By David Cooper
Virginia Tech’s rush defense ranked No. 2 in the country heading into their game against Miami. The defensive line has been one of the best units on the field for the Hokies as James Gayle, Derrick Hopkins, Antoine Hopkins and J.R. Collins all played excellent through the first four games of the season. The defensive line’s best game came against East Carolina as the Hokies shut down the run game completely. The Pirates ended the game with -15 yards rushing and their quarterback, Dominque Davis, was sacked five times. Two weeks later, the Hokies held the Marshall Thundering Herd to just six yards on the ground. Those stats don’t lie — Tech’s starting four on the defensive line are good.
The defensive line has been plagued by injuries this season. Two of the four starters have gone down in recent weeks and expected starter, senior Kwamaine Battle suffered a season ending knee injury before the season began. Starting defensive tackle, Antoine Hopkins, tore his ACL during the Clemson game and defensive end, James Gayle, sprained his ankle early against Miami. The one place the Hokies couldn’t afford injuries was the defensive line as the team has little depth. Antoine Hopkins was replaced with freshman Corey Marshall who did his best against Miami’s massive offensive line but was unsuccessful. Marshall alternated playing time with junior Courtney Prince and freshman Luther Maddy. Miami rushed for 236 yards against the Hokies which was more than 100 yards more than they had allowed any team all season, which isn’t a surprise when you have a guy who has been taking snaps as offensive guard playing defensive tackle (Courtney Prince). The Hokies were simply worn down in their game against Miami as starters Derrick Hopkins and J.R. Collins played almost every snap. Injured James Gayle was replaced with redshirt sophomore, Tyrel Wilson, who weighs only 219 pounds going up against Miami’s offensive line all weighing in over 300 pounds.
The starting defensive linemen are very good and have proved it early on this season but the depth at the position is very shallow, mostly due to inexperience. The defensive line is a young group throughout with the reserves consisting of mostly freshman and sophomores. Bud Foster hopes their learning curve is small because he is going to need them more than he originally thought as this season progresses. Grade: B
By Zander Baylis
Under the tutelage of Bud Foster, the Virginia Tech Hokies have become known for producing NFL-caliber defensive players. The production of great linebackers has been perhaps the most consistently stellar of all the positions on the defensive side.
Coming into the year, middle linebacker Bruce Taylor was the only recognizable name of the three projected starters at the linebacker position. He lead the team in tackles last year, with 91, and he has continued to produce this year as the leading tackler on the No. 13 ranked defense in the country.
Though Taylor is a marquee name on the defense, the depth at the linebacker position is one of the major indicators as to why the Hokie defense has returned to form this year. The sleeper on the defense this year has to be Tariq Edwards, who has stolen the spot from incumbent, Jeron Gouveia-Winslow, and given Coach Foster absolutely no reasons to bench him. Edwards is third on the team in tackles with thirty-one. Edwards compliments the run-stuffing Taylor with his agility and sideline-to-sideline speed. The outside-linebacker position opposite of Edwards features multiple players, each providing a different look for the defense. The “linebacker by committee” that seems to have been created with Alonzo Tweedy, Gouveia-Winslow, and Telvion Clark has contributed a combined twenty-six tackles with an interception and 1.5 sacks.
At-least two of the linebackers in this current group are NFL-caliber in Taylor and Edwards. Fortunately for the Bud Foster and the Hokies, they are both young and the rest of the group has shown the consistency that a top-15 defense needs to be successful. Grade: B+
Under current defensive coordinator Bud Foster, the Hokies have established a reputation as one of the hardest nosed defensive programs in the country. Arguably, the strongest facet of this consistently steadfast unit has been the defensive backfield. Year after year, under the tutelage of defensive backs coach Torrian Gray, our secondary continues to produce “draftable” NFL caliber talent. The 2011 edition seems to build off of this established precedent. In fact, All-American junior cornerback, Jayron Hosley is known nation-wide as one of (if not the) best corners in the country. Through six games, Jayron has already picked off three passes and defended another 8. These are impressive totals, considering teams don’t often throw his way. This season has also seen the emergence of the apparent heir to the Virginia Tech secondary throne in sophomore corner Kyle Fuller. Fuller has been instrumental for the Hokies in their 5-1 start. Fuller is an excellent tackler from the cornerback position and has certainly played his part in the passing game. Opponents thus far have completed only 47.6% of passes against the Hokies, with a mere 6.6-yard per pass average. Our defensive backfield has been stout through the halfway point, and even played admirably in our only loss of the season. Grade: A-