“They were out there like, ‘It’s a little hot. It’s a little hot out here,’” Wiles said. “I was like, ‘Hey, we’re getting ready to get our butt beat. This thing is a one-time shot. We’ve got a one-time shot to play. There ain’t no do-overs.’ And then, boom. We got beat.”
Virginia Tech’s defensive players were blunt about why Pittsburgh took it to them in a 35-17 rout on Saturday: they simply weren’t focused and prepared to play from the start, underestimating the Panthers.
The results, then, are less surprising. Pitt racked up 537 yards of total offense, the most the Hokies have allowed since LSU finished with 598 yards in 2007.
“No intensity. No passion. Inconsistent effort. Lack of communication,” defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. “Just everything that was kind of our keys to success. We have to be more physical. We got pushed around. We had inconsistent efforts. And that’s not who we are. And we’ll get that corrected.”
“It was just embarrassing,” defensive end James Gayle said.
Linebacker Jack Tyler said players were somewhat baffled by why they played so poorly until they watched a replay of the game in the film room Monday morning.
For the most part, Virginia Tech felt like it lost the game on the perimeter. The defensive line held its gaps, although Wiles wanted to see his players get off blocks more and make plays. But Pitt bounced its runs to the outside frequently, forcing the Hokies’ cornerbacks and safeties have to tackle. They struggled in that regard. Pitt finished with 254 rushing yards.
“It’s kind of embarrassing watching the film, seeing those missed tackles,” cornerback Antone Exum said. “That’s not what we’re about. We’ve never had anything like that.”
“I think part of it was just maybe lack of focus,” Tyler said. “Tackling takes a lot of focus. It takes a lot of emotion. You have to run through the ballcarrier and when we watched it on film, you could see that there wasn’t as much tenacity. There wasn’t as much energy, really, out there. And that’s something that we’re going to correct going forward.”
Virginia Tech went about fixing things Tuesday. In an early portion of practice, the cornerbacks lined up three yards from receivers and worked on driving through the ballcarrier and wrapping up on tackles, a more physical drill than the Hokies usually do during the media’s open session.
Foster was quick to credit Pitt — “It’s not like we got beat by some dog-ass team when it’s all said and done,” he said. “It’s a good program. They’ve won the Big East championship. They’re a BCS conference football team. It’s not like we got beat by James Madison or somebody. Excuse me, but understand that” — but he was disappointed in the effort nonetheless.
“The bottom line is every play that they had, it was us not doing what we were supposed to do,” he said. “There were a couple plays down the field where we had it definitive if we execute right on the outside. We had some communication issues. That goes back on me. I’m going to take responsibility for that, and I won’t let it happen again.”
Plenty more notes and quotes from Tuesday’s post-practice interviews with defensive coaches/players …
- Wiles’ first quote on this post is not done justice in type. The voice he used was priceless. Would have made for a good video. But Wiles was unequivocal about what would happen if this defense doesn’t shape up. “We’ll take another butt-whupping if we go out there and look and watch and not chase it hard like it’s the last play you’re ever going to play,” he said. “People are too good. There’s too much parity. There’s not a lot of difference in all the football teams out there. There may be two elite teams. After that, shake them up in a bag.” He added, “You start feeling good about yourselves, somebody will have your job. That’s how life is. So we’ve got to respond from here.”
- Cornerback Kyle Fuller and left guard David Wang were both participants at practice Tuesday in blue jerseys. Wang had a noticeable limp and heavily-taped ankle but was still doing drills. Fuller said he couldn’t lift his arm Saturday after making a tackle on a screen play. He had a contusion in the muscle that he thinks hit a nerve. “I realized I couldn’t lift it and I tried to run and I couldn’t run,” he said. “So I just tried to give it a go. I tried to tackle with it and I just realized I couldn’t do it.” He said he expects to play this week, even if he’s a little less than 100 percent.
- Linebacker Tariq Edwards was in a normal practice jersey Tuesday but still was clearly favoring his surgically repaired left leg. He had offseason surgery to insert a rod in his leg to relieve a stress fracture in his shin. In mid-August, he had a second procedure to remove a screw in his knee that was causing discomfort. Frank Beamer‘s website tweeted that Edwards would dress this weekend, but Foster wasn’t sure if he’d contribute. “I thought in his individual drills and a lot of things he moved around pretty good,” he said. “I think his acceleration is going to be good. I think it’s when he stops and has to change direction, I think that’s where he still has some limitations, maybe. But I think that’s going to come more as he mentally trusts it.”
- Tyler said Edwards “still has a little gimp to him,” but was hopeful his teammate could make it back. Tech needs some depth at linebacker. Tyler played all 88 defensive snaps at Pitt. Bruce Taylor played 86. “It’s obviously going to help our depth a lot when Bruce or I or whoever is playing, if we need a break, we’ll obviously get one,” Tyler said of Edwards’ impending return. “And the good thing is we all have our different skill sets, and when we play teams, obviously coach Foster is going to have more of a pick of what he wants out there, what matches up best against the other offense. Like I said, there’s nothing bad about it, nothing negative about it. It’s only positive.”
- Virginia Tech has only four sacks through three games (tied for 83rd nationally), but Foster and Wiles aren’t concerned. For starters, the Hokies played run-heavy Georgia Tech in the opener, so those stats are skewed. Secondly, they’re hitting the quarterback. Although they only sacked Tino Sunseri once last week, they hit him seven times. “You’re playing teams right now, they’re not going to sit there and hold the football,” Foster said. “They’re going to get rid of the ball. That’s what they’re coached to do. Understand that. The quarterback that we’re facing this week is going to get rid of the football. He’s not going to take sacks. Hopefully he’ll throw it to us. That’d be nice.”
- Tyler said the only real time Foster got animated after Saturday’s game was during film review Monday morning. Other than that, he’s been focused on moving forward. “I think our coaches do a great job of not harping on it too much, but at the same time getting on us for what we saw on film, the lack of effort,” Tyler said. “I’ve noticed that throughout the years, after the JMU and Boise losses, after our loss to Clemson last year, you can just see that they’re not the coaches that are going to punish you for it. You know, it’s football. You’re going to lose to good teams every once in a while. And this week, they haven’t harped on it. We’re trying to get past it, but at the same time, we’re going to correct our mistakes and we’re going to get back to business.”