VT Beat: Hokie Defense Coming to Life?

The VT defense was swarming against the Jackets on Labor Day night.

After 16th-ranked Virginia Tech knocked off Georgia Tech on Labor Day night, holding the Yellow Jackets to 288 yards in the process, it looked like Virginia Tech’s defense was going to be as good as advertised.

In that game, the Hokies held Paul Johnson’s option attack under 200 yards rushing, the first time Bud Foster’s defense has accomplished that feat. VT limited Georgia Tech to 192 yards on 55 carries, an impressive 3.5 yards per carry. The Hokies also registered 9 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, and 7 QB hurries.

Had Virginia Tech been able to continue that pace of giving up just 288 yards per game, their defense would currently be ranked #11 in the nation, a reasonable accomplishment for a team that finished #10 last year and returned eight starters on D.

In the next game, at home against Austin Peay, the Hokies only gave up 221 yards. Things appeared to be on course.

But over the next four games, the Hokies played three road contests, and their defense was destroyed in each roadie:

  • @Pittsburgh: 537 total yards, 254 rushing yards
  • Cincinnati (@FedExField): 495 total yards, 103 rushing yards
  • @North Carolina: 533 total yards, 339 rushing yards

The Hokies lost all three road games, and after the UNC game, Tech stood at 3-3, with a defense ranked 64th in the country in total defense (390 ypg) and an abysmal 98th in rushing defense (197 ypg).

They didn’t get off to a hot start against Duke in their seventh game, coughing up 150 yards in the first quarter, as Tech fell behind 20-0. The Hokie defense looked like it was actively searching for rock bottom.

But in seven quarters since then, Virginia Tech has gone in lockdown mode. I wrote in a TechSideline.com article Tuesday:

In the last three quarters against Duke (179 yards) and the four quarters against Clemson (295 yards), the Hokies have been playing at pace of giving up 271 yards per game. That would rank them number four in the nation.

Yes, this is the Hokie defense we thought we were getting. They have played very good football against Georgia Tech (288 yards), for most of the Duke game, and for all of the Clemson game. In that same 11-quarter stretch, they have 12 sacks. If they had been doing that all season, they would be averaging 4.36 sacks per game, which would put them a shade behind Tulsa (4.38) at number two in the nation in sacks.

What about the other 21 quarters the Hokies have played? Just six sacks (1.14 per game, #108), and an average of 419 yards per game given up (#80 in the nation).

Corey Marshall (96) and Bruce Taylor (51) lock up a Clemson ball carrier in last Saturday’s game.

Clearly, the Virginia Tech defense has woken up.  Hokie fans can only hope that it’s for good, because the key to a division title lies on the defensive side of the ball. It’s the way Frank Beamer’s program is structured. To win the Coastal, the Hokies almost certainly have to win at Miami next Thursday, and there’s a small chance they’re going to win a shootout, if they let themselves get dragged down into one.

Yes, Tech did win a 38-35 shootout against the Hurricanes last year in Blacksburg, but (a) that was in Blacksburg; and (b) Tech did that with a team that would wind up #35 in total offense for the season — this year’s Hokies are struggling on offense so far, ranked #66.

The Clemson game was pivotal for the Tech defense, not just because it was a good game against a high-powered offense (295 yards), but because it was VT’s first good defensive game away from Lane Stadium this season. Up until the Clemson matchup, the Hokies had been giving up 521 yards per game outside Blacksburg. Don’t be fooled by Clemson’s 38 points; seven came directly off an interception for a touchdown, and Clemson won the field position battle, starting five drives in Virginia Tech territory. The Tigers worked with a short field all day.

With a shot at a Coastal Division title, Hokie fans can only hope that the last seven quarters represent how the Hokie defense is going to play for the next 16 quarters.


Will Stewart is the founder and General Manager of TechSideline.com, covering Virginia Tech athletics since 1996, when the Interwebs was still just a baby sucking on a paci. Will believes college football is the greatest sport known to Man, even better than women’s beach volleyball and lingerie football. Will occasionally tweets at @WillStewartTSL, but he mostly keeps his tweeter shut and his eyes and ears open.

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