By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 1, 2010; 10:01 PM
BLACKSBURG, VA. - The line of questioning had grown old, and his answers had grown repetitive long ago. But following an afternoon practice late last month, Virginia Tech redshirt sophomore tailback Ryan Williams appeared just as content to restate, again, that he and redshirt junior tailback Darren Evans can coexist in the same backfield as he was to declare the nightmares the two running backs plan to inflict on opponents this season.
Williams (Stonewall Jackson High) and Evans alternated in demoralizing opposing defenses the past two years. Evans rushed for 1,265 yards in 2008, an ACC freshman record at the time. Last season, Williams compiled 1,655 rushing yards - the sixth-highest tally by a freshman in NCAA history - after Evans tore his ACL three weeks before the campaign began.
With Evans now healthy and senior quarterback Tyrod Taylor serving as an additional ground threat, the Hokies' running game is prepared to give their challengers plenty of fits this season. Consequently, Virginia Tech - ranked No. 10 in the Associated Press preseason poll - is poised to contend for an ACC crown and possibly a spot in the BCS national championship game.
When asked how an opposing defensive coordinator should game-plan against the Hokies' backfield tandem, Williams's response was concise.
"Can't," he said.
And at least publicly, the answer Virginia Tech's coaches provide as to how they plan to divvy up carries between the two tailbacks is equally simple.
"The thing of it is is they're on this earth to please me," said Billy Hite, the Hokies' associate head coach and running backs coach. "I'm not on this earth to please them. So there's a difference there, and I think they understand that, too. You know, I've had a tandem of backs over the years, and it's never been a problem all those years."
Hite, who is entering his 33rd season on the Hokies' coaching staff, pointed to Vaughn Hebron and Tony Kennedy, who shared Virginia Tech's backfield from 1989 to 1992. During that span, Hebron averaged 581.8 rushing yards per season, while Kennedy's average per season stood at 564.8.
For a more recent example, Hite referenced Lee Suggs and Kevin Jones, who shared the load for only one complete season. In 2002, Suggs rushed for 1,325 yards, while Jones tallied 871.
No two Virginia Tech running backs have accounted for 1,000 yards each in the same season, an achievement Williams and Evans wouldn't mind accomplishing this season. While Evans acknowledges that is one of the goals he and Williams share, he said that what makes his partnership with Williams cohesive is their ability to maintain proper perspective.
"If you look at it as you need to get 1,000 yards and you need to do this and that, then it's not going to work very well because that might not happen," Evans said. "You might not get 100 yards a game or whatever. I guess you've just got to go into it with an open mind and saying that some games it might be my game, some games it might be his game. And that's how you've got to play it out.
"And if it doesn't work out for you, then you know you got stuff to work on so the next week doesn't happen the same way. You've just got to keep a competitive mind-set instead of a selfish one."
The Hokies' coaching staff feels the same way. Why offer opposing defenses the challenge of stopping one prodigious tailback at a time when they could employ both simultaneously?
Virginia Tech is installing offensive packages that include Williams split out wide with Evans lined up in the backfield. The Hokies also plan at times to employ Evans as a fullback with Williams lined up right behind him, Williams said.
"There's a lot more plays in our playbook right now than what we had last season because of our situation," Hite said. "And it puts a lot of stress on defense. It really does."
In fact, Virginia Tech possesses such a wealth of talent at the tailback position that Hokies coaches discussed redshirting sophomore David Wilson, who averaged 5.7 yards in 59 carries last season. However, during his weekly teleconference Monday, Coach Frank Beamer said Wilson - who also is used on special teams as a kickoff returner - would not be redshirted this season.
As for Williams and Evans, Hite said the players will determine who receives more touches from week to week, based on their performance. Whether they're relying on Williams - a dark horse Heisman Trophy candidate - or Evans, the Hokies will need a productive running game if they are to vie for a third ACC title in four seasons.
"We're going to be on the field a lot at the same time, so it's not really splitting carries," Williams said. "I'm going to be on the field at the same time as him, so it's kind of like depending on what position I'm in, that's how we're going to do it."