- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 16, 2006

BLACKSBURG, Va. — Two games into his final college season, Virginia Tech receiver David Clowney has restless hands.

The fifth-year senior sits through interviews with the hands that have earned him an education folded in his lap, an orange BeamerBall band on his right wrist, a maroon one and a faded green W.W.J.D. cloth band on the other.

In their first ACC outing, last Saturday’s win over North Carolina, the Hokies’ offense was largely stagnant, scoring twice on first-and-goal situations created by the defense and once on an interception returned for a touchdown.

In the preseason, Clowney talked about giving his young quarterback confidence by catching every ball in his zip code, about persuading his coaches to go five wide with the collection of soft hands, besides his own, belonging to Josh Hyman, Josh Morgan, Eddie Royal and Justin Harper. Against the Tar Heels, Clowney was the lead receiver with four catches, but picked up only 18 yards.

“Yards per catch is really ugly right now,” Clowney said, his fingers lacing and unlacing. “I mean, it is frustrating. I’m running a lot of 5-yard outs and 5-yard hitches. I know I can catch short passes and turn it into a big play. I’ve done it before … but everybody knows me as a deep-ball threat. That’s what I do, that’s my cup of tea. And I ain’t been deep one time yet.”

En route to nine offensive touchdowns, the Hokies have put together only two drives of more than five plays. Third-year sophomore Sean Glennon is statistically the most efficient quarterback in the ACC, but his 10 of 17 passes at North Carolina netted only 66 yards — more than half of which came on screen passes to tailback Branden Ore.

“I mean, it’s not — I can go out there and throw a lot of short passes,” Clowney said. “I mean, I don’t mean that in a disrespectful way to Sean at all but, yeah, his percentage is good because he’s completing a lot of balls. But at the same time, like I said, we’re throwing a lot of short passes right now. Hopefully when we start throwing the deep passes he can still keep up.”

Today, against ACC bottom-dwelling Duke, the Hokies likely will win no matter what the play-calling looks like, but it would be a good weekend to loosen up the passing game. With the Blue Devils’ recent emphasis on the run defense, allowing only 57 ground yards in a last-minute loss to Wake Forest, Glennon’s passing lanes should open. Even with preseason All-American John Talley at corner, the Blue Devils defense has allowed an average of more than 10 yards a catch over the last two games — including a home loss to I-AA Richmond.

According to Clowney, there are longer pass plays in offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring’s playbook, and Glennon has the arm to air the ball out. But to this point the coaches haven’t turned them loose on game day.

“As the players, we do what we’re told,” Clowney said. “If a play is called, we’ve got to run that play. We can’t go up there and be like, Hey, coach, you need to run this play — cause he’s going to tell us to go somewhere.”

While Tech’s coaching staff may appear to be ignoring targets down the field, opposing coaches don’t have that luxury.

“They’ve got big play wideouts,” Duke coach Ted Roof said. “Guys that can make big plays — a bunch of them that can make big plays.”

So far, the longest reception the sleek and speedy Clowney has is a 15-yard catch against Northeastern — hardly a showy demonstration of what the 6-foot-1, 175-pound sprinter is expected to do. With a Sept. 30 date with Georgia Tech looming, and Boston College and Clemson leading up to a showdown with Miami that likely will determine the Coastal Division championship, today’s mismatch with Duke is a good day to make sure Clowney and the Tech receiving corps won’t go empty handed.

HOKIES KEYS

1. Back up back — With a restructured depth chart at tailback, the Tech coaches are clearly looking to the ground for a quick fix to the unproductive offense. Branden Ore is far and away the top back, but Elan Lewis has effectively moved ahead of George Bell, and 21-year-old freshman Kenny Lewis has moved up from the scout team. It may take only one hard runner to get a win today, but the Hokies want a viable backup before Georgia Tech comes to Blacksburg.

2. Blocking — No matter who’s in the backfield, until the Hokies provide consistent blocking up front, it’s going to be consistently hard to gain yards on offense. So far, it has been more miss than hit.

3. Defense/special teams — Against UNC it was obvious the Hokies offense is still relying on the defense and special teams to spoon-feed them the end zone. The Blue Devils are relying on true freshman quarterback Thaddeus Lewis to run their offense and Lane Stadium on game day is the definition of a hostile environment.

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