Tyrod Taylor Leads Virginia Tech to ACC Championship, Orange Bowl
As if to demonstrate why he was named the ACC player of the year in 2010, Taylor dominated Florida State in a 44-33 victory Saturday night in the ACC Championship Game at Bank of America Stadium. It was the 11th victory in a row for Virginia Tech, which opened the season 0-2, and puts the Hokies (11-2) in the BCS Orange Bowl. Florida State (9-4) will play in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl in Atlanta. The teams will learn their bowl opponents Sunday.
It wasn't just the numbers -- Taylor was 18 of 28 for 263 yards and three touchdowns, setting the Virginia Tech single-season record with 23 touchdown passes. And it wasn't his deceptively pedestrian rushing stats, including a mere 24 net yards on 11 carries that hardly describes a perfectly devastating five-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
Taylor, the ACC Championship Game MVP for the second time in his career, simply couldn't be stopped by a defense that went into the game 11th in the country in points allowed per game at 17.8. Taylor and the Hokies had that topped by halftime with a 21-17 lead in a dominating offensive display that included 13 of 18 third-down conversions and 10 in a row in a stretch when Virginia Tech pulled away from a close game and made it a blowout in the second half.
"He's just playing like one of the best, if not the best, in the country right now,'' said Virginia Tech flanker Danny Coale, who had a career night with six catches for 143 yards and a touchdown. "I can't wait to watch it again just to be a fan and watch some of the things that he did because he's just remarkable. The holes he got us out of sometimes were great. I'm just so happy he's my quarterback.''
Florida State didn't have its quarterback, Christian Ponder, to counter Taylor. Ponder, the ACC preseason player of the year who has been playing with an injured elbow for months, was held out of the game after a build-up of fluid removed from the elbow on Thursday was filled with blood. The start went to EJ Manuel, who was 23 of 31 for 288 yards and a touchdown in the final seconds. He also was intercepted twice, leading to 10 Virginia Tech points including a pick that was returned for a touchdown in the opening quarter.
Still, Florida State first-year coach Jimbo Fisher walked away pleased with the progress of a team looking to restore its past glory. The Seminoles used to dominate the ACC, winning nine titles in a row from 1992 to 2000. But it hasn't won it since 2005, when it beat Virginia Tech in the finals.
"I think we competed in the ballgame with them,'' Fisher said. "I mean, we really did.
"I feel very good about where we're going and being able to compete with everybody in our league. I really do, especially as young as we are and the confidence we're growing. And hopefully we can keep building on this in the offseason.''
As for the Hokies, it's about maintaining. They have now won three of the past four championships in part because of Taylor.
"Like I said, he gives you a chance to win every Saturday,'' coach Frank Beamer said. "We're fortunate to have had Michael Vick at Virginia Tech. We're fortunate to have Tyrod Taylor. Over there on that sideline, you get that feeling that the next play could be a big play.''
And many of them were. If Taylor wasn't throwing a 45-yard touchdown to a wide open Coale in the third quarter to break open the game and give Virginia Tech a 28-17 lead, he was dodging no less than five defenders to gain 12 yards and a first down on a play that should have gone for a sack. That one came in that decisive third when the Hokies pulled away from that 21-17 halftime advantage and went ahead 35-17. Or he was running right, then cutting back left and stopping on a dime to fool two defenders before walking into the end zone on that five-yard touchdown run in the fourth that put the Hokies up 41-24.
"He is a great player, we expected that out of him, but I guess not to that extent,'' Florida State safety Nick Moody said. "He is a playmaker and he made plays with his feet and his arm. If it wasn't for the loss he had against James Madison, he would have been up for the Heisman.''
That award seems destined for Cam Newton of Auburn, who will play for a national championship. Taylor won't have that much at stake when he closes his Virginia Tech career in the Orange Bowl.
But when he's done, Taylor will have left perhaps as much a mark as Vick in his career at Virginia Tech.
"I think his fan base is growing and I think he put a huge stamp on this university and this football team,'' Coale said. "And the success that we've had lately wouldn't be near as much without him. I think he needs to be right up there in the conversation.''