Virginia Tech’s defense found itself on its heels on Saturday vs. Georgia Tech.
The Hokies allowed 309 rushing yards vs. Georgia Tech at a blistering 5.3 yards per attempt. It was the same story vs. Duke two weeks ago, when Virginia Tech allowed 207 rushing yards and four yards per attempt.
Despite the struggles against the run, Defensive Coordinator Bud Foster has been pleased with the linebacker play from Andrew Motuapuaka and Tremaine Edmunds.
“I know they’d both like to have about two plays back from the other night, but that’s going to happen in that offense,” Foster said. “Prior to that, I think they’ve been playing really well.”
Motuapuaka and Edmunds both registered ten-plus tackles vs. the run-heavy Yellow Jackets, but allowed too many big plays. Two of Georgia Tech’s touchdowns came on 50-yard plus touchdown runs, while Georgia Tech’s touchdown before halftime was helped by a 27-yard run.
“We had some opportunities, we just gave up a couple big plays,” Foster said.
Another reason for Virginia Tech’s struggles vs. the run could be the fact that the defensive line is dealing with multiple nagging injuries. Vinny Mihota dislocated his shoulder a couple of weeks back and hasn’t been the same since. Foster said on Tuesday that Ken Ekanem’s shoulder, the one he had surgery on in the offseason, is still an issue.
“He’s battling through it, and it’s always going to aggravate him I believe, until the season is over,” Foster said.
Injuries have also affected the Virginia Tech secondary. Greg Stroman’s ankle injury vs. Duke forced Adonis Alexander to play much more than he has this season at cornerback.
“It’s going to happen, injuries are going to happen every year, its inevitable,” said Brandon Facyson. “When someone goes down, you just have to adjust and the next person has to step up, and that’s for any position on the field. I think he did a great job, I think we all did a pretty good job and (Alexander) did a great job of stepping up.”
The secondary also dealt with the first half suspension of rover Terrell Edmunds, which forced multiple players to play out of position — Mook Reynolds moved back to play safety, Chuck Clark moved to play rover and Anthony Shegog took over at the whip/nickel position.
Defensive Backs Coach Brian Mitchell thought the players adjusted well, even if it was against an option team like Georgia Tech.
“I think that speaks to Coach Foster and the system that we play,” Mitchell said. “On any given play, our corners can be an inverted half-safety. Our nickel could be in the box in the run game. I think that versatility and what we do schematically adds to when you need to move guys around, they don’t miss a beat.”
It helps to have a guy like Facyson at corner. Facyson, a redshirt junior, has been the cornerstone for the Hokies in the secondary. He’s broken up eight passes and forced two fumbles this season, while registering 32 tackles.
“He hasn’t missed a beat,” Mitchell said of Facyson. “I mean, if you go back and look at the stats, he’s probably played more than the other two. I don’t know if that was by design, I think he’s just been steady, been consistent and he’s been performing.”
Virginia Tech’s cornerbacks will need to be on top of their game. The Fighting Irish rank in the top 50 in the FBS in passing offense and four different receivers average at least 12 yards per catch and have over 20 receptions.
“Our corners are going to have to play really well,” Foster said. “I think their receivers are dynamic.”
Evans adjusting to differing coverages
Head Coach Justin Fuente said on Monday that teams have been playing his Hokies differently defensively. Instead of playing press coverage and allowing Virginia Tech to take shots downfield, opposing teams are starting to play with more of a shell over the top and keep everything underneath. Jerod Evans has noticed the same thing.
“They definitely try to take all the big shots away with Isaiah, Bucky and Cam,” Evans said. “After what they saw happened to Pitt, a lot of teams are starting to play that more, the deep ball more, because of that.”
“You see differences each week,” said Offensive Coordinator Brad Cornelsen. “As the season goes on, teams have more film and they’re certainly trying to slow down what you do best… You try to stay one step ahead of it, but at the same time, you’re trying to get your guys in the best position to make the plays with the right guys and defenses understand that. They’re trying to make those adjustments too.”
“We’ve had some big games, some big plays during the season with guys coming up and giving us a chance to go throw the ball down the field,” Cornelsen said. “Certainly, we’ve got to be able to do both and that’s always the plan, to be as balanced as you can. To some extent, it makes it easier for you offensively if you do have those kind of guys on the outside, it simplifies the game a little bit.”
Evans was visibly frustrated after the Georgia Tech loss. He threw two interceptions vs. the Yellow Jackets and missed multiple throws over the middle of the field.
“I made bad plays worse,” Evans said. “Instead of tucking it down and running or throwing it out of bounds, I made it worse.”
“I definitely am very judicious with the ball,” Evans said. “I know I have my hands on the ball 100 percent of the time, so whatever I do with that ball is pretty much, I wouldn’t say life or death, but I feel that way.”
A consistent running game would take pressure off of Evans, but the Hokies haven’t been able to get one going. Virginia Tech ranks 52nd in the FBS in total rushing and ran for just 121 yards vs. Georgia Tech.
“We’re still trying to find our way in the running game, from week one to now,” Evans said. “I wouldn’t say so much that they’re taking it away, we’re just still trying to find our way, what we like to do and what we don’t like to do. I think (Fuente) is still trying to figure that out.”