Midseason Thoughts: The Defense

Bud Foster’s defense is struggling this year, and the numbers are historically bad. (Photo by Ivan Morozov)

I’m a little unsure about what to write about this 2018 version of Bud Foster’s defense. We’re seeing some historic offensive numbers being registered against the Tech defense. I think we all knew that this team’s youth would mean that this defense wouldn’t be up to snuff, at least in comparison to past defenses. But I don’t know that any of us thought it would look quite this bad at times.

I sure didn’t. Perhaps that was naïve on my part. Much of Tech’s defensive troubles stem from the ODU game. They were quite good against Duke, and very good against Notre Dame, with the exception of three plays. However, they returned to their ODU form at UNC this past week. If the Tar Heels could have connected on a deep ball or two, they would have put up well over 600 yards of offense.

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In fairness to the Tech defense, they held UNC to 19 points, and they certainly didn’t quit. They came up with a huge stop and forced fumble on the goal line that was ultimately the difference in the game.

Still, I don’t think many of us know what to expect on a week-in, week-out basis from this defense. The coaches don’t either. I’m not going to make any predictions for the remainder of the season, but I’ll talk about a few topics. First, though, I want to do a statistical comparison of this year to past seasons.

Historically Bad Rankings

Check out Virginia Tech’s total defense rankings since 2009…

2009: No. 12
2010: No. 52
2011: No. 10
2012: No. 18
2013: No. 4
2014: No. 21
2015: No. 44
2016: No. 18
2017: No. 13
Average: 21.33

2018 Total Defense Rank: No. 95

Yikes. This is on pace to be the worst Virginia Tech defense of the Bud Foster era.

The advanced metrics tell the same story. The S&P+ rankings go back to 2005…

2005: No. 6
2006: No. 6
2007: No. 6
2008: No. 23
2009: No. 7
2010: No. 23
2011: No. 17
2012: No. 19
2013: No. 3
2014: No. 10
2015: No. 39
2016: No. 17
2017: No. 9
Average: 14.23

2018 S&P+ Defense Rank: No. 67

This defense has been a bit more efficient than their overall defensive rankings indicate. That’s because of plays like UNC’s fumble on the one-yard line, or Florida State fumbling in the redzone after a long Cam Akers run. The Hokies have been a bend-but-don’t-break defense at times. That will give a boost to a team’s defensive efficiency rating, but it won’t have much affect on the traditional defensive numbers.