HUNTINGTON, W.Va—There are some things that just work and you don’t mess with them. Since 1995 Bud Foster has run the Hokie defense and during his tenure Virginia Tech has gained a well-deserved reputation for playing tough, fundamentally sound defense.
Foster has actually been with the program for 27 years. He started in 1987 as the inside linebackers coach. Nowadays assistants rarely stay on one staff that long. Many are lured away by athletic directors looking for the next hot coordinator to become a head coach. Because Foster has been with Virginia Tech for so long, there are no secrets about his defense and that has been a benefit for the Hokies.
“Everybody that they have has been recruited to that system and have been brought up in that system,” notes Marshall offensive coordinator Bill Legg. “The senior corners can coach the freshmen corners because they’ve been doing the exact same thing for four or five years. They’re a good football team. They’re a sound, fundamental football and understand their system and they’re going to come after you.”
The Hokies’ defense has been he team’s strength during the first three games of the season Virginia Tech is second nationally to Michigan State in total defense, allowing just 190.7 yards per game; second in pass defense, giving up 106.3 yards per game; and 10th against the rush, allowing 84.3 yards per game. And it’s not like the Hokies have opened the season with a list of cupcake mid-majors and FCS teams.
Virginia Tech opened the season against the back-to-back defending champion Crimson Tide and held Alabama to 96 yards rushing and 110 yards through the air. East Carolina was only able to gain 46 yards rushing and Shane Carden was limited to 158 yards passing on 19-of-31.
Quarterback Rakeem Cato says its not that Virginia Tech’s defense is overly complicated, in fact it is fairly simple but the Hokies run it to perfection.
“It’s not that tricky. They don’t try to confuse you or make it seem like they doing a lot of stuff on defense, it’s simple,” says Cato. “You just have take what they give you and read it out. You have to do every on time.”
Like with any defense Tech’s success starts up front with the defensive line. James Gayle had a break out season in 2011 at defensive end, earning All-ACC honors. Last season, he tallied 11 tackles for loss and five sacks. At 255 pounds with a 4.44 second 40-yard dash time, Gayle presents s a challenge for Marshall’s tackles. Opposite of Gayle is redshirt-senior J.R. Collins who has three sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss on the season.
And don’t forget about the two 300 pound tackles of Derrick Hopkins and Luther Maddy in the middle.
“Those front guys are like clones they just roll them in there and they’re all good players,” knows coach Doc Holliday.
Linebacker Tariq Edwards is back after playing sparingly much of the 2012 season. He’s back to full strength after dealing with an injury last year and posted six tackles against Alabama and 16 stops through three games, including four behind he line of scrimmage.
Jack Tyler was a walk-on to the Hokie program and is now a starting linebacker. He earned All-ACC honors last year when he led the Hokies with 119 tackles. He again leads the team this year with 25 tackles including four for loss and two sacks.
Cato knows the Hokies will try to bring pressure with the linebackers and leave the receivers one-on-one on the outside.
“They like to blitz and play man. As a unit we just have to take advantage of that and make great decisions and when we get a shot to make a big play we’ve got to advantage of it,” insists Cato.
Tech’s young secondary was supposed to be the weakness of the defense this season, but that has been far from the case. Alabama’s A.J. McCaron looked out of sorts against Virginia Tech then turned around and threw for 334 yards against Texas A&M.
“If they’re playing man-free that safety is 20 yards deep and he’s not letting anything get over the top. If they’re playing press-man they’ll make you come off the ball for two or three yards then they’re going to run on your hip. You have to be technically sound. If you give you any indicator you’re about to break they’re going to jump the route,” says Legg.
Brandon Facyson, Kyle Fuller, Kyshoen Jarrett, and Detrick Bonner have left opposing quarterbacks perplexed this season.
So what does Marshall need to do to counter the Virginia Tech defense?
The answer is to play fundamentally sound football. Sounds easy, right?
“There’s not a lot of secrets. He’ll have a flavor of the week blitz and you’d better block that blitz or you’ll see it a bunch. It’s fire versus fire. I told the kids you’d better be ready to attack the attackers because they’re going to attack on every play instead of sitting back on you heels to see what happens,” says Legg.
Quarterback Rakeem Cato believes the fast-paced offense may help counteract some of the Hokies’ aggressiveness.
“We just got to stay ahead of the sticks and play fast and keep doing what we’ve been doing.”
At the end of the day, Marshall will have to be smart with the football and take what the Virginia Tech defense is allowing. Forcing the football will lead to turnovers and that will more than likely lead to Hokie points.