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Taylor's Big Day Passing

Tyrod Taylor has built his career at Virginia Tech on his running ability, yet before the start of this season, he talked about wanting to throw the ball more. On Saturday, Taylor gave his most impressive example of how he has grown as a passer.

With the Hokies defense struggling and their rushing game unable to get going, Taylor led Virginia Tech with his arm and the offense stepped up with two fourth-quarter touchdowns to put away the pesky Blue Devils, 34-26.

Taylor threw for a career-high 327 yards and two touchdowns, completing 17 of 22 passes. He threw strikes down the field, including completions of 62, 37, 36 and 28 yards.

Asked afterward if he surprised himself with his performance, Taylor said: “No, I never surprise myself. I just go out there and play the game. I look forward to games like this.”

But for many other people in Durham, N.C., Taylor’s output was surprising. It was the first time since 2007 that he had thrown for more than 200 yards. And in his three years at Virginia Tech, when the words big game were mentioned in association with Taylor it most often had to do with his productivity on the ground.

Before the Duke game, the Hokies’ rushing offense was humming and Taylor had not been a crisp passer. He did not throw well against ranked opponents Alabama on Sept. 5 or Nebraska on Sept. 19 (until the final touchdown drive, when he won the game with two long passes and his knack for improvising).

Against the Blue Devils, running back Ryan Williams had difficulty gaining positive momentum against a defense that stacked bodies in the box. Virginia Tech rushed for only 150 yards. By taking away the Hokies’ offensive strength, Duke challenged Taylor to beat it with his arm. So he did.

“We said this morning that we’re going to be prepared on first down and second down to play-action and throw the ball down the field, to drop back and spread the field in early downs,” offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring said. “Our quarterback did a fantastic job of finding the receivers, understanding where the coverages where and getting rid of the ball and putting it in a place where receivers were able to go get the ball.”

In the first quarter, Taylor found Danny Coale on a post pattern for Coale’s first career touchdown; Coale had beat the cornerback with a cut toward the middle of the field and Taylor delivered a sharp 36-yard pass. In the second quarter, Taylor threw a jump ball to the 6-foot-2 Jarrett Boykin, who wrestled the ball away from 5-9 cornerback Leon Wright but appeared to land out of bounds before an official review confirmed the touchdown.

But Taylor’s 62-yard completion to Boykin in the third quarter was the highlight of afternoon. On a third-and-34 play, Taylor delivered a dart to Boykin, hitting him in stride as he split two defenders and picked up the big gain. Before the play, though, one of the coaches told Taylor to heave it. The Hokies were on their own 16-yard line, so the deep pass would have effectively served as a punt if it were intercepted.

One of the big differences in the success of the Hokies’ passing offense has stemmed from the Hokies’ coaches moving Taylor around in the backfield. Rather than having Taylor drop straight back, the coaches have moved his launch point with roll-out plays. It has kept balls from being batted – Nebraska’s tackle Ndamukong Suh swatted four passes – and Coach Frank Beamer said it has kept defenses off balance.

Taylor said Saturday’s performance would build confidence in the passing game.

“I think it’s always huge to have a balanced offense,” Taylor said. “If you stop the run, we can beat you in the air. That’s what we had a chance to do today, and we did a good job of it.”

By Mark Viera  |  October 5, 2009; 12:05 PM ET
 
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