Quick programming note: The live chat this week has been moved to Wednesday to be closer to the game. It will still start at 12:30 p.m.
Virginia Tech’s offense hasn’t given the Hokies much of a chance of winning the last two games, scoring 17 points at Clemson and 12 at Miami.
But defensive coordinator Bud Foster said Tech’s offensive struggles don’t change his crew’s approach, even when points figure to be at a premium this Thursday against a Florida State defense that ranks among the nation’s best.
“We don’t even talk about that,” Foster said. “To be honest with you, we need to go out and do our job and that should be enough. We’ve won a lot of football games here playing great defense. And that’s all we’re focusing on. All we can do is control what we can do.”
Tech’s offensive struggles have been well-chronicled the last two weeks. Last week, the Hokies had 421 yards but scored only one touchdown against a Miami defense that ranks last in the ACC.
“They’re going to be fine,” Foster said. “We moved the ball up and down the field on those guys the other night and kind of shot ourselves in the foot. And that’s where we’ve got to be better. But we can’t worry about that. We need to keep them out of the end zone.”
Tech’s defense had its moments against Miami. The ‘Canes finished with only 347 yards and were only 1-for-12 on third downs. The Hokies forced five straight punts to start the second half.
But there were still areas for improvement. Tech didn’t have any sacks, despite applying some pressure. The Hokies had a number of busted assignments, aggravating mistakes that Foster called “Day 1 stuff.”
Foster also referenced Tech’s inability to prevent touchdowns in “sudden change” situations like the blocked punt and long kick return that gave the ‘Canes the ball inside the Hokies’ 20 twice in the first quarter. It took Miami only two plays to get in the end zone on each occasion, building an early 14-3 lead.
“We’ve got to step up to the plate, in my opinion,” Foster said. “If we hold them to three points, that’s great defense. That’s not good defense, that’s great defense. And that’s what we need to do a better job of.”
Clemson had similar success, scoring all four of its touchdowns after taking over near midfield or better. In the last two games, opponents are 10-for-10 on red zone opportunities, with six touchdowns.
Forcing turnovers would help. The Hokies had none last week and have only 14 this year, ranking 10th in the ACC.
Scoring points on defense used to be a hallmark of Virginia Tech football but the Hokies haven’t had a defensive touchdown since the last time they played the Seminoles in the 2010 ACC title game. Linebacker Jeron Gouveia-Winslow picked off EJ Manuel in the first quarter and took it back 24 yards for a score.
In the 24 games since, Tech hasn’t had any defensive scores, the longest drought in Frank Beamer‘s 26 years as coach.
The Hokies don’t feel extra pressure to put points on the board. Simply put, they think they just need to get off the field.
“Our goal every time we step on the field is get a three-and-out, get a turnover, get off the field, let our offense drive, let them have the ball longer,” linebacker Jack Tyler said. “And they’ll be fine. We just have to worry about what we can do and what we can do better. And that’s get off the field more often.”
Here are more notes and quotes from Sunday night interviews …
- Like offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring with FSU’s defense, Foster didn’t find any weaknesses in the Seminoles’ offense, which is No. 1 in the ACC in total yards and scoring, second in rushing and third in passing. “These guys have it all,” he said. “I think their offensive line is as good as we’ve seen in a long time. Big, athletic, can run, strong. Talented corps of receivers. Some long kids, tall kids, fast kids. Some dynamic backs. It’s just a complete football team right now.”
- Cornerback Antone Exum called the Seminoles “probably bigger, maybe a little more physical” than Clemson. “Clemson probably had maybe a tad more speed,” he said. “But both teams have really good speed.”
- Foster said even in the loss to N.C. State, the ‘Noles “did whatever they wanted to do” in the first half, when they built what looked like a commanding 16-0 lead. Foster said he thought FSU got away from what it was doing in the second half, noting that in his conversations with the N.C. State defensive staff, “they felt like they couldn’t stop them.”
- Manuel was a sophomore filling in for an injured Christian Ponder the last time the Hokies saw him in the 2010 title game. He threw for 288 yards and a touchdown but also was intercepted twice in a 44-33 Tech victory. Now? “You just see a more polished guy,” Foster said. “A guy with more poise. More comfortable in the offense. Just you see a more complete quarterback than when we played them.”
- A.J. Hughes said the punt he had blocked at Miami was pretty straightforward. He didn’t catch it cleanly and was slow to get it off. “There’s no excuse for it,” he said. “It was a bad play. Short-term memory. I already forgot about it. I’m worried about Florida State.”
- FSU has some pretty dynamic punt returners. Rashad Greene handled that duty early in the season, taking two back for touchdowns. But some catching issues led to the ‘Noles replacing him with Tyler Hunter. Hunter promptly took one back 75 yards for a touchdown against Duke last week. Hughes’ goal? “I’m just going to put it high and far,” he said.
- Hughes said if he gets three seconds of hang time, that should be enough for Alonzo Tweedy to make a play. Tweedy had a team-best seven tackles on punt coverage this year. “He’s the best gunner I’ve ever seen,” Hughes said. “I mean, I put it right, it’s getting stopped, there’s no question in my mind. … He’s a freak. He’s insane. I couldn’t ask for a better punt unit than I have.”
- Tech’s Coastal Division chances are pretty much shot. Beamer has said the Hokies are, above all else, playing for pride right now, something linebacker Bruce Taylor echoed to the team as well. “It’s something I told the guys today is one thing that never changes, the one thing you can always play for is your respect,” he said. “No matter what the situation is, it’s always an opportunity to go out there and get better, especially with the game being nationally televised, with a bunch of people watching, you definitely want to go out there with your best foot forward and have a hell of a game, no matter what the score is or the situation we’re in right now. None of that should even matter.”
- Exum has tried to stay off Twitter during the season but said he still sees messages fans will send him. “The brave fans will @ you and tell you what needs to be done,” he said. “So I see that. I know a lot of other guys get tweets that the fans are disappointed with what we’re doing and things like that. Those fans that are that angry and are not really going to ride with you when you’re not doing as well, they’re kind of outsiders, so we don’t really pay too much attention to it.”
- Exum called some of the messages, especially ones that get personal or have foul language, ignorant. “If they saw me walking down the street, they wouldn’t approach me and say it to my face, so I can’t really respect it,” he said. Others, though, hit on things that are really problems. “They’re just upset with things that are really going wrong,” Exum said. “So you do understand that. If we’re giving up something and they just make a comment on it, that’s the truth. You can’t tell them they can’t speak their mind on that. So you can’t really be mad on that. It’s more motivation.”
- Defensive end James Gayle got into it on Twitter with some Florida State fans in the preseason, a back-and-forth Exum got in on that he said “was all in a fun nature.” In hindsight, it probably wasn’t such a great idea. “That’s probably up on their bulletin board now,” Exum said with a laugh. “Exum and Gayle. … I guess we’re kind of the laughingstock of it right now. We’ll try to change that Thursday.”
- Betting line update: the Hokies opened as 12-point underdogs, the first time they’ve been a double-digit underdog at Lane Stadium since No. 1 Miami was a 14-point favorite heading into the 2001 game. Tech lost that one 26-24, a contest most known for Ernest Wilford‘s dropped two-point conversion that could have tied it with six minutes left.