The Husky Origins of the Virginia Tech Defense: Part One

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Phil Elmassian brought the Washington Husky defense to Virginia Tech. (Photo courtesy of Virginia Tech sports photography)

The story of Tech’s current run of defensive excellence usually starts with Frank Beamer, Bud Foster and Phil Elmassian coming together and casting aside an antiquated 6-2 defense in order to bring a hard-nosed, modern front to Blacksburg. And that’s a story I’ll tell. But to tell it right, I think you have to go back further to the origins of this new defense.

Those origins are found with the University of Washington Huskies, then coached by Don James. In the late 1980s, the Huskies used a version of the Okie 5-2, a defense that was the foundation of today’s 3-4 defense. Unlike today’s 3-4, this older defense employed a mix of one and two-gap techniques and kept the linebackers close to the line, so it was basically a five-man line (James himself called it a 50-front.) The line was shifted to the TE side, with two inside linebackers behind it. A strong safety matched the tight end, meaning the core coverage was a Cover 3 look that had the corners and free safety playing deep thirds.