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Remember before the season how Virginia Tech was supposed to have one of the best defensive units in the country? Well, what a difference a month makes. As the Hokies sit at 3-3 on the season, their defense is left looking for answers after their most embarrassing performance in several years. North Carolina amassed 533 total yards in last week’s defeat of the Hokies, including 339 on the ground.
This makes the second time this season an opponent has went for over 500 total yards on Bud Foster’s defense. It is the first time in his tenure as defensive coordinator that two teams in the same season went for over 500 total yards against his unit.
So what appears to be the problem?
Unfortunately for the Hokies, there are problems are everywhere. Injuries cannot be blamed for the Hokies’ misfortune. While key players such as Tariq Edwards, Kyle Fuller, Bruce Taylor and Luther Maddy have been hurt, some missing more time than others, their depth was supposed to get them through times like this. At least that is what we thought.
The numbers are staggering for this Virginia Tech defense. After their loss at North Carolina, they rank 98th nationally against the run. Their pass defense, despite struggles against Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, still ranks 27th nationally. Those numbers are somewhat skewed because Georgia Tech rarely throws the ball.
Anyone who has followed the Hokies for any length of time knows the two main priorities for a Foster-coached defense are stopping the run and pressuring the quarterback. Well, they aren’t stopping the run, which leads me to the pass-rush.
Through six games, including two against noted lightweights Austin Peay and Bowling Green, the Hokies have eight sacks. Yes, eight sacks through six games. That number is astounding if you think about it.
Before the season, many thought this defensive line could go 10-deep and not miss a beat. Led by junior defensive ends James Gayle and J.R. Collins, this group was thought to be one of the best in recent school history.
In 2011, Collins and Gayle combined for 22 tackles-for-loss and 13 sacks. This year the two have combined for 7.5 tackles-for-loss and two sacks, both by Gayle.
Foster has never met a blitz he didn’t like and that can sometimes cause a team trouble if they don’t get to the quarterback. That happened to the Hokies against Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. Failed blitzes left the Hokies vulnerable down the field and they paid for it.
As the Hokies prepare to play host to Duke on Saturday, getting pressure on Duke quarterback Sean Renfree is essential to them winning the game. Duke possesses a very good passing attack and rank 30th in the country in passing offense.
Renfree is completing 72-percent of his passes and through five games has thrown five interceptions. However, he has only been sacked four times.
Duke shouldn’t threaten the Hokies in the running game, as they are 95th in rushing offense.
Foster will have to lean heavily on his front four this weekend as the Hokies’ defensive backs will have their hands full with Duke’s trio of wide receivers. If Gayle and Collins are having trouble winning individual matchups, perhaps it is important to give even more playing time to other defensive ends like Tyrel Wilson, Zack McCray and Matt Roth.
The rest of the Hokies’ schedule is filled with teams who throw the ball well. It is imperative for the Hokies that Gayle and Collins begin producing some pressure up front. The more Foster feels the need to blitz, the likelihood increases the Hokies will continue giving up big plays in the passing game.
We know there are problems across the board, but this team has enough talent to rebound and save what’s left of the season. They can still win an ACC title, but that will take quite a bit of work. Its time some of these players take it upon themselves to get better and leave the excuses in the rearview mirror.
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