Orange Bowl

Orange Bowl MVP Evans Exceeds Expectations

By Leonard Shapiro
Special to
Friday, January 2, 2009; 1:42 AM

MIAMI, Jan. 1 -- Darren Evans began the 2008 season believing he'd probably be a reserve running back, seeing occasional action and getting a dash of seasoning in his redshirt freshman season at Virginia Tech.

Instead, on a cool South Florida evening on one of the grand stages in college football, he began the new year Thursday night by vastly exceeding those modest expectations, with yet another brilliant display of power running that helped the Hokies defeat Cincinnati, 20-7, for their first major bowl triumph since the 1995 season and earning Evans most valuable player honors in the 75th Orange Bowl.

Evans gained 153 yards on 28 carries, and scored a game-clinching touchdown with a critical third and goal six-yard run with 11:29 remaining in the fourth quarter, breaking two tackles at the five as he veered to the outside and charged into the end zone, handing the Hokies a 20-7 lead that stood up as the final score.

"People went down and I just took advantage of it," Evans said of his rise up the depth chart at the start of the year. Winning the MVP "means a whole lot to me being so young and all. I've got to0 give a lot of props to my offensive line. There were a lot of holes out there, and it was kind of there for me to take. The coaches pout the ball in my hands a lot tonight, and I appreciate that."

His coach, Frank Beamer, also appreciated what he saw out of Evans, considering one of his offensive linemen, redshirt freshman Jaymes Brooks, was making his first career start at right guard.

"This guy did some nice running out there," Beamer said. "Darren has scored a lot of touchdowns (in high school) and you knew it was there. The more he played, the faster he got. He looked fast out there, a big old guy that runs fast, and I like big old guys that run fast."

Evans credited a long talk he had with running backs coach Billy Hite before the start of the season with getting him primed to play. Hite told him he had a world of ability, and it was time to stop resting on his accomplishments in high school and start making a move up the depth chart.

Evans became the third Hokie to gain over 100 yards in an Orange Bowl game, and the 153 yards represented the seventh best single game rushing effort in the game's history. Evans finished his first season with 1,263 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns, both Virginia Tech freshman records set by a runner who played his high school football in Indianapolis.

Evans moved into the starting tailback spot when Kenny Lewis Jr. was injured in the Western Kentucky game, and he started the last eight games, becoming the first Hokies freshman and only the sixth freshman in ACC history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season, including 745 yards in his last six games.

"I don't think any of us expected this when the season began," said junior tight end Greg Boone. "We lost Branden Ore (thrown off the team last spring for violating teams rules) and going into the spring, we really had no identity at running back. Tell you the truth, I did not think he'd make that kind of contribution. We had so many freshman backs, but (Evans) was able to step it out to a whole new level."

Cincinnati head coach Brian Kelly was suitably impressed with Evans performance, but was far more concerned about his own team's shortcomings in trying to stop him.

"Evans is a great back, obviously," he said. "But we didn't tackle very well. It's the first time this year. Give Tech credit, but it's not the kind of defensive performance I'm used to seeing from our team. We tackled poorly and Virginia Tech ran through a lot of tackles. The back runs hard, and we contributed by not tackling. We had hats to the point of attack that normally make plays."

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