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Posted at 12:17 PM ET, 12/14/2010

Adjustments spur Stinespring, Hokies offense to a memorable year

By Mark Giannotto

It was the first topic of discussion Virginia Tech offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring faced when he took the podium last week for his pre-bowl press conference with reporters, and after years of scrutiny from fans and reporters alike, it was surely a nice change of pace.

Statistically, this is the best offense Stinespring has led in his 10 years as offensive coordinator. The Hokies led the ACC in scoring (35.5 points/game) and red zone efficiency, finished second in rushing behind only Georgia Tech (208.8 yards/game), and third in total offense (411.1 yards/game). In Virginia Tech's final nine games, the offense averaged 38.67 points, 221.67 rushing yards and 430.78 total yards.

So the question for Stinespring was: Statistics aside, is this actually the best offense he's ever coordinated?

“Well we’ll reserve final judgment on that til after the Orange Bowl," Stinespring said. "But going into this game, I think this offense has been exactly what you’re looking for. It’s been able to run the ball. It’s been able to throw the ball. It’s created big plays. It’s created lengthy drives. We’ve been able to drive the ball eight or nine plays and also have a quick strike mentality and take care of the football. ... I think it certainly deserves the attention and the discussion from that standpoint. But we’ll wait and see, we wanna make sure we finish this thing right down in Miami.”

Whatever the case may be, this has been a banner year for Stinespring in terms of getting the critics off his back. As was the case a year ago, the Hokies hit their stride down the stretch. They averaged fewer than 5.9 yards per play in only one of their final nine games.

Maybe the best way to understand just how impressive this offense has been is to take a look at the running game compared to last year. You'll remember the Hokies' offensive line simply dominated opponents towards the end of the season and then-freshman Ryan Williams set an ACC record by gaining 1,655 yards. This year, despite replacing two starters on the line and losing Williams for four games, Virginia Tech's top four rushers (Darren Evans, Tyrod Taylor, David Wilson and Williams) actually gained more yards per carry (5.23) than the Hokies' top four rushers in 2009 (Williams, Taylor, Josh Oglesby and Wilson).

But with all the success lately, it's easy to forget that the "Fire Stinespring" grumblings surfaced again when Virginia Tech opened the season 0-2. The calls for his job only grew after the Hokies' offense produced just one touchdown in a 19-0 win over Boston College, a game in which Virginia Tech settled for four field goals despite forcing three Eagles turnovers and averaged just 2.65 yards per carry on the ground.

That game in particular forced Stinespring to make some changes, most notably with his own philosophy. He said last week that all the preseason expectations heaped on the offense had taken a toll on everyone, players and coaches included.

"I think after the first couple of games – even the first game – sometimes we have so much weight on our shoulders," Stinespring said. "We don’t show it. Our players try not to show it. We kind of feel like we’re going on to the next one, kind of like these little ducks out here on Newman Pond. On top of the water, it looks all nice and tranquil, but underneath they’re paddling like crazy. ...

"There was a little aspect of the game that we were missing. We needed to go out and have a little fun. That’s the reason we got into this game. That’s the reason we played when we were little and that’s the reason we still play today. ... So we engineered a few things within the offense scope, play calling or some plays that you’re gonna ask them to have a little fun out there. Relax and enjoy the moment, and I think you gotta try to incorporate a little bit of that to try to get us into that mode."

To accomplish this, Stinespring did things like call reverses to his wide receivers, allow Taylor to run the option more, and use Wilson more in the passing game. In general, though, it just seemed as if Stinespring finally put his foot on the gas pedal so to speak, making aggressive play calls that took advantage of all the skill position talent he had at his disposal.

"It seems like you’re inventing the wheel, and all it is, is a little adjustment here or there," Stinespring said.

Stinespring's adjustments seemed to be especially effective in the red zone. After scoring just nine touchdown on their first 18 trips to the red zone this year (four games), the Hokies scored touchdowns on 30 of their final 42 red zone opportunities.

Not to mention, some of the Hokies most memorable plays of the season -- like when Stinespring split left tackle Andrew Lanier out as a wide receiver against North Carolina State on a touchdown pass to tight end Andre Smith to give Virginia Tech its first lead of the game or the play call against Central Michigan, where back-up quarterback Logan Thomas lined up as a wide receiver and caught a fade route for a touchdown from Taylor -- came in the red zone.

It's easy to see then that regardless of the slow start to the season, this offense has lived up to most of its preseason billing. And though he's tried to ignore the criticism over the years, Stinespring is savoring every moment of what will likely go down as one of the best offenses in school history.

"Some times I’m a little smarter than others, but every time you get a chance to step on a field with your football team, you’re living a dream," Stinespring said. "I’ve stepped out on that stadium many times this year, and somebody will walk up and say ‘What are you doing?’ I just say, ‘Just looking around.’ Just looking around because it’s a dream. So when you live a dream, every day is a good day. Some days are better than others, but every day is a good day.”

By Mark Giannotto  | December 14, 2010; 12:17 PM ET
 
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