Hokies' defense ready to tackle next challenge

September, 23, 2009
9/23/09
10:30
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich


Virginia Tech will be facing its second ranked opponent in as many weeks on Saturday, and defensive coordinator Bud Foster said Miami’s offense has more overall speed than Alabama and Nebraska.

Lee Coleman/Icon SMI
Bud Foster's defense has finished nationally in the top seven in total defense each of the last five years.
That much he knows.

What Foster doesn’t necessarily know is what to expect on Saturday from offensive coordinator Mark Whipple’s playbook.

“That’s the hard part right now,” said Foster. “We’ve seen just two games, and he’s been out of the college game now for going on probably four years. It’s hard. You might go back and try to track down some old Massachusetts film, but all we can go on is what we’ve seen the first two games. There’s a consistency there in the first two games. I don’t foresee him to come out and change his whole offense for our game. That sends a different message to your kids.

“But I can see them continuing to build on their playbook they have already at Miami. We’re going to see another wrinkle added to a running play or in the passing game. That’s something we have to be prepared for. Obviously we haven’t seen his whole playbook, but hopefully we’ve built enough foundation ourselves that we can adjust and adapt to things they may throw at us.”

Miami currently leads the ACC in pass efficiency, passing offense and total offense. In wins against two ranked ACC opponents -- Florida State and Georgia Tech -- Miami quarterback Jacory Harris has worked his way into the Heisman conversations. It’s a high-flying offense that will challenge a Virginia Tech defense that ranks 77th in the nation in total defense and is tied for 107th in rushing defense. Those aren’t the numbers the Hokies are used to, as Virginia Tech has finished nationally in the top seven in total defense in each of the last five years. What Virginia Tech’s defense is used to, though, is winning football games even when the offense comes up short.

“On defense here we’re expected to play at a high level every time, no matter what happens on offense or special teams,” linebacker Jake Johnson said. “We have to hold up our end of the deal every play, 100 percent, every down. We’re expected to play like that every single snap, every single game.”

The difference this year is that they’ve been giving up too many big plays -- distances like 31, 39, 61, 60 and 48 yards. Nebraska’s Roy Helu Jr. became the third running back this season to rush for over 100 yards on the Hokies. Virginia Tech hasn’t allowed that to happen since 2002. There’s a good possibility it can happen again this weekend, as Miami running back Graig Cooper is averaging 62 yards per game, and he’s got plenty of help from Javarris James. They’re just a fraction, though, of the Canes’ options.

“They’ve created a lot of big plays against people in these first couple of ball games, and that’s kind of been our nemesis here, and luckily we’ve won a couple of them,” Foster said. “That’s one thing that really concerns me going into this game, is because of their speed, because of their ability to protect and what they do, they can create big plays.”

Last week the Hokies were plagued by missed tackles and missed assignments -- things they review as a defense every Monday morning. Johnson said the key to defending the Canes is to limit those errors.

“We have so much potential right now to be a great defense,” Johnson said. “… As long as we bring our A-game and don’t have any mental errors or things like that, we’ll be fine.”

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