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October 8, 2008

Five straight wins leaves Hokies in prime position heading into second half of '08

By: Jimmy Robertson

Darren Evans scored two touchdowns in Tech's 35-30 win at Nebraska.

Like most Tech football fans, Tyrod Taylor glanced at the Hokies’ 2008 football schedule before the season even kicked off.
Unlike most, he fully expected his team to be unbeaten at this point in the season.

“I thought we’d be 6-0,” he said matter-of-factly. “I never think negatively. I’m always a positive guy.”

The Hokies aren’t quite 6-0, but at the halfway point of the season, they’re not far from it either. Following an excruciating loss to East Carolina in the season opener, Tech has ripped off five straight wins, the latest coming on Homecoming when the Hokies lethargically won 27-13 over Western Kentucky University to move to 5-1 on the season.

This probably wasn’t expected, particularly after watching that ECU game. Tech’s staff went into this season expecting to battle inexperience, but then they realized they needed to change plans at quarterback, scrapping Taylor’s redshirt plans in favor of his play-making ability.

They’ve also dealt with a rash of season-ending injuries. Tech lost Davon Morgan (knee) for the year in a win at Nebraska and then Kenny Lewis, Jr., blew out his Achilles tendon against WKU, putting an end to his season. Back-up fullback and key special teams cog Kenny Younger (knee) and expected starting receiver Brandon Dillard (Achilles) went down as well.

Then there’s the schedule. Tech finds itself in the midst of playing four road contests in five games. The Hokies have won the first two of those four.

“If you gave me a choice of 5-1 after our first six games, I would have taken that in a heartbeat, just with how young we are,” Beamer said. “It’s a hard schedule, too. Being 5-1 sounds pretty good, but we still have our work cut out for us.”

“I think we’ve done a good job of turning the season around,” tailback Darren Evans said. “A bunch of people probably thought this was going to be one of those down-the-drain seasons, but we proved some people wrong. We’ve been playing well.”

The Hokies still have much improving to do. After tallying 35 points and 377 yards against Nebraska, they only mustered 27 and 293 against WKU, playing in its second season as a Division I-A team. They got in the red zone six times, but only scored two touchdowns. Defensively, they’ve been solid, but prone to some big plays – 20 of 20 yards or more in the past four games.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do in all phases of the game,” end Orion Martin admitted.

Tech gets two weeks to work on some things before heading to Chestnut Hill, Mass., to take on BC in a pivotal game. The extra week also gives the Hokies some time to rest and to heal.

But to be 5-1 at the halfway point – could Tech fans have asked for much more?

“I don’t think so,” Martin said. “We’ve got a young team. We had to replace a great senior class. We wish we could be undefeated, but to be 5-1 going into the off week, we’ll take that. We’ll try to improve and get ready for the rest of the ACC.”

Tech 27, WKU 13 Oct. 4, 2008
Blacksburg, Va.
Evans and place-kicker Dustin Keys each extended their respective scoring streaks in leading Tech to the victory.
Evans, who tallied 79 yards on 21 carries, rushed for a pair of touchdowns to increase his season total to eight. Keys nailed both of his field-goal tries and has made 11 in a row dating back to a miss in the first game of the year.
Other notes:

  • Taylor threw a TD pass to Boone, his first TD pass of the season. It marked Boone’s first touchdown reception of this season and just the second of his career.
  • Tech cornerback Macho Harris recorded his 12th career interception and picked off a pass for the third straight game.
Tech 35, Nebraska 30 Sept. 27, 2008
Lincoln, Neb.
The Hokies used a balanced attack, racking up season highs in points (35) and yardage (377) en route to a 35-30 upset of Nebraska in front of 85,831 fans at Memorial Stadium – the largest crowd in stadium history.
Taylor completed 9-of-15 for 171 yards. On the ground, Tech got 87 yards rushing from Taylor and 72 from Evans, who scored twice.
Other notes:

  • Nebraska lost for just the fourth time at home in a night game, falling to 26-4. The other opponents to beat the Cornhuskers – No. 4 Washington in 1991, No. 7 Texas in 2002 and No. 1 Southern Cal in 2007.
  • The crowd was the third most ever to watch a Tech game, trailing LSU last year (92,739) and USC at FedEx Field in 2004 (91,665).
  • Stephan Virgil blocked the Hokies’ first punt of the season and the second of his career. Tech now has 121 blocks in Beamer’s 259 games as the head coach (60 punts).
Tech 20, North Carolina 17 Sept. 20, 2008
Chapel Hill, N.C.
Tech rallied from a 14-point, third-quarter deficit by scoring 17 unanswered points to record a 20-17 victory over the Tar Heels. Keys’ field goal with 10:42 left in the game turned out to be the winner.
Other notes:

  • Tech failed to score in the first quarter for the fourth straight game to open the season. The last time that happened was in 1981.
  • Jarrett Boykin, a freshman, made his first career start as the Hokies opened in a three-receiver set. Evans also made his first career start, as both he and Lewis got the nod. Evans led the Hokies with 61 yards on 14 carries.
Tech 20, Georgia Tech 17 Sept. 13, 2008
Blacksburg, Va.
Keys’ 21-yard field goal with 4:37 left turned out to be the difference as the Hokies survived a close one against the Yellow Jackets. Linebacker Purnell Sturdivant dropped Josh Nesbitt for a 2-yard loss and the Hokies’ only sack of the game on a fourth down late, preserving Tech’s victory.
Other notes:

  • For the third consecutive game, Tech defensive tackle John Graves got his hands up and blocked a kick. He became the first Tech player in Beamer’s tenure to block a kick in three straight games.
  • Taylor got the starting nod at quarterback for the first time this season.
Tech 24, Furman 7 Sept. 6, 2008
Blacksburg, Va.
The week before this game, Tech’s staff made the decision to scrap the redshirt plans for Taylor, and he made the most of his first action of the season. He rushed for 112 yards on 14 carries, including a 50-yard run that set up Tech’s first touchdown of the day in a 17-point Tech win.
Other notes:

  • The 100-yard rushing game marked the second of Taylor’s career. He rushed for 118 yards at Clemson last year.
  • Justin Myer served as the kickoff man this game, making him the ninth true freshman to play for the Hokies this season.