The conference race is starting to heat up in the ACC. Teams are emerging from the pack, but the race to the ACC Championship game is far from settled. As usual, the Coastal division looks like it could go down to the wire. At the moment, four teams in the Coastal have either zero or one loss. Only two of these teams have met head-to-head at this point so there will be a lot of movement on this side of the ACC in the coming weeks. One of those teams, Virginia Tech, has a unit that could prove to be the difference maker down the stretch. That would be Bud Foster’s defense. The Hokie defense is this week’s ACC Spotlight on Inside The ACC.
When Justin Fuente was hired at Virginia Tech he started recruiting before he even reached the press conference. No, he wasn’t talking to a highly-rated high school prospect. He was talking to Bud Foster. Fuente’s expertise was focused on the offensive side of the football. He knew if he could convince Foster to stay in Blacksburg then he could keep his focus on the offense while Foster managed the defense. When it’s all said and done, keeping Foster in the fold could end up being the biggest recruiting win that Fuente will ever have at Virginia Tech.
Foster’s defenses have dominated the ACC most years since the Hokies joined the conference. This year is proving to be no different. Currently, the Hokies are tops in the ACC in scoring defense, holding teams to fewer than 13 points-per-game. That number also ranks the Hokies in the top five in the nation in this category. Foster’s crew is stingy in yardage too as they rank 2nd in the ACC in total defense, allowing just under 300 yards-per-game. Needless to say, teams are having trouble moving the ball on the ground or through the air against this defense.
One key factor in a defense’s ability to control a game is getting off the field on third downs. When your opponent can’t move the chains effectively, it keeps their offense on the field and chances are you’re going to prevent them from scoring many points. You’re also going to win the field position battle in most cases. The Hokies are excelling in this category by holding their opponents to a conversion rate of less than 24%. That’s tops in the ACC and is a fraction of a point behind being the best in the nation.
In their last game, the Hokies held an inexperienced North Carolina offense to three third down conversions. Where this tilted the game was how it affected field position. The Tar Heels started their drives inside their own 25 yard line on nine out of their 16 drives. The Hokies took advantage of this with pressure, forcing one fumble that was returned for a touchdown, and intercepting a pass for another touchdown. In addition to that, they managed to return a punt for a touchdown. That’s three scores that can be attributed to the defense without the Hokie offense ever having to even step on the field. That’s a hard combination to beat.
Virginia Tech’s schedule gets harder over the next few weeks. After a game this weekend with Duke they will play back-to-back against two of the best offenses in the ACC in Georgia Tech and Miami. Both present different challenges for the Hokies.
Both games are on the road so they won’t have the built-in advantage of Lane Stadium and the crowd noise that his defense feeds off of in their games there.
Miami presents a challenge in that they are getting great play right now from their quarterback, Malik Rosier. The Hurricanes aren’t one dimensional and can move the ball on the ground as well. After visiting Miami, the Hokies get to visit Atlanta and deal with a Paul Johnson offense that is executing at a high rate of efficiency behind quarterback, TaQuon Marshall, who is leads the ACC in rushing at this point in the season.
The next three to four weeks will help settle the Coastal division winner. There is a lot of uncertainty in how this race will end up. One thing that is certain though is that the Hokies’ defense will play a major role in the outcome.