In the first part of the Virginia Tech preview, I mentioned that Bud Foster had cemented himself as one of the most impressive college assistants in recent memory. His 2013 season was further proof of that, as his defense lost one of its most talented players, Antone Exum, to multiple injuries. Exum tore his ACL during a pick-up basketball game in early 2013 and managed to return to the field in October before spraining his ankle and missing the remainder of the season.
Exum was expected to form a top-tier duo with Kyle Fuller, who almost missed games due to injury. Despite losing both backs, Virginia Tech still managed to have the eighth-best passing defense in the nation, allowing just under 173 yards per game. The defense as a whole gave up 284 yards per game, good enough for fourth overall. The Hokies will once again be without Exum and Fuller, who were both selected in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Of course the one bright side to all the injuries is that some of Tech's younger players gained valuable experience. One of those players is Kendall Fuller, a former five-star recruit and younger brother of Kyle Fuller. He racked up 48 tackles and six interceptions last season while playing in all 13 games. He'll be joined in the backfield by fellow sophomore Brandon Facyson, whose five picks weren't far behind Fuller.
The linebacking corps will need to replace Jack Tyler and Tariq Edwards, who both signed as undrafted free agents this spring. They combined for 20 percent of the defense's tackles last season. Outside backer Ronny Vandyke will need to pick up some of the slack and regain his form from early 2013 after battling injuries late in the season.
On the defensive line, starting tackle Derrick Hopkins is gone along with three ends. That's 17 sacks that the Hokies lose. Coming back are tackle Luther Maddy and end Dadi Nicolas. Maddy led the team in both tackles for loss (13.5) and sacks (6.5).
The Hokies look fine at punter with A.J. Hughes returning for his senior season. Kicker is a bit of a different story. Last year Virginia Tech used four different place kickers, which may be some kind of record. Two of them won't return, leaving seniors Michael Branthover and Mitchell Ludwig, and sophomore Erik Kristensen. Ludwig will likely handle kickoff duties, as he took 39 of them last season. Kristensen as of now looks like he will handle field goal duties, though he attempted just five all of last season, and all within 40 yards.
VT returns it's top returners from last season, with Demitri Knowles handling kickoffs and Kyshoen Jarrett responsible for punt returns. Both were fairly uninspiring during 2013, and despite handling over 48 returns combined, neither scored a touchdown.
Virginia Tech is an interesting team, mainly because their defense could again be very good while the offense is without direction. A lot of the focus will be on the quarterback and the front seven. The secondary is set and the receivers are solid, so if some players progress more than expected this could be a talented team. As a I highlighted on Tuesday, their schedule is incredibly weak (they avoid Florida State, Clemson and Louisville) so Beamer's bowl streak is likely safe. If the offense clicks they seem like a lock for eight or nine wins.
One of those wins will almost certainly come against our own Demon Deacons. With Tech's stingy defense, I could see them holding us to single digits in scoring. A 17-6 final tally is a real possibility.