Pressure mounts on Virginia Tech offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring

By Mark Giannotto
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 2, 2010; 12:12 AM

BLACKSBURG, VA. - Frustration had turned to fatigue for Virginia Tech offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring as he emerged from the Hokies' charter plane last Saturday following the flight back from Boston.

So when Stinespring returned home, he didn't watch much college football. Instead, he read a bedtime story to one of his young daughters and then tossed and turned for a while before falling asleep around 10. By 6 a.m. Sunday, Stinespring was awake and in the Virginia Tech coaches' office watching film again. Never mind that the Hokies had scored a 19-0 win over Boston College the day before. This is the life of an unhappy offensive coordinator.

"I think I'd watched the film twice by the time the rest of the coaches came in," said Stinespring, who has been on Coach Frank Beamer's staff for 18 years. "Right now, I know that there's a better game for us. That burdens me more than anything."

This season, Virginia Tech's offense was supposed to carry a young defense, a role reversal from years past. But despite returning eight starters from a unit that averaged more than 450 yards per game down the stretch in 2009, this year's Hokies find themselves in the bottom half of the ACC rankings in points per game, passing yards, yards per rush, third-down conversions and red zone efficiency.

Their struggles defy logic. Virginia Tech has a three-year starter at quarterback, a trio of running backs judged by some to be the best backfield combination in the country - though sophomore Ryan Williams will miss his second straight game this weekend with a hamstring injury - and every single contributing wide receiver back from a year ago.

So why is Virginia Tech averaging 10 fewer points per game and almost 90 fewer yards since the end of last season?

That's the question many Virginia Tech fans are asking heading into Saturday's game at No. 23 North Carolina State, and their answer usually comes back to Stinespring. The team's offensive coordinator since 2001, he often has faced criticism from sports-talk radio hosts and message board posters. They think he's too conservative and can't maximize talent, and that he did not have enough experience when Beamer promoted him to the position at age 39.

"You're probably judged about 12 or 13 times per season and if it's not according to what the expectations are, it's gonna be the resulting 'whose fault is it?' " Stinespring said. "That's where we are in this sport and in this society. . . . We've played hard, we're not getting overwhelmed, we're not in bad situations, but in the final analysis, all we see are near misses."

During the team's weekly news conference Tuesday, quarterback Tyrod Taylor was asked if he'd like to throw the ball more, especially in the red zone, where the Hokies have scored touchdowns on just nine of their 18 possessions.

The senior remained silent for more than seven seconds before answering, "I think [Stinespring] is doing a good job of calling plays in the red zone, it's up to us to go out there and execute them."

One reporter wondered if Beamer would get more involved in the offensive game planning this week to try and remedy the situation. The highly successful coach, who credits his program's rise partly on the stability of his coaching staff, took the question as an opportunity to defend his team.

"It's hard to win in this business and I'd like to point to the good things that happened" at Boston College, Beamer said. "There's one area - we didn't turn turnovers into touchdowns enough - that was the one flaw in the game. But there was a lot of other effort and positive things that went on. I've got great faith in our offensive staff; I've got great faith in our defensive staff. I sit in there with them on Tuesday and Wednesday and we'll continue to look at ourselves and get better."

The offensive line has struggled to replace two starters, and in general has regressed since last year. Every week, the offensive coaching staff releases grades for the linemen but will not include a score that's below 80 percent. Only center Beau Warren has reached that mark in all four games this year.

As a result, the Hokies have gained three yards or less on more than 38 percent of the plays they've run so far. They're averaging just 1.97 yards per carry in the red zone, putting them 91st in the country in that category, a black mark for an offense that prides itself on running the football.

It's those type of statistics that keep Stinespring up at night, not the perceptions of those on the outside. He won't yet label his offense as underachieving, admitting only "sometimes the defense makes a nice play. They're on scholarship, too."

He preaches that his unit is just one mistake away on most plays from becoming the type of high-scoring outfit many imagined in the preseason. He knows, though, that his words can only hold water for so long if Virginia Tech's offensive struggles continue.

"The fact that people show passion for our program is one of the main reasons we're in the position we're in, but passion goes along in a lot of different fronts," Stinespring said. "I tell the guys all the time, 'That game is behind us and the season is in front of us,' but that's not how it's gonna be viewed."

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