ACC championship: Tyrod Taylor and Virginia Tech roll past Florida State

By Mark Giannotto
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 5, 2010; 1:14 AM

CHARLOTTE - Florida State's starting quarterback watched Saturday night's ACC championship game from the sideline, nursing a bum elbow. Lucky for Virginia Tech, its signal caller was just fine.

With quarterback Tyrod Taylor conducting their offense to near-perfection, the 12th-ranked Hokies blew past No. 20 Florida State, 44-33, to capture their fourth conference title since joining the league seven years ago.

Virginia Tech's 11th straight win since opening this season 0-2 also guaranteed it a spot in next month's Orange Bowl against an opponent to be named Sunday evening. The only other time the Hokies have strung together 11 wins in a row was during the 1999-2000 season, when they lost to Florida State in the national championship. Virginia Tech is the first division I-A team ever to lose its first two games of the season and then go on an 11-game winning streak.

But it was Taylor who ultimately gave Coach Frank Beamer his first win over the Seminoles in a postseason game. The Hampton, Va., native showed off the diverse skill set that made him the ACC's player of the year. It was fitting then, that on this night, Taylor capped off his spectacular season by setting Virginia Tech's single-season record for touchdown passes.

He finished 18 of 28 for 263 yards with four total touchdowns, while the Hokies' offense racked up 444 total yards and converted 13 of its 18 third downs against an overmatched Seminoles defense.

"We just felt like there was a lot of disrespect towards our program as far as a lot of people don't account for us, so I felt like I could come out here and turn some people's heads," a smiling Taylor said after earning game MVP honors. "It felt good. I don't know if there's any other game that felt that good."

It was his play after halftime, though, that earned Taylor the MVP award for this game and gave the Hokies a bowl trip to Miami. With Virginia Tech leading 21-17 at halftime, Taylor completed nine of his first 12 passes to begin the second half and led the Hokies on three consecutive touchdown drives that put away the Seminoles.

Facing third down on the opening possession of the half, wide receiver Danny Coale (career-high 143 yards receiving) broke free of Florida State linebacker Nigel Bradham on a crossing route and Taylor found him for a 45-yard touchdown pass.

After the Hokies' defense forced a three-and-out on the Seminoles' ensuing drive, Taylor again faced third down and again threw a touchdown pass, this time a perfectly placed 21-yard floater to running back David Wilson. The throw was Taylor's 23rd touchdown pass of the season and broke Maurice DeShazo's school record for touchdown passes in a single season.

Once Florida State answered with a score of its own, when Seminoles running back Ty Jones scored his third touchdown of the game, Taylor showed off the fleet feet that have drawn comparisons to his mentor and friend, Michael Vick.

Facing yet another third down from the Florida State 5-yard line, Taylor rolled to his right looking to pass. But when he saw nobody open, he reversed field, juked past a Florida State defender and walked into the end zone.

The ensuing extra point was blocked by the Seminoles and returned 100 yards by linebacker Bradham for the safety, but at that point the damage had been done. The Hokies led by 15 and Taylor had demonstrated once and for all why his name is all over Virginia Tech's record book.

"I'm just lucky to be in the same huddle - his huddle," Coale said. "He's got such poise. He's never rattled and it doesn't make you rattled. It brings out the best in the 10 other guys."

But it was Florida State's quarterback situation that got an eventful first half off to a surprising start. Sophomore E.J. Manuel began the game as the Seminoles' starting quarterback instead of senior Christian Ponder. Ponder was in uniform, but did not play after having his injured right elbow drained earlier this week. Manuel, a Virginia Beach native, had started five previous games and played the whole game for Florida State.

That experience served him well at first, as Manuel gave Florida State an early 3-0 lead, the eighth time this season the Hokies have found themselves trailing early in a game.

But for the second straight week, it was a turnover that led directly to the Hokies' first touchdown. On second down of the Seminoles' second possession, Virginia Tech linebacker Bruce Taylor made a diving tip of a Manuel pass. The deflected ball landed in the hands of Hokies linebacker Jeron Gouveia-Winslow, who returned the interception 24 yards for a touchdown to give Virginia Tech a 7-3 lead.

That, though, would be one of the few moments where defense reigned supreme before halftime. Both teams combined for more than 400 yards of offense and set an ACC championship game record for points in a half (38).

After the game was over, though, all anyone could talk about was Taylor. Offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring got emotional as he explained Taylor's goal during the week of proving that all the accolades being thrown his way this year were justified.

Beamer once again said the Hokies remarkable turnaround this season wouldn't have been possible without a quarterback the caliber of Taylor. Even Manuel conceded, "He played awesome."

And as Taylor walked off the field here in Charlotte, toting a ripe orange in his hand, he was asked whether this performance merited an invitation to New York for next week's Heisman Trophy presentation.

Taylor could only laugh, replying, "I don't know," with a sheepish smile on his face. He was still focused on another Hokies victory.

"It's just a great way to finish a senior season," Taylor said. "I'm just proud of the way we turned things around after an 0-2 start. As a senior, it feels good to go out with a win like this."

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