December 5, 2010
CHARLOTTE, N.C. —
Virginia Tech won its fourth ACC championship with brilliance at quarterback, near-perfection on third downs and resourcefulness on defense.
And no matter your opinion of ACC football, the Hokies' 44-33 thumping of Florida State in Saturday's title game and dominance of the conference since their 2004 arrival are remarkable.
Four ACC championships in seven years: Let's put that in context.
North Carolina State hasn't won the conference since 1979, North Carolina since '80, Duke since '89, Clemson since '91. Maryland has one ACC title in the last 25 years, Georgia Tech one in the last 15, Virginia and Wake Forest two in their histories. Newbies Boston College and Miami haven't scratched.
And this: The Orange Bowl will be Tech's seventh BCS-level postseason game since 1995, when the system was called the Bowl Alliance. That ranks behind only Ohio State, Florida State, Florida, Oklahoma and Southern California.
Of course, those programs boast the national-title pedigree that the Hokies crave and believed they could earn this season before an 0-2 start.
Rather than caving, Tech rallied behind quarterback Tyrod Taylor and has won 11 consecutive games since.
That makes the Hokies the first team in Bowl Subdivision history to follow an 0-2 start with 11 straight victories.
"The two losses at the beginning of the year make these 11 wins and this ACC championship even greater," Hokies coach Frank Beamer said.
As you figured he would, Taylor had moments that verified his ACC Player of the Year honor. Two came on the third-quarter drive that gave the Hokies a commanding 35-17 lead.
First, he eluded a sack of more than 10 yards with stutter-steps that freed him for a 12-yard gain. Then, on third-and-6 from Florida State's 21, he lofted a pass over blitzing safety Nick Moody to David Wilson for a 21-yard touchdown.
Taylor's first-half best was a reverse pivot that caused defensive tackle Everett Dawkins to slip and fall, and bought Taylor the time to find Jarrett Boykin for a 19-yard touchdown pass.
Arm strength, touch, quickness, poise, leadership: What else can you ask from a quarterback?
Like any elite quarterback, Taylor was uncanny on third downs. The Hokies converted their first six of the second half and at one point were an other-worldly 12-of-14.
Third-and-13? Taylor threw a 45-yard touchdown pass to Danny Coale.
Third-and-9? Taylor found Coale for 28 yards.
Third-and-5? Taylor-to-Boykin for 19 yards and a touchdown.
"They were hot," Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said. "We didn't slow them down at all in the second half."
The key to Saturday's contest figured to be how the Hokies protected Taylor. Entering Saturday, the Seminoles led the nation with 43 sacks, and Tech was two weeks removed from allowing a season-high five sacks at Miami.
Moreover, the Hokies' lightest lineman, 275-pound converted tight end Andrew Lanier, was matched against Florida State's fiercest pass rusher, Jenkins. But if given time, Taylor was throwing against a secondary that yielded 394 passing yards to Oklahoma and 439 to North Carolina.
The line gave Taylor time, and sure enough, he passed for 263 yards and three touchdowns, 170 yards after halftime.
"With him in the huddle, he's got so much poise," Coale said of Taylor. "He's never rattled."
Florida State was without starting quarterback Christian Ponder (elbow), and backup E.J. Manuel of Virginia Beach's Bayside High riddled Tech's secondary at times.
But the Hokies intercepted him twice, and linebacker Jeron Gouveia-Winslow returned the first 24 yards for a touchdown after a diving deflection by All-ACC linebacker Bruce Taylor.
Tech's defense also continued to lock down opponents in the second half, limiting Florida State to 62 yards after intermission before a garbage-time drive in the waning seconds.
As Tech heads for the Orange Bowl, most likely against 11-1 Stanford, and eight other ACC teams prepare for likely postseason bids, a fair question is: How good is the league?
Non-conference results were not encouraging. In fact, the most impressive performance may have been Clemson's overtime loss at Auburn in Week 3, when the Tigers twice intercepted presumptive Heisman winner Cam "For Sale" Newton and limited him to 68 yards rushing, more than 40 below his average.
Wins? Maryland and Duke beat Navy, which is 8-3 entering its civil war with Army. North Carolina State won at Central Florida, 10-3 after Saturday's Conference USA title game conquest of Southern Methodist.
Then there's Florida State's 31-7 housing last week of Florida. But the Gators are 7-5, their worst record in Urban Meyer's six seasons as coach.
An uninspiring season for the ACC.
The polar opposite for Virginia Tech.
"I think this is a special group," Beamer said. "One more win in the Orange Bowl, and I'm going to be talking about this team for a long time."
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, and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP.
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