We talked about the vaunted Virginia Tech rushing attack yesterday, so let’s jump right into a preview of the Hokies defense.
The most notable thing about the VT defense this year is that it is not the tech defense of year’s past. Under first year defensive coordinator Justin Hamilton, the Hokies are currently 65th out of 77 teams in total defense, giving up 472 yards per game. Shockingly, that gives Virginia Tech the fourth worst defense in the ACC by yards, ahead of just Florida State, Syracuse, and Georgia Tech. They are also allowing almost 6.5 yards per play, which is 66th in the nation and the second worst in the ACC behind Florida State. The good news for the Hokies is that all those yards aren’t adding up to points, as they are 46th in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 31.3 points per game. They also do a decent job in the turnover department, forcing 2 turnovers per game. All that said, those state may not accurately reflect the ability of the VT defense, as the Hokies have just had so many players miss games due to coronavirus; even DC Hamilton missed the first two games of the season because of Covid-19.
The Hokies defense is once again led by linebacker Rayshard Ashby, who has recorded 24 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and 2 sacks through 4 games. He is getting plenty of help from Amare Barno, who switched from linebacker to the defensive line this season; Barno has already recorded 5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks on the year. Like with Wake Forest, the secondary this season has been a patchwork job in terms of personnel for Virginia Tech. Already missing 1st Team All ACC defensive back Caleb Farley due to opt out, the VT secondary has been forced to shuffle in and out players every game due to positive Covid-19 tests or contact tracing problems. According to Mike Barber at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, in four games this season, the Hokies have not had the same two starting safeties or cornerbacks and have started 5 different players at both positions. That is not exactly the formula for consistency.
The bottom line is that due to so many players missing games and the retirement of Bud Foster, this year’s Virginia Tech defense is not the VT defense we are accustomed to. They give up a ton of yards, but have found a way to keep their opponents (except UNC) from converting those yards into touchdowns. Last week, the Hokies gave up 435 yards to a Boston College offense that went into the game averaging just 355 yards per game—Boston College only managed to score 14 points. The Deacs should have no trouble moving the ball up and down the field against the Hokies, but they absolutely must finish drives and convert inside the red-zone. I have a feeling that in this game, field goals probably aren’t going to be enough to get the win.