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Virginia Tech's defense gets its act together in ECU win

The headline for this afternoon, as I wrote in my game story for the paper, was the emergence of sophomore running back David Wilson, who did an interview this week lamenting his lack of involvement during the Hokies' consecutive straight losses to begin the season.

But in terms of Virginia Tech's chances of turning around its season and competing for the ACC championship this year, there was no bigger development that the performance of the Hokies' defense in the second half.

To start off the game, though, it appeared they were headed for a third consecutive brutal showing, allowing East Carolina to rack up 278 yards and 24 points in the first half. Those fireworks came despite some changes in personnel made by defensive coordinator Bud Foster to begin the game.

Sophomore Eddie Whitley, normally the starter at free safety, replaced sophomore Jeron Gouveia-Winslow at whip linebacker. Redshirt freshman Antone Exum took Whitley's spot at free safety, while senior Davon Morgan remained at strong safety. Meanwhile, true freshman Kyle Fuller took the spot of cornerback Jayron Hosley, who missed Saturday's game after violating team policy this week. In essence, Foster replaced a linebacker with another defensive back to combat East Carolina's passing attack

But those moves made little difference as the Pirates racked up 278 yards and 24 points in the first half. The same mistakes that cost the Hokies against Boise State and James Madison -- silly penalties, missed tackles and missed assignments -- were being made once again.

Foster was not available for comment following the game, but two things came out of the postgame media scrum. For one, the Hokies made some slight adjustments when they came out of halftime. They called more linebacker blitzes to get pressure on Pirates quarterback Dominique Davis. Both Lyndell Gibson and Bruce Taylor ended up with sacks in the second half as a result.

But more importantly, this young defense that featured a whole lot of new faces finally matured on Saturday. Whitley said the unit started to recognize the quick slants and fast decision making that the Pirates worked to perfection in the first half. Players got used to the speed of the game and began recognizing things they had seen on film during the week of preparation.

"When that happened, we knew that, ‘All right look, we know what’s going on, they only have so many plays,' " Whitley said. "Let’s beat them to the cut they’re going to make or beat them to the route they’re gonna run. We just went out there and we just knew what they were doing in the second half."

I'm no defensive expert, but my guess is the Hokies might use that five defensive back set a lot more this season. Fuller didn't have any noteworthy plays, but considering he was a true freshman making his first career start, the fact that he didn't stick out should mean something. Exum, meanwhile, seemed to be all over the field and finished with a game-high 10 tackles.

Some more postgame news and notes
*In terms of defensive highlights, though, nothing will top Rashad Carmichael's interception that he returned for a 67-yard touchdown. Afterward, Carmichael said he told Morgan before the play to make sure he helped him on a deep throw because he planned on jumping the route if Davis threw something short.

As chance would have it, Davis tried to complete a hitch route, and Carmichael's risk paid huge dividends. After the game, nobody was more excited about the play than Coach Frank Beamer.

"Talk about a guy who turned it all around," said Beamer. "Things were looking good, the momentum was looking good, but what a great interception and what a great run. And then to come back, that second interception was pretty good too. I thought those were very special plays.”

*Beamer didn't talk much about Hosley's absence today other than to say it was just a one-game suspension for violating team policy.

*And one last thing for the offensive guys before I check out of Lane Stadium. That 69-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Tyrod Taylor to Jarrett Boykin in the fourth quarter moved Boykin into eighth place on Virginia Tech's all-time receiving yards list with 1,505 yards.

Now the Hokies move on to ACC play, where they begin with two-consecutive road games against Boston College and N.C. State. I'll have more later, and hopefully we'll get another update on running back Ryan Williams's injury soon.

By Mark Giannotto  | September 18, 2010; 9:49 PM ET
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Next: Virginia Tech-Boston College game set for noon

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