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Improved Tackling Boosts Hokies' Defense

Last week, Bud Foster was not a happy man. Virginia Tech's defensive coordinator was fuming – he used words like “appalling,” “embarrassing” and “unacceptable” to describe his unit’s play – because the Hokies' defensive was not performing like the Hokies' defense usually does.

One of the biggest reasons for Virginia Tech's defensive troubles was poor tackling. As a result, the Hokies particularly struggled to stop the run, ranking 107th nationally in rushing defense at 200.33 yards per game entering Saturday's game with Miami.

That changed in the Hokies’ 31-7 win over the Hurricanes. Foster counted three missed tackles against Miami, which was limited to 209 yards of offense, 59 on the ground. They were able to convert only 1 of 11 third downs and punted seven times.

“I think we definitely did tackle better,” linebacker Cody Grimm said. “We didn’t allow them to get in as much space.”

In Virginia Tech’s first three games, it had allowed 100-yard rushers. And those running backs – Alabama’s Mark Ingram, Marshall’s Darius Marshall and Nebraska’s Roy Helu Jr. – gashed Virginia Tech on long runs, exposing the Hokies’ susceptibility to big plays.

Virginia Tech’s coaches set out to change that before the Miami game. In practice, the Hokies did live tackling drills instead of against dummies to emphasize the importance of simple fundamentals such as wrapping up.

On Saturday, the Hokies showed the extra work paid off. Their run defense was solid as it made tackles and contained the Hurricanes’ rushers from breaking runs outside. Running backs Graig Cooper (55) and Javarris James (35) were limited to less than 60 rushing yards. Cooper’s longest run was 14 yards. James’s longest run went for 15.

“Overall, I think our run defense was a lot better,” Grimm said. “We kept them confined and between the tackles. When you do that, it will help limit the number of missed tackles.”

No. 6 Virginia Tech (3-1, 1-0 ACC) plays at Duke (2-2) on Saturday.

By Mark Viera  |  September 30, 2009; 8:50 AM ET
 
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