Hokies-Bearcats: Virginia Tech Opens the New Year with an Orange Bowl Victory

Justin CocchiolaCorrespondent IJanuary 2, 2009

Virginia Tech came into this season with reasonable expectations. Many picked them to play Clemson in the ACC Championship, but lose. Well, Tech is one of the youngest teams in the ACC, and after an opening week loss to East Carolina, changes were immediately made.

Tyrod Taylor became the quarterback, a week after Frank Beamer announced he would be redshirted for the 2008 season. Taylor, along with the rest of the Virginia Tech offense, struggled for much of the year. Going into the Orange Bowl, the Hokies had the 110th ranked offense in the nation.

The low point of the season for the offense was against Duke in late November. Tech turned the ball over five times in the first quarter, three of those by Taylor, and Taylor was benched for the remainder of the game. However, the offense played much better the following week against Virginia.

Beating Duke only 14-3, and it would have been 7-3 without a late interception return for a touchdown by Macho Harris, was the wake up call this team needed.

Bryan Stinespring has done a much better job in the last three weeks of calling the offense, and it has allowed Taylor to grow and mature, along with the three other freshman starters on the offense.

Last year, the Hokies finished third in the BCS rankings before heading to Miami for the Orange Bowl, but looked at the Orange Bowl more as a vacation than a football game.  Their lack of preparation showed, as they lost to Kansas, 24-21. This year was a different story.

The ACC had been bashed all year, with people talking about how disappointing the conference has been the last few years. Has ACC football lived up to expectations? No, but Virginia Tech started the conference off on the right foot this year. Entering the Orange Bowl on Thursday night, the ACC was 1-8 in nine BCS games.

After a dominating performance by the Bearcats offense on the opening drive, the Virginia Tech defense settled down. Six plays and 72 yards in the first 1:58 of the game was the stat line for the Cincinnati offense in their opening drive. You could hear Tech fans around the country complaining about what had just happened.

Taylor came out on the Hokies' opening drive looking very sharp and seemed to have a sure touchdown pass to freshman receiver Danny Coale, who seemed to trip up when making the catch. The drive ended with a missed field goal.

After Cincinnati missed a field goal of their own later in the game, Taylor capped off a nine-play, 73-yard scoring drive with a rushing touchdown. Darren Evans took a while to get going, but once he did, he was unstoppable. Evans was named MVP of the game, with 154 yards rushing and one touchdown.

Tony Pike had a good first half, throwing for 198 yards, but he threw for only 41 yards in the second half, with three interceptions. Bud Foster did another amazing job on a team that had multiple weapons on the outside, and a quarterback that came into the game with only seven interceptions.

The story of the game was the success the Virginia Tech offense had. The Hokies ran for 258 yards against the nation's 12th ranked rushing defense and finished with 398 yards of total offense.

Taylor finished the game with 140 passing yards and an interception but also had 47 yards on the ground. Virginia Tech absolutely dominated Cincinnati after their opening drive, and from here things can only go up for the Hokies.

Virginia Tech will come back next year as favorites to win the ACC, and the chance to compete for a national title.  We'll be able to see how legit Virginia Tech is very early next season as their season opener is against Alabama in Atlanta.

If Stinespring can take what he did in the last three games of the season the Virginia Tech offense should improve tremendously. Look for Virginia Tech to be a force in a much stronger ACC next season.