IT'S SCARY to think what the Hokies could accomplish if they fielded even a respectable offense. Over the past three seasons they won 31 games and two ACC championships despite having an attack that ranked no better than 99th in the nation. Coach Frank Beamer built one of the most successful Division I-A programs—only Florida, Ohio State and Texas have more wins than Beamer's teams over the last 14 years—around defense: The Hokies' unit ranked among the top seven every season since 2003. Beamerball may be a winner, but that doesn't mean it's pretty, or even fun to watch.
Darren Evans is intent on changing that. The 6-foot 213-pounder rushed for 1,265 yards and 11 touchdowns as a redshirt freshman in 2008. Not bad for a guy who started practice last fall fourth on the depth chart and who only got the starting job in the seventh game by virtue of being one of the last healthy backs. "The more snaps he took, he just became a force," says offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring. "It was exciting to see that light come on for him."
Lining up with junior quarterback Tyrod Taylor (738 rushing yards), Evans will be the centerpiece of what should be a versatile running game—one that should get a boost from redshirt freshman Ryan Williams, a 5'9", 205-pound bolt of lightning who wreaked havoc on the scout team last year. Clearing the way will be an experienced line led by senior left guard Sergio Render and senior left tackle Ed Wang. Says right tackle Blake DeChristopher, who started 11 games as a redshirt freshman last season, "If we do our job, it shouldn't matter who runs the ball."
The big question is whether Taylor, hyped as the next Michael Vick when he arrived in 2007, has developed as a passer. Splitting time with senior Sean Glennon last year, Taylor threw for two TDs and was intercepted seven times. Inexperience at wideout was partly to blame, though freshman starters Jarrett Boykin, Danny Coale and Dyrell Roberts combined for 83 catches.
Still, with a punishing running game and a rock-solid defense, Virginia Tech will be the team to beat in the ACC—and maybe more.
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IF THE LINE PERFORMS, IT WON'T MATTER WHO RUNS THE BALL.
COACH: Frank Beamer (23rd year)
2008 RECORD: 10--4 (5--3 in ACC)
FINAL AP RANKING: 15
RETURNING STARTERS: 15 Offense 8, Defense 7
5 Alabama in Atlanta
3 at Duke
10 Boston College
17 at Georgia Tech
29 North Carolina
5 at East Carolina
14 at Maryland
21 N.C. State
28 at Virginia
A victory in the Georgia Dome against the Crimson Tide would immediately stamp the Hokies as a national championship contender. Alabama has eight starters returning on defense, so points should be at a premium.
Since Frank Beamer took over the program in 1987, the Virginia Tech defense has scored 79 touchdowns while the special teams have chipped in another 41.
BOB DONNAN/US PRESSWIRE
There is no questioning Taylor's running ability, but the career 55.7% passer has to cut down on interceptions.
PHOTOGRAPH BY LEE COLEMAN/ICON SMI
Evans, who didn't become the full-time starter until the seventh game in 2008, ran for more than 100 yards in four of his last six games.