As quarterback Tyrod Taylor discussed No. 5 Virginia Tech's suddenly potent offense after last Saturday's 34-26 win at Duke, he didn't bat an eyelash as he talked about all the elements that went into it: trust, maturity and understanding.
His calm exterior belied just how significant the development of one aspect of Tech's offense has been thus far in the first five games. Taylor, a Hampton High graduate, has helped Tech (4-1 overall, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) discover a deep passing game and big-play capability that had been sporadic at best in his first two seasons in Blacksburg.
"I think it's always huge to have a balanced offense," said Taylor, who has completed 54 of 91 passes for 869 yards, and who will lead Tech on Saturday against Boston College (4-1, 2-1). "If you stop the run, we can beat you in the air."
Perhaps it's a simple statement, but it's not something Tech's players could've said in 2007 and '08 with any kind of certainty. In '07, Tech's passing offense was 85th in the country, averaging 196.9 yards per game. Last season, Tech fell to 111th in passing offense, posting 129 yards per game.
In Taylor's first two seasons, he played in 23 games and was responsible for 39 plays of 20 yards or more, including 25 via the passing game. If not for the rotating- quarterback system he participated in with former Hokie Sean Glennon, Taylor may have ripped off a few more 20-yard plus plays.
As Tech's full-time starting quarterback this season, he has increased the pace of the big plays. In five games, Taylor already has been on the passing or running end of 17 plays of 20 yards or more, including 15 through the air. That pace puts him on track for 41 such plays in a 12-game season, and the supposed hard part of Tech's schedule already has come and gone.
"He's thrown the ball with a lot of authority," Tech quarterbacks coach Mike O'Cain said. "The thing I like about (the Duke, Miami and Nebraska games) was he completed the deep ball. That's kind of been our nemesis … That's the one thing that we've been working on since last year, but particularly in the last couple of weeks. We felt like we needed to throw the ball down the field a little bit."
Though Tech's passing game still isn't making much of a dent in the national ratings (103rd in passing offense; 174 yards per game), Taylor has been much more efficient. With six touchdowns and just one interception (tied for lowest in the ACC among starting quarterbacks), he's 27th in the nation in passing efficiency. Last season, he had just two touchdowns and seven interceptions.
"He's way more comfortable in the pocket this year," said Tech wide receiver Dyrell Roberts, a Smithfield High graduate who has seven catches for 80 yards and two touchdowns. "Last year, if the coaches told him this play is designed to go to this specific side, that's the side he'd try to work and then he'd take off (running). Now, he looks through his progressions, goes to the side it's designed to go to and comes back to see if there are check-downs around."
O'Cain pointed to the Duke game, in which Taylor completed passes of 62 yards to Jarrett Boykin and 37 and 36 yards to Danny Coale for three of five completions of 20 yards or more, as a prime example of Taylor's maturation in the pocket. O'Cain said Taylor moved well in the pocket — sometimes dropping deeper than usual to buy more time, and effectively threw to spots where only Coale could catch the ball on his receptions.
Boykin, who had six catches against Duke for a career-high 144 yards and a touchdown, has been the biggest beneficiary of Taylor's newfound passing prowess. Boykin has 16 catches this season for 286 yards and two touchdowns. While Boykin may be developing in to Taylor's go-to guy, he's not the only receiver with increased faith in his quarterback.
"I think we have more confidence in him, and I think he has more confidence in us," Coale said. "I think it works both ways. I think he's become more comfortable is all aspects of his game. He's sitting in the pocket reading coverages. I think he worked really hard this offseason. He looked at film. He looked at his opportunities and he really studied it. You can see it show out there. He knows what he's doing. That's really a testament to his work ethic."