What if the Hokies had a healthy Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum at cornerback all year? What if outside linebacker Ronny Vandyke hadn’t gotten hurt in the preseason? What if the Hokies had made enough pays to pull out a couple of the games they lost late in the year?
“But I’m not disappointed at all. At all,” he said at the team’s bowl media day Saturday. “There’s not been one time all year that I’ve been disappointed in any kind of effort, any kind of passion.”
Foster’s group finished the regular season among the national leaders in most major defensive statistical categories, including total defense (fourth nationally at 269.6 ypg), passing defense (third, 165.8 ypg), rushing defense (eighth, 103.8 ypg), scoring defense (eighth, 17.4 ppg), sacks (tied for fifth, 37) and interceptions (fifth, 19).
It prompted Foster to make a statement to the team after the Hokies’ 16-6 regular season-ending win at Virginia.
“We fell short a little bit of our goal, and that’s to go play in the ACC championship, but we had an ACC championship defense, if not a national championship-type defense,” he said. “I told them that and that’s something that they can be very, very proud of and I’m proud of them for what they’ve done.”
Tech hasn’t had a defense ranked that high in total yards allowed since coming in fourth nationally in 2007 after giving up 293.3 yards per game (and since bowl stats count, this year’s number is still in flux). This season’s Hokies were only slightly behind their statistical apex in the last decade in 2005 (247.6 ypg) and ’06 (219.5 ypg), years they led the nation in total defense.
“The kids did everything we asked of them this year,” Foster said. “This was one of the more fun groups we had to coach. Because I tell you: every day they came out. This group reminded me of the group we had a little bit with [Xavier] Adibi and [Vince] Hall. You knew what you were going to get with that group every time you step on the field.
“And they cared about each other. They played extremely hard for one another. And they did it for four quarters, and they’ve done it for 12 football games.”
The Hokies have done it largely without much star power, at least in terms national recognition. Kyle Fuller, despite playing in what amounted to seven games because of a core muscle injury, was the only defensive player to earn first-team All-ACC honors by the coaches, although his younger brother Kyle, also a cornerback, earned plenty of freshman honors.
But by and large, Tech didn’t garner many individual accolades, certainly not as many as a Florida State defense that was comparable from a statistical standpoint in terms of yardage (268.5 ypg). The Seminoles had four All-ACC first-teamers selected by the coaches on defense.
“It is what it is,” said linebacker Jack Tyler, a second-team pick by the coaches and media. “… We had 11 guys who all worked well together. It wasn’t any individuals. We all played hard for each other and made sure that we worked as a team and played together as a team. And I think that although some of us probably wish that we were maybe a little higher in the rankings, at the same time, I think we’d rather have 11 second teams than one first team.”
How did other teams’ offenses fare against Virginia Tech defense? Every team the Hokies faced had fewer yards than their season average. In six games, it was more than 100 yards below their season average. In three games, the difference was more than 200 yards.
Here’s a look at what opponents did against the Hokies relative to their season-long stats, ranked by biggest difference:
Yards: vs. Virginia Tech (season average) — difference
- East Carolina: 204 yards* (459.8 ypg) — 255.8 yards
- Alabama: 206 yards* (448.9 ypg) — 242.9 yards
- Duke: 198 yards* (408.1 ypg) — 210.1 yards
- Georgia Tech: 273 yards* (440.7 ypg) — 167.7 yards
- Pittsburgh: 210 yards** (351.8 ypg) — 141.7 yards
- Marshall: 361 yards** (502.3 ypg) — 141.3 yards
- Miami: 352 yards (440.7 ypg) — 88.7 yards
- Virginia: 285 yards (368.4 ypg) — 83.4 yards
- Boston College: 289 yards (368.4 ypg) — 79.4 yards
- Maryland: 319 yards (397.4 ypg) — 78.4 yards
- North Carolina: 376 yards (432.4 ypg) — 56.4 yards
* that team’s season-low for total yards
** that team’s second-lowest yardage total this year