Virginia Tech Peaking As Hokies Head Into UVA Week

Reggie Floyd, Virginia Tech
It was a happy day for Reggie Floyd and Virginia Tech’s small senior class. (Ivan Morozov)

It’s hard to win if you don’t score, and that’s two consecutive ACC opponents who have put up a big fat goose egg against a Virginia Tech defense that has improved by leaps and bounds since the beginning of the season. 

One of the biggest questions we got in the offseason was “how much do you think the Tech defense can improve from last season?”  We all knew they’d improve, but how much?  I assumed they’d improve from bad to somewhere around average, but I was wrong.  This has turned into a pretty darn good stop unit, and their total defense ranking of No. 35, while good, doesn’t do justice to how well this defense is playing right now.

The improvement at certain positions was evident early in the year.  Jermaine Waller and Caleb Farley looked a lot better from day one, and the improvement at defensive tackle was clear in the first game against Boston College.  A couple of the other positions took some more time to improve, but once Reggie Floyd and Dax Hollifield rounded into form at their key positions on the boundary side for the Hokies, this defense really took off. 

The best defenses overwhelm the opposing offense, and that’s exactly what happened to Georgia Tech and Pitt over the last two weeks.  They were overwhelmed with dominant coverage on the outside, Bud’s blitzes are starting to have effect, and the Hokies’ communication and decision making in zone coverage has gotten a lot better.  When all those things come together, it makes for a good defense, and probably the only thing holding back this group is the lack of an elite pass rusher at defensive end.  Oh, if only they could have kept Patrick Jones II of Pitt in-state.  A guy like that would take us over the top.

The defense is still pretty darn good even without a guy like Jones.  The last time an opponent scored against Virginia Tech came when Jamie Newman of Wake Forest hit Sage Surratt for a 24-yard touchdown with 8:59 left in the third quarter.  Since then, it’s been pure domination for nine quarters of football.  I could spend all day finding ways to sing the praises of Bud Foster’s final defense, but let me highlight two things from Saturday’s game that I think were impressive.

First and foremost, it’s not as if Pitt didn’t have their chances to score.  A quick glance at the box score shows that three Pitt drives went into Virginia Tech territory, so every time they threatened to score the Hokie defense manned up and came away with a stop, none of which was more critical than the fourth-down stop on the 10-yard line in the second quarter.  The Panthers only had the ball twice in the second quarter, and they wasted one of them by going 58 yards on six plays but failing to score.

The other thing that stands out to me in the box score is the number of drives on which Pitt lost yardage.  They had the ball for a total of 13 possessions, and they finished four of them with negative yardage.  That’s pretty impressive, to me at least.

Tech’s defensive dominance is so bittersweet.  It’s fun to watch, but at the same time, you know Bud Foster is retiring at the end of the season.  That’s sort of a tough pill to swallow.  From a pure coaching standpoint, he’s still very much in his prime.  If there wasn’t a recruiting aspect to think about, I’d want him to stay for another couple of years, because I think he can do big things with this group.  How he’s replaced will decide Justin Fuente’s tenure, I think.  The next guy won’t be as good as Bud, because it’s impossible to be as good as the greatest of all time.  But if he’s a good one, then the next couple of years outta