I did a review of the offense so far this season yesterday. Today, I’ll take a look at the defense.
Feel free to agree or disagree with my selections. The comments section is open for it.
** Rushing defense: 167.1 ypg (71st nationally, 8th ACC)
** Passing defense 203.4 ypg (32nd nationally, 3rd ACC)
** Total defense: 370.5 ypg (49th nationally, 5th ACC)
** Scoring defense: 24.0 ppg (48th nationally, 5th ACC)
High point: The defense hasn’t looked better than the final three-plus quarters of the Duke game. The Hokies stopped the run (Duke had 22 rushing yards), were aggressive (five sacks) and disruptive (four turnovers forced), just the kind of things you’d expect from a Bud Foster-coached defense. The Blue Devils scored on a long pass on their first drive, but the defense kept them out of the end zone the rest of the way, allowing for the biggest comeback in the Frank Beamer era.
Also considered: Run defense vs. Georgia Tech, first 3 quarters vs. Cincinnati, overall effort in Clemson game
Low point: It’s neck and neck between the Pittsburgh game and North Carolina, but I’ll pick the latter. The Hokies’ offense at least showed up in that contest, but the defense, which gave up 533 yards and 41 points (7 more came on a kick return), couldn’t hold its end of the bargain. What made that one worse was how it happened. The Tar Heels ran for 339 yards, getting 262 from Giovani Bernard. Those are stats you don’t see against Foster’s defense often, if ever. Missed tackles contributed to the issues. Overall, it was a very un-Hokie-like game on defense.
Also considered: Pittsburgh game, 4th quarter vs. Cincinnati, red zone defense vs. Clemson
Biggest surprise: In the spring, Kyshoen Jarrett was the cornerback-turned-safety that the coaches had the most concerns about. Eight games into the season, he’s been their most reliable defensive back. Jarrett, a sophomore, has 59 tackles and 4.5 tackles for a loss so far. He’s been more consistent at safety than Detrick Bonner and has taken command from a play-calling aspect on the back end. Against Clemson, he was practically playing a linebacker position and finished with nine tackles and a TFL. He’s just the kind of aggressive, run-supporting safety Tech likes.
Also considered: Jack Tyler, Antone Exum, Luther Maddy, Michael Cole
Biggest disappointment: It can’t be anything but the run defense. The Hokies had a great start, limiting Georgia Tech’s option offense to 192 yards, well below what the Yellow Jackets usually run for. But it’s been downhill from there. Pittsburgh gouged Tech for 254 rushing yards. North Carolina followed with 339 yards and four touchdowns. Even lesser teams like Austin Peay (159 yards) and Bowling Green (133) moved the ball against what was supposed to be a stout front seven for the Hokies. Seven ACC teams have been better against the run this year. That doesn’t happen often.
Also considered: Tackling, pass rush, Kyle Fuller, J.R. Collins
Defensive MVP: It’s close, but I’ll go with Tyler. Thrust into the starting lineup because of the injury to Tariq Edwards, he’s been a magnet to the ball. Tyler leads the team with 77 tackles, the third most in the ACC. he also is tied for a team-best 7.5 tackles for a loss with defensive end James Gayle. He has two sacks and seven quarterback hurries. He’s also improved his pass defense, considered the weak link in his game a year ago. Overall, he’s done everything Tech could have asked of him and more from the mike linebacker spot.
Also considered: Jarrett, Gayle, Bruce Taylor, Derrick Hopkins, Exum
Telling stat: The only time other than this season since 1994 that opponents have averaged more than 4 yards per rush was in 2010, when teams ran for 4.7 yards per carry against the Hokies. This year’s team is giving up 4.1 yards per rush.
Telling stat, Part II: Tech had 41 sacks last year. It has only 18 through eight games this year, putting it on pace for 25 in 13-game season.
Telling stat, Part III: The Hokies might be 32nd nationally in passing yards allowed, but they’re 80th in terms of pass efficiency defense (125.67). Teams might not throw for many yards on Tech, but they’ve been efficient at it when they do.
Outlook: It’s not that the defense has been bad. It’s been bad at times, but adequate most of the time. That’s just not what Hokies fans are used to. Couple that with an offense that has struggled to put things together with any kind of consistency, and Tech’s 4-4 record right now makes a whole lot more sense.
There have been bright spots for this group. Gayle (4 sacks, 7.5 TFL) is starting to live up to his All-ACC promise. Maddy, now that he’s healthy, has been unblockable in the pass rush the last two weeks. Tyler and Jarrett I’ve covered. Taylor, playing out of position, has turned in a good season. And Exum, despite a few forgettable moments from the Pittsburgh and Cincinnati games, has actually been the team’s most reliable cornerback.
It’s the whole that’s just not quite right. You heard Foster mention after the North Carolina game that the defense is designed to get a free hitter in a position to make a play and, more often than not, that player wasn’t getting the job done. That’s how the whole season feels (or at least did up through the first quarter of the Duke game).
The Duke and Clemson games showed signs that Foster’s crew is starting to put things together. Clemson’s 38 points notwithstanding, you can hardly blame all of that on the defense, not with the turnovers and short fields it had working against it. The pass rush is finally coming around. The missed tackles have been cut down. And the depth issues that were so severe early on, are becoming less troublesome (Tariq Edwards is getting closer to coming back at linebacker and Cole, now that he’s gotten some playing time, is starting to hold his own in the secondary).
This might not be the greatest defense Foster has coached (as some, myself included, said was a possibility before the season), but it’s certainly one that is capable of carrying this team if it plays like it did the last two weeks.