Thursday, August 27, 2009
Virginia Tech receivers expecting more from themselves
By ESPN.com staff
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
If the Virginia Tech wide receivers aren't more productive this fall, it certainly won't be for a lack of effort.
Asked recently what the group did this offseason to make the receiving corps better, redshirt freshman Xavier Boyce didn't hesitate when he said "anything possible."
"Most of the receivers, we all stayed up here the whole summer," said Boyce. "We got better chemistry with the quarterback, with Tyrod [Taylor], ran more routes, lifted weights, stayed in the film room -- everything possible to get this team better."
In a program that consistently reloads at defense, banks on special teams and can somehow afford to lose its leading rusher and still be confident in a talented backfield, the one weak link for the team hoping to contend for a national title has been its passing game. Over the past three seasons, Virginia Tech has ranked no better than 99th in the country in total offense, and last year finished 11th in the ACC in total offense and passing offense. Quarterbacks Tyrod Taylor and Sean Glennon combined to throw five touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
The good news for Virginia Tech fans is that they're not the only ones with raised expectations.
"I'd say we definitely expect more out of ourselves, too," redshirt sophomore Danny Coale said. "There was a lot of growth out of this group this summer, and Tyrod. As a leader he got everybody together in 7-on-7s. I know he was throwing every day. And as a receiving corps, we're more comfortable with each other. We can run a route, go in for a play, talk about what we saw, get on the same page and help each other out. It's fun and it's exciting when you've got a group who's willing to work together like we are."
It wasn't until Nov. 22 last year in a 14-3 home win over Duke that a Virginia Tech receiver caught a touchdown pass, a 19-yard score from Glennon to Jarrett Boykin in the second quarter. The question is, though, does it really matter? Take the ACC championship game against Boston College. The Hokies had 84 passing yards compared to the Eagles' 263 in a 30-12 win. It was the program's third ACC title in five seasons. They did it with the help of two rushing touchdowns by Taylor.
"Let me say this about our offense," Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said last month at the ACC football kickoff. "I think you look at your football team and you do what you need to do to win. I think offensively we've done that. There are kind of some unselfish coaches involved there, too. Sometimes you've got to do what your talent says you can do and play to your strength. ... I think we're in a better position to consistently run the football and consistently throw the football. The big thing is to win football games, and sometimes you have to play to what you've got and I think we've done a great job of doing that."
They have, but they would probably have a better chance of taking it to the next level if the passing game became more of a threat. In 1999, when the Hokies played for the national title, they averaged 197.9 passing yards per game. Last year they averaged 129.1. The 1999 national champion, Florida State, finished 12th in the country that year in passing offense with 302.9 yards per game.
More will be needed from Virginia Tech's passing game since Darren Evans was lost for the season with a torn ACL. While Ryan Williams has the potential for a seamless replacement, he still hasn't made a collegiate carry yet.
"Darren's loss was huge," Coale said. "Everybody's gotta pick up the slack for that, and we're included. We had goals as a unit for ourselves to come out and perform better and with the questions in the backfield we really have to step it up."
Those within the program say Taylor has not only improved as a passer, but he's also become a leader -- a role that has been easier to embrace now that there's no question who the starting quarterback is.
"He really became a leader for us," Boyce said. "I really do look up to him. He's taken charge of the team and practices."
It was only natural that the Hokies struggled last year offensively considering the numerous obstacles they had to overcome, including youth. What many outside Hokie Nation might not realize, though, is that the receivers are still a very young group. There's not a junior or a senior on the preseason two-deep depth chart.
"We put the expectation on ourselves to go out and play well," Coale said. "Age can't be an excuse for us. We have a year under our belt. We're trying to be not a year older, but a year better."