hokies beat the Vols in football and then an amazing win over Seton Hall in Mexico! Dorenzo Hudson with 41? As Dickey V would say “ARE YOU SERIOUS?” I don’t recall a guy EVER at Tech who averages less than 10 points per game scoring 41 HUGE points to help the Hokies win. Hope he can keep it going because we need Hudson’s scoring. Also, when will the 2010 football schedule be out? Scott Redding, Temicula, Calf.
Hudson was just the ninth player in school history to score 40 or more points in a single game. The others: Allan Bristow (52 vs. GW in 1973), Bimbo Coles (four times), Bob Ayersman, Bill Mathews, Chris Smith, Dell Curry, Dave Kuhn and Loyd King. We hope ‘Zo can keep it going, too. The exact schedule for 2010 won’t be set until the league finalizes the 2010 TV dates, so be patient with that. The Hokies will play seven home games: Georgia Tech, Virginia, Duke, Wake Forest, Central Michigan, East Carolina and James Madison and a neutral site game against Boise State at FedEx Field. The four road games are UNC, Miami, BC and N.C. State.