|ESPN.com: NCF Nation||[Print without images]|
MIAMI -- The two offensive stars in Virginia Tech's first FedEx Orange Bowl win never figured to play such prominent roles on the team this season.
|Mark Zerof/US Presswire|
|Virginia Tech running back Darren Evans had 28 carries for 153 yards and a touchdown in the Hokies' 20-7 win over Cincinnati.|
Sophomore quarterback Tyrod Taylor was slated to redshirt before he became the starter in the third week of the season. Redshirt freshman Darren Evans never expected to be the main ball carrier and probably wouldn't have if Kenny Lewis didn't suffer a season-ending injury.
Fate works in funny ways. Taylor softened the Cincinnati offense up with his scrambling and passing skills in the first half, and Evans bulldozed his way game MVP honors in the second half, when he rushed for 101 of his 153 yards.
The two have suddenly made the perennially low-scoring Hokies look like a menacing offense. The team scored 30 in the ACC title game against Boston College and rolled up 398 yards over a veteran Cincinnati defense in Thursday night's 20-7 win.
"We couldn't listen to what other people were saying when they said we couldn't move the ball or that we had no passing game," Evans said. "We just had to go out and do what got us here and play with a lot of intensity."
Cincinnati was a team that had contained mobile quarterbacks Pat White and Matt Grothe in the Big East this season. But Taylor befuddled the Bearcats much of the first half with his speed and ability to keep his eyes upfield. He completed 11 of 16 passes for 125 yards in the half and juked out two defenders on his way to a 17-yard second quarter touchdown run.
"He's very elusive," Cincinnati defensive tackle Terrill Byrd said. "He's going to be a very good quarterback in the near future. He did a good job tonight doing what he does best."
Taylor got thrown into the fire as a freshman when he replaced struggling starter Sean Glennon. His passing skills still needed a lot of work, though, so the Hokies' coaching staff planned on giving him this year on the sidelines to improve. Instead, after Glennon was ineffective early, Taylor came back into the starting unit. Taylor had his own problems and missed time with an ankle injury, but he rebounded to win ACC title game MVP honors.
"It was unfortunate that things happened at the beginning of the year to take his redshirt off him," tight end Greg Boone said. "But I think we rallied around him as a team and kept this thing moving forward."
Leading 10-7 at halftime, the Hokies turned to what they traditionally do best to open the second half: pound the ball. That meant handing the ball 18 times to the 6-foot, 210-pound Evans, who plowed through gaping holes created by the offensive line. Virginia Tech had the ball almost the entire third quarter and won the time-of-possession battle by more than 19 minutes.
Evans ran for 1,112 yards and 10 touchdowns this season after coming in with modest goals.
"We had a lot of talent, so I thought the ball would be spread out a lot more," he said. "I thank the coaches a lot, because they put a lot of confidence in me, keeping me out there the whole season like that. They could have easily been switching and rotating running backs in, and I appreciate that."
Said Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer: "To me he played faster as the year went along, and I think that came with confidence and getting more carries from that tailback position. And I thought here at the end, he really played fast.
"I like big old guys that run fast, too."
The Hokies' offense won't ever be confused for Florida or Oklahoma, who will take this same Dolphin Stadium field a week from now. Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly said his senior-laden defense, which was one of the best in the Big East all season, didn't play bring its usual effort to the postseason.
"They didn't score 50 points against us; it was 20 to 7," Kelly said. "We had hats in position that normally make plays. If we're playing Pat White and West Virginia ... we would have given up 250 yards to their run game. We just didn't tackle the way we needed to."
Still, it's hard not to be impressed with how far the Virginia Tech offense has come this season -- and how much better it can be in the future.
Along with the Taylor and Evans, the Hokies' top three wide receivers in the Orange Bowl were freshmen, plus Evans' top backup, Josh Oglesby. The entire starting offensive line from Thursday night returns in 2009, including freshman guard Jaymes Brooks, who played admirably while replacing academically-ineligible senior Nick Marshman.
"There are no guarantees in this business -- you've got to get down to it," Beamer said. "But I do feel like we've got a lot of good players in our program and a lot of them are young, and a lot of them have got more time at Virginia Tech."
And when next season starts, no one will be surprised to see Taylor and Evans as the Hokies' two most prominent offensive stars.