ACC: Bud Foster

ACC morning links

August, 19, 2014
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It is nearly time to begin preparing for Week 1 matchups. Does it surprise anybody that there are still unanswered questions at quarterback for three Coastal Division contenders?

Miami held a scrimmage Monday night in which true freshman Brad Kaaya continued to impress, throwing two touchdown passes. Transfer Jake Heaps, competing for the starting job, sat out the scrimmage to rest his arm. Coach Al Golden has repeatedly said he would name his starter following both scrimmages. Kevin Olsen is suspended for at least the opener; Kaaya played in both scrimmages; Heaps in just one. Do we read anything into where this leads headed into the opener against Louisville?

Meanwhile in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, coach Larry Fedora said he will not publicly announce his starter before kickoff against Liberty on Aug. 30. Returning starter Marquise Williams and Mitch Trubisky have been in a dogged competition. The Tar Heels will begin game prep Wednesday.

"We'll make a decision before the 30th," Fedora said. "I mean, you guys won't know it. But we will make a decision before the 30th. We'll start as we get into the game-planning, we'll have a plan what we're going to do and how we're going to implement it and those guys will be aware of it.

"It won't be like we walk out there on the 30th and I flip a coin and throw one of them out there."

Finally, the race to start at Virginia Tech is down to Michael Brewer and Mark Leal. Brenden Motley, who left the spring No. 1 on the depth chart, has been dealing with back issues throughout fall camp and has fallen out of the competition. Brewer and Leal split first-team reps during a weekend scrimmage, but a decision remains up in the air.

Now here is quick look at other headlines across the ACC:
Big names among the assistant ranks tend not to stay assistants for too long, but Clemson’s Chad Morris says he’s right where he wants to be and isn’t looking for a head-coaching gig long-term, writes the Augusta Chronicle.

Of course, if a certain job in College Station, Texas, were to open up -- as our Travis Haney wrote about this week -- it certainly would seem like a good fit for Morris, who is a Texas A&M graduate. But Morris also earned $1.3 million last season, which makes it a bit easier to stay comfortable in a coordinator role, and though he is smart enough to know when the right situation comes around, I think he is also sincere when he says he is not looking to leave.

And Morris isn’t the only ACC assistant would could be a hot commodity at some point in the next couple years. A few other names to watch for bigger jobs:

Bud Foster, Virginia Tech: The offense has been down over the past few years for the Hokies, but Foster's defense has been as good as ever. Foster has turned down lucrative offers elsewhere in the past, so he is clearly not looking to leave, but he will nevertheless remain on the radar for a lot of other programs looking to bring in a proven commodity.

Jay Graham, Florida State: He is young, has NFL experience and SEC ties, and he is a recruiting whiz. He also presided over the first 1,000-yard back at Florida State in 16 years last season. Graham is going to be a hot name very soon.

Chip West, Virginia: How does a team that finishes 2-10 and has a head coach constantly mired in hot-seat rumors still land a solid recruiting class, including five ESPN300 members? Chalk it up to West, one of the best recruiters in the nation.

Scottie Montgomery, Duke: He will get his first crack at a coordinator job this year as he takes over for Kurt Roper, who left for Florida. Montgomery has NFL experience as a wideouts coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and he is a terrific recruiter. If Duke’s offense continues to shine, he is going to get a lot of credit -- and a lot of long looks from other programs.

Brent Venables, Clemson: Morris gets all the buzz because offense is fun and the Tigers’ defense has played second fiddle for years. But look, everyone remembers that Orange Bowl loss to West Virginia to conclude the 2011 season, and what Venables has done for the Tigers’ defense since then -- 29.3 ppg in 2011, 24.8 in 2012, 22.2 in 2013 -- has been impressive, and this year’s unit could be his best yet. More importantly, the Clemson defense is finally climbing out of the shadow of its prolific offense.

More links:

Athlon has a look at recruiting in the Tidewater, Virginia area, and how the region has become a key battleground for programs like Florida State and Virginia.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has a piece on how colleges are bringing in outside help to sell tickets.

The Daily Progress is looking at Virginia’s opponents and wonders if this is the golden age of Duke football.

A new play-calling system should help Terrel Hunt run Syracuse’s up-tempo offense, according to Syracuse.com. We wrote plenty about up-tempo offenses yesterday, if you missed it.

Georgia Tech’s special teams should be a strength, writes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The Courier-Journal wonders why Bobby Petrino isn’t having more success on the recruiting trail at Louisville.

ACC's lunchtime links

June, 27, 2014
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NFL.com put together a list of the 14 hottest names among coordinators in college football, with two ACC coaches making the cut.

Of course, seeing Bud Foster and Chad Morris on the list is no surprise. They have established themselves as among the most consistently good coordinators in the country. What is perhaps more interesting is who isn’t on the list: Namely, no one from the defending national champion. In fact, ex-Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt (now at Georgia) does make the cut, but that is as close as the Seminoles got to landing a name on the list.

Given that Jimbo Fisher doesn’t employ an offensive coordinator and is on his third defensive coordinator in as many years, it is probably not a surprise, but as our Travis Haney noted during a recent trip to a Texas coaching clinic, FSU’s Charles Kelly has made a really good early impression since taking over for Pruitt.

Pruitt, quite fairly, received a lot of credit for last year’s championship defense, so now there are concerns about what his loss will mean for Florida State. Those concerns, however, are probably a bit misplaced.

First off, remember the chaos that followed the 2012 season at FSU? Seven assistants left the staff for other jobs, including both coordinators. Mark Stoops had engineered a defense that ranked in the top three nationally in consecutive years and was widely regarded as one of the best assistants in the country. Fisher couldn’t possibly replace all that, right?

Even in the wake of Stoops’ departure, fans clamored for a big name -- Foster, perhaps, or someone with NFL experience -- but he hired an obscure secondary coach from Alabama with just three years of college coaching on his resume. But he knew Pruitt, knew what he was capable of doing, knew the system he wanted to run, and the hire proved a stroke of genius.

So now, it’s a lot easier to believe Fisher knew what he was doing when he promoted Kelly from linebackers coach to DC, and the transition promises to be much smoother this time. Pruitt’s biggest impact on the team last season was the scheme he put in place, but that doesn’t figure to change much under Kelly. The players already know what they are doing, there is no change in vocabulary and virtually no change in the Xs and Os. Moreover, Kelly is as well-liked and respected as any coach on the staff. He will do just fine.

But that doesn’t mean there is no room for worries for Florida State’s defense. It’s just that losing Pruitt probably shouldn’t be the primary concern. The biggest void is the leadership lost with the departures of Lamarcus Joyner, Terrence Brooks, Timmy Jernigan and Telvin Smith. That was a rare breed of leaders that had been through the battles and suffered the losses that taught tough lessons -- lessons they continually reminded their younger teammates about during last season’s championship run. Finding voices on defense that carry as much weight in the locker room this year won’t be easy.

“I think it’s feeling comfortable taking on the roles of the guys who have left, that you feel comfortable stepping up and taking that responsibility,” Fisher told me this month. “All of them play hard, but what you have to have is guys stepping up and taking on the leadership. There’s a responsibility of how you have to conduct yourself as a teammate to affect the other guys on the team. That’s where teams grow, and summer and fall camp is so important.”

Fisher reeled off a bunch of names on the offensive side of the ball who will fill that role -- Rashad Greene, Cameron Erving, Karlos Williams, Tre Jackson, Josue Matias and, of course, Jameis Winston -- but the candidates on defense weren’t quite so established.

Fisher said sophomore Jalen Ramsey has been perhaps the most vocal leader throughout the spring and early summer, and fellow defensive backs P.J. Williams and Tyler Hunter have shouldered some of the leadership burden, too. The rest of the unit, though, is still developing.

“Last year’s team wasn’t on a journey. They were on a mission,” Fisher said. “They understood what they really wanted. The trial-and-error they had, they learned from their mistakes over time.”

Terrance Smith learned under Telvin Smith last season, but he’s not nearly as vocal as his predecessor. Mario Edwards Jr. and Eddie Goldman “are growing into the role,” Fisher said, but they haven’t proven they are as good at galvanizing a group around them as Jernigan did last year.

FSU has ample talent on defense, and it should again have an exceptional coordinator calling the shots, but it’s just really difficult to replace the battle scars and lessons learned that Joyner, Brooks, Smith and Co. used to such great effect in 2013.

More links:
Only three ACC schools kept their entire coaching staffs intact this past offseason, the clearest way to show how transient the profession is on a year-to-year basis.

[+] EnlargeBud Foster
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsDefensive coordinator Bud Foster has been Frank Beamer's right-hand man at Virginia Tech since 1987.
That is why a select group of coaches deserve a hand. Chris Vannini of Coachingsearch.com compiled a list of FBS assistants who have stayed at their respective schools for at least 10 years.

It is not a very long list.

Only 37 of 1,152 full-time assistants meet that standard. Four are from the ACC. Three are from one school: Virginia Tech.

  • Bud Foster, Virginia Tech defensive coordinator, 1987
  • Bryan Stinespring, Virginia Tech tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator, 1990
  • Charley Wiles, Virginia Tech defensive line/run game coordinator, 1996
  • Odell Haggins, Florida State defensive tackles, 1994

Stinespring and Haggins break the typical assistants mold, making their stories especially remarkable. Neither has ever worked for another FBS school. Haggins played at Florida State from 1986-89, then began his coaching career there in 1994. He was recently promoted to associate head coach and is going into his 21st season with the Seminoles.

Stinespring started at Virginia Tech as a graduate assistant, working his way up to offensive coordinator. After the 2012 season, he remained on staff as recruiting coordinator/tight ends coach despite losing his offensive coordinator duties.

Foster and Wiles both played for Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer; Foster has spent his entire coaching career with Beamer, turning down opportunities to become defensive coordinator elsewhere. His name has been linked to head coach openings in the past, and there is no doubt he would love the opportunity to run his own program one day. But until that day comes, Foster remains committed to both Beamer and Virginia Tech. The reverse is true as well.

What is clear about all four: they have gotten on-the-field results and have benefited from being at programs with long-tenured head coaches. Beamer has been at Virginia Tech since 1987. Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher worked with Haggins under Bobby Bowden, and Fisher decided to retain him on staff. Fisher also retained two other assistants who remain in Tallahassee: offensive line coach Rick Trickett and receivers coach Lawrence Dawsey. Both are going into their eighth seasons at Florida State -- not quite a decade but quite a solid tenure at one place.
Few players have had the kind of turnaround in the last year that Corey Marshall has had. After taking a leave from the Virginia Tech team for "personal reasons" last summer before returning to redshirt in 2013, the versatile defensive lineman worked his way back into the coaching staff's good graces, earning the Hokies' defensive MVP honors this spring.

Looking to build off his strong recent run, and looking to add more weight, the redshirt junior has a chance to be the next in line on a defensive front that has annually been among the best in the ACC.

ESPN.com caught up with Marshall to talk about his changes.

[+] EnlargeCorey Marshall
Michael Tureski/Icon SMIVirginia Tech defensive lineman Corey Marshall is ready for a breakout season after redshirting in 2013.
What did it mean to be named defensive MVP this spring?

Corey Marshall: That's another milestone I'm happy to accomplish. The big thing with this defense is replacing parts, and when you can be viewed for a period as the MVP on a defensive spot where there's going to be a lot of overall (talent), I think it's a big deal that people think you can be a catalyst at that position. I was just happy to get that recognition.

What worked for you this spring? What did you improve on? What were your goals?

CM: I think it was a culmination of things. I think most importantly it was getting bigger, stronger, faster. The old clichés. Grinding, staying at it. But most importantly it was just getting back in shape. That was the biggest thing. And I always knew I could play -- it was just getting that light switch to flip on. And there's a track record of guys here. They tell you all the time -- some of the older guys, James Gayle, now an NFL player, some of the other guys -- it's just a maturation process you go through. And I'm at those waning stages where you really start to pick up your game and elevate your play. So it's just nice seeing all that stuff come together.

You mentioned the light clicking on. How do you think that happens? I know it doesn't come overnight.

CM: Just repetition and muscle memory. Finally clicking. I think the biggest challenge for most guys coming out of high school is just the drastic change in talent; everybody's talented. You can't just coast on your raw ability; you have to be professional and go about it every day and improve at your craft. And I think that was where I just elevated off the field, was just doing extra work. Really getting that drive and that inner (focus) back. I think I got complacent once I got here, and that kind of left me in limbo. Once I got refocused I was able to do the things I know I'm capable of doing.

What do you like playing better: end or tackle?

CM: I think I'm a defensive weapon, honestly. However (defensive line) Coach (Charley) Wiles sees fit to use me, that's how I'm going to go about it, approach it. You've got to be a team guy. You have to have those elements. But I think what I really respect (about) him and (defensive coordinator) Bud Foster is they really know how to exploit talent. They understand I have that type of natural defensive end body and they let me rush in those pass-rush packages, those 30 packages, and let me exploit that on the outside, to get after the quarterback a little after I do the dirty work inside. So it's just keep on (building) that relationship and understanding that if you do your job every day, they're going to look out for you.

How important is it to you to help carry on the standard this defense has set over the years?

CM: It's massively important. It's the lunch-pail mentality. I think we all come to the conclusion that you've got to be blue-collar guys. You can't be about yourself. You've got to play within the Xs and Os, and I think where we excel, Bud Foster over his tenure here, is that he had guys that could play outside of the Xs and Os. After they completed their assignments, they went above and beyond. And to be a championship-caliber defense like we were last year, we have to have 11 souls with that mentality that, "I'm going to make the play. I'm going to change momentum in our favor when things get out of whack and adversity hits." And I think we've got a lot of guys with that mentality. I think we've got a chance to do something special.

What did you get out of redshirting? How are you better off for it in the long term?

CM: I think the wear-and-tear aspect of it is really underrated. I got, I think, about three months there where there was just no beating, there was no grinding, there was no wearing or lasting effects on me, and I was just able to get healthy in all aspects -- the little nicks and knacks that come along with the business. So I was able to get back right in that aspect, and that really just let me attack everything just (at) 100 miles an hour, and I really got better from that aspect. But I've been in this defense three years, so mentally it was just picking up where I left off and playing fast. I think that's what the coaches will tell you if you ask them -- just the intensity I came with every play. And that's just being a product of the system and understanding where you can excel and understanding how to read blocks. I think I got smarter in the nuances of the game.

Were there times last year where you would see something happen on the field and think you could've been there to help?

CM: There were a lot of sleepless nights watching those games, not being able to help your brothers. I kind of equate it to your brother getting in a fight and you're on the other side of the fence and you can't do anything about it. It kind of eats at you as a competitor. I think that UCLA game was kind of the culmination of that. There were a lot of plays where I think if I'm out there, we can turn those around and get stops and put our offense in a position to try to generate some plays to kind of shift the momentum. Because you saw it get away from us. We came out, had a couple competitive series, and as the game wore on -- as a defense it's bend-but-don't-break, but if you're out there all game you're going to break eventually. So just working on that and staying focused.

What does it mean to have the kind of turnaround you've had get noticed by the coaching staff publicly? Is that a sense of personal validation?

CM: It is, because I've had a lot of trials and tribulations, and I didn't want to have those situations be a blanket or an indictment on my character. I think at certain points you develop bad habits when you get complacent, and that's what I kind of fell into freshman year. And at a certain point if you know better, you do better. And I'm kind of at that point in my development where just maturity-wise I've taken a couple steps -- leaps and bounds from where I was Day 1. I know how to handle people and situations, and just as a man understanding that things aren't going to go your way but you need to fight through them, you need to keep your head up. All that just goes back into being a professional. Once you do some of those things, you get to reap the benefits. I didn't come here, work 17 years of my life for it to all fall away at the end. I take pride in being one of the best guys out there. I was blessed to play this game and I want to play it to the best of my abilities.

What do you see as the ceiling for you personally now?

CM: For a lot of guys, if you're not Jadeveon Clowney, people project your ceiling to be a lot shorter. But I think one of the benefits of not being just crazy royal gifted like that is that you continually get to shape your game and be very polished, as opposed to some of these others guys that don't take the fundamentals as seriously. You can really be an elite player because you do all the little things that build up to what you see on Saturdays or Fridays or whatever the case may be if you go out to play. So I think my ceiling is pretty high. I don't think I've touched it yet. I think once I put this weight on, in the season the double-teams will come even easier. Because a lot of guys will tell you I don't play like I'm 250. I play like I'm 270 already, so once I get that added weight on, there's a chance to be very, very disruptive, and that's something I look forward to getting to.

Is that a goal for you, to get to about 270?

CM: Yeah, to get to 270. We just started this offseason program. I've gained about five to seven pounds back on. So I'm right on course to be there sometime around the summer, so I'm not too concerned about it. But it's just getting bigger, faster, stronger.

And you were about 250 coming into offseason conditioning?

CM: I was about 247. I'm up to like 255 now, and it's still coming on easy, so I see that. But the biggest thing is it's not fat. You're putting on good weight that's going to help you be explosive and help you be fast and be strong out there.

Virginia Tech spring wrap

April, 29, 2014
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Three things we learned in the spring about the Virginia Tech Hokies:

1. RB Marshawn Williams and TE Bucky Hodges are players to watch. Williams is the kind of bruising running back the Hokies have been looking for, and assistant coach Shane Beamer said this spring it’s going to be tough to keep him off the field. Hodges, who came in as a quarterback, catches the ball well, is versatile and can be used all over the field.

2. The lunch pail is still packed. In spite of losing five of seven starters up front, there was a confident vibe this spring that the Hokies will again reload. The linebackers and defensive linemen know the expectations. The secondary wasn’t even full strength, and it was still impressive. This could be Bud Foster’s fastest defense in years.

3. Offensive depth is improving. There’s still work to do on the offensive line, but the depth has improved at the skill positions in the second season under coordinator Scot Loeffler. The running back and tight end positions should be better, and there’s no shortage of wide receivers to choose from.

Three questions for the fall:

1. Who’s the QB? This is one of the biggest questions in the ACC this offseason, and the Hokies won’t know who their starter will be until Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer and freshman Chris Durkin start practicing. Mark Leal injured his knee this spring, and Brenden Motley got his turn at the top of the depth chart.

2. Is Beamerball back? Virginia Tech’s kicking game hasn’t lived up to its reputation lately, and finding a kicker was coach Frank Beamer’s No. 2 priority this spring. Michael Branthover booted a 52-yarder this spring, but he’s not a lock as freshman Michael Santamaria will join the competition this summer.

3. Who are the Fab Five? The offensive line has five players returning with starting experience -- including three full-time starters -- but the depth chart and positions have changed seemingly every day. There could be some redshirt freshmen in the rotation, but the Hokies finished spring still searching for the right combination under their third offensive line coach in as many seasons.

One way-too-early prediction: The Hokies win eight games. Virginia Tech goes 3-1 against the nonconference schedule and beats ACC opponents Georgia Tech, Miami, Boston College, Wake Forest and Virginia. They’ll benefit from the crossover schedule, take advantage of the Thursday night game against Miami, but will lose the battle on Tobacco Road.

ACC's lunchtime links

April, 18, 2014
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Wishing everybody a great holiday weekend!

ACC's lunch links

March, 10, 2014
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The madness is almost ready to begin.

ACC's lunchtime links

December, 17, 2013
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"We'll follow the old man wherever he wants to go/ Long as he wants to go opposite to the foe" ...
 

ACC weekend rewind: Week 9

October, 28, 2013
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Another top-10 clash between undefeated teams is on the horizon. Before we get to that, however, we'll take a look back at how we got there in our Week 9 weekend rewind.

[+] EnlargeDavid Cutcliffe
Mark Dolejs/US PresswireDavid Cutcliffe has Duke pointed in the right direction.
The good: Duke may deserve its own "great" category (more on that in a bit), but the ACC finds itself at the center of the college football world for the second time in three weeks. Florida State took care of business against NC State, Miami survived a scare from Wake Forest and here we go again, as the No. 3 Seminoles and No. 7 Hurricanes take aim for conference (and possibly national) supremacy. ESPN's "College GameDay" will be in Tallahassee for the clash between the in-state rivals, marking the third time in 10 weeks that the show will originate from an ACC campus.

The bad: Pitt players used the words "complacent" and "overconfident" to describe the second half of their 24-21 loss to Navy, per the Post-Gazette's Sam Werner. What exactly the 4-3 Panthers were complacent or overconfident about is up for debate. Pitt lost a lot of leeway in its quest for another bowl berth, as it dropped a very winnable game and the chance to carry the momentum of a two-game winning streak into Saturday's trip to Georgia Tech. Navy scored 10 points in the final 3:52 to steal the victory. The schedule will be considerably more difficult for the Panthers down the stretch, as they face both Notre Dame and Miami over the final four weeks of the season. (On a positive note, congratulations to Devin Street for becoming the school's all-time receptions leader with 186.)

The ugly: Georgia Tech turned the ball over five times and still won at Virginia by 10, which should probably tell you all that you need to know right now about the Cavaliers. The Yellow Jackets escaped with the victory despite forcing just one turnover and holding the ball for nearly 10 fewer minutes than Virginia. Mike London took two huge gambles, first failing on an early fourth-and-1 try in field goal range and then calling a run play from the 1 with six seconds left that was stuffed for the last play of the first half. Georgia Tech, by the way, had Vad Lee throw the ball a whopping five times, completing three of those throws for 75 yards with no touchdowns and one pick. Kudos to the ground game, which had three 100-yard rushers, but this contest otherwise filled the "ugly" column capably.

The Blue Devils: Because really, what more can you say about them? Duke is 6-2 and likely going to a bowl for the second year in a row, which would be a school first. It is simply a remarkable feat for a program that, until last season, had not been to a bowl since 1994. The Blue Devils' 13-10 win over No. 14 Virginia Tech was their first victory over a ranked team since 1994, and their first road win over a ranked team since 1971. Hats off to David Cutcliffe for his rebuilding job in Durham, something everyone can appreciate a little more after seeing the coach get doused with a Gatorade shower following the stunning upset in Blacksburg.

Speaking of Tobacco Road … : About time, North Carolina. The Tar Heels finally put a complete game together, running over Boston College in a 34-10 win that ended a four-game losing streak. Bryn Renner was on point, completing 18 of 21 passes for 227 yards with two touchdowns and no picks. And the defense was stout, holding the Eagles to just 261 total yards of offense and limiting Chase Rettig to 10-for-20 passing for 57 yards. Maybe, maybe, things can open up a bit now for UNC, which is 2-5 but has a much easier second-half slate that should give it a chance to gain bowl eligibility, starting this week at NC State.

The refreshing take: Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher lifted his starters for most of the second half after a 42-0 halftime lead. NC State made the 49-17 final seem a lot closer than it was in the second half, but credit Fisher for why he would not put his starters back in: "I’m not going to go out there and embarrass this game and the integrity of how you’ve got to play. If that’s the way they’re going to do it, they need to re-evaluate. If they can’t tell we dominated that game early and put it away -- I just think that's bad for college football, in my opinion." FSU fell to No. 3 Sunday in the latest BCS standings. In State College, they probably wish the nation's No. 4 team had such perspective.

The quote: Virginia Tech receiver Willie Byrn, via The Virginian-Pilot's Andy Bitter: "What more can the defense do, really?" The Hokies held Duke to 198 total yards of offense, picked off four passes and held the ball for nearly twice as long as the Blue Devils. Credit Byrn for being more humble in defeat than defensive coordinator Bud Foster, though.

Mr. Reliable: Clemson went blue collar in its recovery from the Florida State loss, relying on fifth-year senior running back Roderick McDowell to help the Tigers escape Maryland with a 40-27 win. McDowell carried the ball 30 times for 161 yards, and the Tigers ran the ball 57 times for a season-best 247 yards. McDowell notched two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, his first two scores of the season. He lost one fumble, as did Sammy Watkins, but the Tigers were still able to impose their will on a defense that had been stout against the run.
To the outside world, Virginia Tech appeared to be falling apart throughout its decidedly un-Virginia Tech-like 2012 season.

To the players on the team, the unaccustomed and unwanted losses produced stressful practices and even more stress in games -- when players routinely jumped out of position to do more than they needed just to try and make a play.

“It was like everybody was getting gray hairs,” linebacker Tariq Edwards says now.

Gray hair?

[+] EnlargeVirginia Tech Hokies
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsThe Virginia Tech defense, which is No. 2 in the nation in total defense, is a big reason why the Hokies have a shot at the ACC championship game.
“Just a few,” the 22-year-old Edwards says with a laugh.

He can afford to laugh now that Virginia Tech is back to its winning ways, ranked No. 14 in the BCS standings and a serious threat to get back to the ACC championship game once again. Nobody in this program wants to go back to the misery that was 2012, but the adversity has helped shape this team and, most especially, this stifling defense.

“Last year, we were supposed to be like this, and for some reason or another it didn’t happen,” linebacker Jack Tyler says. “We didn’t want that happen again. We’re all a year older and we knew what it was like to really underperform and not live up to expectations. Some of the leaders got together. Our defense is pretty old. We have seven or eight starting seniors and we all came together and said, ‘That’s not going to happen again. We’re not going to allow that to happen.’”

Both Edwards and Tyler point to much stronger leadership from a larger senior class in helping the Hokies reclaim their usual spot in the Top 25 rankings. But Tyler also says the final three games of last season helped Virginia Tech get on the roll it is on now.

The Hokies had to win their final two games of the regular season to just get back to a bowl game. They did that, then dominated Rutgers defensively in the Russell Athletic Bowl to finish with a winning record, a huge victory considering all the struggles. Virginia Tech ended up with six losses, its highest total since 1992 -- when most players on the team were either infants or not even born yet.

Still, Tyler saw the potential. So did his teammates. Since those final three games of 2012, Virginia Tech is 9-1, with its only loss to No. 1 Alabama in the season opener. Though the season began with questions about coach Frank Beamer and whether he could get the program turned around, nobody on the inside had much doubt the Hokies would be back.

“You definitely don’t want to come into a season thinking you’re going to do bad in any way,” Edwards said. “They say defense wins championships so if we held down our side of the ball, we knew we would be in every game.”

Indeed, the defense has been the story so far this season, ranking No. 2 in the nation in total defense and No. 5 in scoring defense. Under defensive coordinator Bud Foster, Virginia Tech has been nationally ranked in the top five of a major defensive category a whopping 35 times.

“There’s a certain way we do things here, the way Coach Beamer runs the program, we’re supposed to be good character guys on and off the field,” Tyler said. “We think here they directly correlate. Last year, there were some guys that were getting in trouble and stuff like that. It took away from the success because everybody didn’t know if they could trust them on the field.

“Some of those guys are some of our leaders this year and they really flipped the switch and started becoming more involved off the field. The trust factor and all that that you need when you want to become a good defense, it all twisted together and we’ve become a good unit because of that.”

Virginia Tech has won ugly but its biggest Coastal Division rival, Miami, is coming off a pretty ugly win of its own. All of a sudden it seems Virginia Tech has as good a shot as Miami of getting to the ACC title game. Their meeting in November in Miami should determine that.

For now, the Hokies can take pride in how far they have come. One year ago today, they were 4-4, wondering whether they would make a bowl. Today, they already are bowl eligible, with their sights set much higher.

Perhaps there are fewer gray hairs sprouting up, too.
Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech are the only two programs in the ACC’s Coastal Division that have won their side in the eight-year history of the ACC championship game.

Historically, no game has meant more in the division race.

It still does.

“Every ACC game is like a playoff game,” said Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster. “It’s been a tight division, so your head-to-head play has been a big part of the end result when you have teams that are maybe 6-2 or tied. It’s been us or them. I know everybody is talking about Miami, but in my eyes, it’s us or them. That’s how we approach this game.”

For Georgia Tech, Thursday night's game in Atlanta is a chance to separate from the Hokies and set up a Coastal Division showdown with Miami on Oct. 5. The Canes were picked this preseason to win the division, but Georgia Tech already has a slight lead in the race thanks to back-to-back wins over Duke and North Carolina. A victory would put the Yellow Jackets at 3-0 in league play and give them eight consecutive regular-season ACC wins, tying for the program’s longest such streak. Many have already deemed the Georgia Tech-Miami game next week the one that will determine this year’s Coastal Division winner, but in order for that to be the case, the Jackets first have to get by the Hokies.

For Virginia Tech, it’s a chance to validate the team’s chances as a contender this year in the division race. The Hokies are 3-1, with their lone loss to No. 1 Alabama, but needed three overtimes to beat Marshall last week. Virginia Tech is No. 102 in the country in total offense, but No. 5 in total defense. It’s a trademark Virginia Tech team; the Hokies are struggling on offense and depending heavily on the D, but many wonder whether the offense can be just good enough to stay in the race. So far, Georgia Tech has looked like the more complete team, but Virginia Tech has a knack for finding a way to win the games that mean the most.

Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, though, isn’t convinced that this is a season-defining game.

“Well, we don't know about this year,” Beamer said. “It's early in the year. You don't know how good we are, how good they are, how many games they're going to win, how many games we're going to win. But it's certainly being on national TV on Thursday night that's different for your kids. So I know they'll come out and play extremely hard and hopefully we can play well.

“Any time you play in the conference and play your team on your side of the conference, there is certainly a sense of urgency,” he said. “But to say, 'Hey, this game's going to determine our season,' I don't think we can say that right now.”

History tends to disagree.

Since Paul Johnson arrived at Georgia Tech before the 2008 season, the Yellow Jackets have won 28 ACC games. Only Virginia Tech (30 wins) has more. Clemson and Florida State also have 28 wins over that span.

“I think that if you look just since I've been here, sometimes the programs get overlooked a little bit,” Johnson said. “But if you take Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, they're probably in the top three or four in total conference wins over the whole span that I've been here. It's just kind of worked that way. So it's always a big game and a game that has a lot of meaning in the Coastal Division race.”

The same will hold true again tonight.

ACC predictions: Week 5

September, 26, 2013
9/26/13
9:00
AM ET
Like the ACC, we went 7-0 with our picks last week. Andrea is now 34-4 through four weeks, while Heather is 33-5, but Week 5 brings one big disagreement.

On to the picks!

Thursday

Virginia Tech (3-1, 0-0) at Georgia Tech (3-0, 2-0), 7:30 p.m., ESPN. #VTvsGT. One of these teams has gone to the ACC title game every single year. Will the same hold true in 2013? Both teams come in off a short week and hard-fought wins, but this happens to be the ACC opener for Virginia Tech. The Hokies are 8-1 in ACC openers, with the lone loss coming from Clemson in 2011. They also are good at beating the Jackets, winning three straight meetings and five of the last six. AA gives the nod to Virginia Tech this year based on the defense, ranked No. 5 in the nation. Bud Foster generally finds a way to slow down the Georgia Tech offense enough to give the Hokies a chance at the win. In the last two years, Georgia Tech posted rushing and total offense numbers below its season averages. The Jackets, meanwhile, looked sluggish for most of the day offensively last week against North Carolina. Virginia Tech is much better defensively and that is the difference. AA calls for an UPSET. Virginia Tech 21, Georgia Tech 20.

HD picks: Georgia Tech 24, Virginia Tech 21. The Hokies are coming off a triple-overtime win against Marshall and had a five-day turnaround to prepare for a completely different offense. Foster said he is going to be relying on the retention of his veteran defenders who have played against the spread option offense and have had success against it before. Georgia Tech, though, is No. 2 in the country in third-down conversion percentage, and while the Hokies’ D will do enough to keep them in this game, the offense will struggle enough again that this time it won’t be enough to win it.

Saturday

No. 15 Miami (3-0) at USF (0-3), noon, ESPNU. #MIAvsUSF. Only three seasons ago, USF upset Miami to end the regular season. But things have been downhill for the Bulls since then. USF is off to an 0-3 start for the first time in school history, in large part to its offense and its tendency to turn the ball over. Five times in three games so far, the opponents have scored defensive touchdowns. Penn State transfer Steven Bench gets the start at quarterback this week, while Miami plans to play Stephen Morris, working through a bruised ankle. Truthfully, Miami could win this game even without Morris.

AA says: Miami 35, USF 3

HD says: Miami 51, USF 10

East Carolina (2-1) at North Carolina (1-2), 12:30 p.m., ESPN3. #ECUvsUNC. East Carolina plays its second straight ACC opponent, having lost to Virginia Tech a few years ago. The Pirates run the same type of tempo offense the Tar Heels run so there will be plenty of no huddle in this game. What North Carolina coach Larry Fedora wants to see is better offense overall. He called the performance of the group in the second half of a loss to Georgia Tech "inept." Bottom line -- the Tar Heels are averaging more than 100 yards fewer on offense this year than last. North Carolina, in fact, ranks an unsightly No. 82 in the nation in total offense.

AA says: North Carolina 35, East Carolina 17

HD says: North Carolina 31, East Carolina 28

Virginia (2-1, 0-0) at Pitt (2-1, 1-1), 12:30 p.m., ESPN3. #UVAvsPITT. The Hoos cannot afford to get in a shootout with the Panthers because they do not have the type of offense that can keep up. What Virginia does have is a more aggressive defense that will try to ramp up the pressure on Tom Savage, rattling him enough so he has a more difficult time getting the ball to Tyler Boyd and Devin Street on the perimeter. Pitt has its own problems on defense it has to deal with, but Virginia is still trying to find its identity there with a consistent run game. Give the nod to the Panthers based on their offensive playmakers.

AA says: Pitt 30, Virginia 23

HD says: Pitt 28, Virginia 24

Troy (2-2) at Duke (2-2), 3 p.m., ESPN3. #TROYvsDUKE. The Blue Devils need to find a way to fix their problems on defense in a hurry after dropping two straight ACC games. The big key is limiting the explosive plays. In the loss to Pitt, the Panthers had 17 plays that picked up 25 or more yards. Troy does not have the same type of offensive skill players as Pitt, or even Georgia Tech for that matter. The Trojans also do not have anybody on their roster like Duke receiver Jamison Crowder, who had nearly 300 all-purpose yards in the loss to the Panthers.

AA says: Duke 35, Troy 20

HD says: Duke 52, Troy 21

No. 8 Florida State (3-0, 1-0) at Boston College (2-1, 1-0), 3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2. #FSUvsBC. The Eagles had a bye to prepare for Florida State, along with the experience of playing against one of the best defenses in the nation in a loss to USC two weeks ago. But those combined may not really do much to help the Eagles in their upset bid. Here is a stat that sums up how good the Seminoles have been early: Through their first three games, 11 different players have scored touchdowns.

AA picks: Florida State 45, Boston College 13

HD picks: Florida State 35, Boston College 17

Central Michigan (1-3) at NC State (2-1), 3:30 p.m., ESPN3. #CMUvsNCST. NC State coach Dave Doeren is quite familiar with Central Michigan, having played the Chippewas the last two years as Northern Illinois coach. He went 1-1 in those games. The key here is to see how the Wolfpack bounce back after a tough loss to Clemson last Thursday night. The last time they played a team they were favored to beat, they struggled with Richmond. The focus has to be better.

AA picks: NC State 35, Central Michigan 13

HD picks: NC State 31, Central Michigan 10

Wake Forest (2-2, 0-1) at No. 3 Clemson (3-0, 1-0), 3:30 p.m., ESPNU. #WAKEvsCLEM. Wake Forest has not won in Death Valley since 1998. That streak is not going to end Saturday. The Deacs have too many problems on offense to keep pace with the Tigers, who are trying to get back in sync after an up-and-down performance against NC State. Two of the best receivers in the ACC will be featured in this game – Sammy Watkins and Michael Campanaro – but Vic Beasley could end up making headlines once again for the Tigers.

AA picks: Clemson 45, Wake Forest 10

HD picks: Clemson 48, Wake Forest 13

Hokies' D better than advertised

September, 5, 2013
9/05/13
4:00
PM ET
Alabama’s offensive line is being questioned. Nobody looked like a Heisman winner last weekend against Virginia Tech. And experts are talking about how the defending national champs might actually have some offensive weaknesses.

Surprise: Virginia Tech found a way to expose them.

Lost in the score of Virginia Tech’s 35-10 loss to Alabama on Saturday night was the fact that the Hokies’ defense slowed down the defending national champs.

Consider:
  • The Tide had just 97 yards of total offense at halftime.
  • Alabama managed 206 total yards on offense, well below its 445.5-yard average last season.
  • AJ McCarron threw an interception -- he had only three in all of 2012.
  • Alabama was held to just 96 yards rushing -- the first time since the 9-6 2011 loss to LSU that it was held under 100 rushing yards -- and 3.3 yards per play.

"We played a heck of a game," said Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster. "We played as good as we've played here in a long time, especially in a big game like that against a big opponent. ... The score was not an indication of how we played."

Alabama won because it scored three non-offensive touchdowns (a 72-yard punt return, a 94-yard kickoff return, and an interception return for a touchdown) and played terrific defense. The Hokies’ special teams miscues were glaring, and the offense was again anemic, but Virginia Tech’s defense was good enough that the rest of the Coastal Division should be wary.

The Hokies' front seven flustered Alabama, which had three new starters up front. Foster’s group looked better than advertised, as the Hokies were stingy against the run and kept McCarron on the run. The young, talented secondary is only going to improve with experience. Virginia Tech at times played with two true freshmen in the secondary, as Kendall Fuller started at the field corner position, and when the Hokies went to their nickel package, both Fuller and Brandon Facyson played.

"They both played really well," Foster said. "Kendall played an outstanding game -- very active, made a lot of tackles, made a lot of plays in space. Facyson was very solid. They're two good prospects for us. They played their first college game, and they've got nothing but a bright future ahead of them if they can stay healthy."

Coach Frank Beamer agreed that it was one of the program's best defensive performances in years.

“I thought we really played, well, one of our better defensive games around here,” Beamer said. “I think we really flew to the football, we really tackled well against some really quality people -- the running backs and wide receivers -- really played extremely well. Very aggressive. If we had executed better offensively, we’d have been happy.”

The Hokies should hope that’s not their mantra for the whole season, but Virginia Tech fans are used to this scenario: a defense that’s good enough to keep them in games and even win some, despite offensive struggles. Obviously quarterback Logan Thomas has to complete more than five passes a game in order for Virginia Tech to be taken seriously in the ACC race, but McCarron only completed five more than Thomas.

Virginia Tech isn’t going to face anybody else on the schedule as talented and as deep as Alabama, and the Hokies should be expected to rebound with three straight wins, starting this weekend against Western Carolina. That’s three weeks to improve offensively before traveling to Georgia Tech for a nationally televised Thursday night game on Sept. 26. The Alabama game can’t be considered a true indicator of what the Hokies are going to look like this season or in November, but it was a good foreshadowing that this will likely be another season in which the defense is the team’s identity.

That's just fine with Foster.

"I don't care what we do on the other side of the ball," he said. "We can give ourselves a chance by our play and being consistently good. Teams in the past, we've struggled on that side of the ball and have won some championships by playing great defense and kicking the ball and having an opportunistic offense and not turning the ball over. Where I'm challenging our guys is, if we want to be a championship-caliber team, we've got to play great defense, week in and week out. Not sporadic great defense."

That would be an improvement from a year ago, when the Hokies couldn’t even depend on the Lunch Pail in the first half of the season. Until proven otherwise, Virginia Tech’s offense remains a problem, but the defense looks good enough to be part of the solution.

Just ask Alabama.
In Miss Lucretia Culbreth's seventh-grade science class, students were given different parts of cows to dissect. As most of the kids cowered at the sight of bloody animal hearts and livers, 13-year-old Brandon Facyson gravitated toward the organs, asking if he could touch them.

Despite being told no, Facyson's fascination with bodies and structures eventually manifested over the years into an interest in medicine. Now an aspiring heart surgeon in his freshman year at Virginia Tech, Facyson has juggled classes as a biological sciences major with duties on the gridiron, where he has matured quickly into a cornerback the Hokies are expecting to rely on this fall.

"Being in that major is a lot of work," Facyson said. "It's a lot of breaking down stuff. It's a lot of just taking my time, going out there. It helps as a football player as well, just breaking down information one step at a time and just putting it all together. And once I get it, I can just run it faster, I can understand it more and I can play faster."

The nation will discover just how fast that is come Saturday in Atlanta, where the Hokies get the first crack at Alabama in the Crimson Tide's quest for a three-peat. And Facyson has hardly been alone in shouldering a heavy workload in the lead-up to the season opener against the defending champs.

[+] EnlargeBud Foster
AP Photo/Bob LeveroneDefensive coordinator Bud Foster knows that his freshmen DBs are going to have to come up big against Alabama.
Virginia Tech has not started a true freshman defensive back in an opener since Antonio Banks took the field at free safety 20 years ago. But with all-ACC second-teamer Antone Exum still rehabbing from a January knee injury, and with his replacement, sophomore Donaldven Manning, deciding to transfer one week into fall camp, two true-freshmen corners are assured of meaningful minutes in their college debuts. And their first test will come against a preseason Heisman Trophy contender in quarterback AJ McCarron, who will be throwing to wideouts such as preseason All-American Amari Cooper.

"I'm looking at it as it's going to be a good welcome to college football," said Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech's other freshman corner.

Fuller's initiation has been a little more gradual. The fourth of four brothers to play for the Hokies -- and the younger brother of senior starting corner Kyle Fuller -- the 5-foot-11, 193-pounder arrived in Blacksburg, Va., this summer as the highest-rated recruit of a Virginia Tech class that ranked 20th nationally this past cycle, its highest in four years, according to ESPN's RecruitingNation.

Bud Foster has told reporters that the youngest Fuller is among the most ready newcomers he has ever had in his 19 years as Virginia Tech's defensive coordinator, a sentiment echoed by his position coach.

"His football IQ for a freshman is off the charts, from the standpoint that we're starting him off at nickel, saying, 'OK, let a true freshman come in just in nickel packages and let him absorb that and be good at that,'" secondary coach Torrian Gray said. "And then you find out, 'OK, we're going to play you at nickel but still play you a little bit at corner,' and there really were very few mental errors by Kendall, or if he messed up something, you'd correct him once and he was able to grasp it and move on. There's all these different nuances to each technique or coverage.

"So we put him at nickel, he's playing that. We put him at boundary corner, get some third-team reps just to keep you sharp at corner, then you get an injury at the field corner and you put him there. And there's different nuances even though corner is corner to an extent. And I'm like, 'Wow.' So that's been the most impressive thing. Just his football IQ and being able to tell him once, just how quickly he can absorb and pick up things, because I have other freshmen you've got to tell a thousand times. And it's just amazing how quickly he can absorb stuff besides being a talented kid and competitive kid."

It helps, too, having the example of older brother Kyle Fuller, another all-ACC second-teamer who has been starting for the Hokies since his freshman year.

Gray equated Kendall Fuller's family ties to the program with that of a student reading the CliffsNotes version of a book before it has been assigned in class.

"I actually wish I could have had this type of experience that they had," Kyle Fuller, who started seven games as a freshman, said of his brother and Facyson. "Both young guys coming in, that's definitely good for them. They have a good and bright future, and I'm looking forward to seeing them in the coming years."

Facyson is listed at second behind Kendall Fuller on a depth chart that figures to be in flux throughout the season, especially with Exum expected back some time in the next month or so. Facyson's first official taste of a college gridiron this weekend will come in the Georgia Dome, less than an hour away from his hometown of Newnan, Ga.

He recently returned to Madras Middle School to catch up with Miss Culbreth, who had sparked his intrigue into anatomies with those cow dissections six years ago. She was washed over in tears upon the reconnection.

Gray could not help but laugh when asked about the initiative of Facyson, praising the freshman's maturity level and saying that he "always looks you dead in the eye." Gray, a former Hokies safety, is entering his eighth season as the orchestrator of "D.B.U." -- Virginia Tech has had a defensive back drafted in all but two years since 1997 -- and he admitted that this group, collectively speaking, is as green as any he has worked with.

Still, he has not relented on his demand of perfection from a unit that will not be given any free passes when it opens against a modern-day dynasty.

"I'm going to coach them hard, I'm going to correct them hard, I'm going to congratulate them and be very enthusiastic when they get it right and do it right," Gray said. "I'm going to be very demonstrative to get my point across if I have to [if] they're not getting it corrected at the speed that it needs to get corrected at.

"So that's just my approach to it. I can't allow these guys to be true freshmen because they're going to be playing extensively against Alabama. They've got to match my sense of urgency, so I coach that way. And for the most part guys understand why and respond and some guys don't understand why, but it's just that way right now."

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