Big plays could bring changes on Virginia Tech's defense
Though his defense gave up a new school record in rushing yards Saturday against Wake Forest, Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster wanted to be clear that he didn't rip his unit during Monday morning's film review.
Sure, they allowed another team to gain more than 300 yards of offense again, but most of the damage was done on four plays -- all of which Foster emphasized were correctable mistakes of youth. However, the performance only continued a disturbing trend for the defense.
The Hokies have now allowed 35 plays of 20-plus yards this season, tied for the 12th most in the country. They're giving up an average of more than 354 yards per game, 142 of it on the ground, ranking them 51st in the nation in both categories.
And while Foster stuck to the company line Monday, others admitted it's hard to blame inexperience anymore, especially when there's just five games left in the regular season.
“It’s too late to be blaming youth," senior Davon Morgan said. "We got a lot of game experience under our belt. Our key is to get our guys out there without worrying about making mistakes. When you don’t worry about making mistakes, you don’t make mistakes. We got guys moving fast now, we just need guys to focus as well as play fast."
The focus Monday was on the linebacking corps, and specifically sophomore Lyndell Gibson. While Bruce Taylor ranks among the ACC's elite in tackles and tackles for loss and whip linebacker Jeron Gouveia-Winslow has seen limited playing time in recent weeks with the team playing more nickel packages, it's Gibson who has struggled production-wise.
Following a seven-tackle performance against North Carolina State, Gibson has just three tackles in his past two games, and it was his mistakes that directly led to wide open gaps on two of Wake Forest's big runs Saturday. Gibson admitted Monday he was out of position and took the wrong angle in pursuit, calling them "mental mistakes."
But Foster intimated that if Gibson doesn't shape up, he could lose the starting position that he took over halfway through the 2009 campaign.
“We need more productivity out of that spot, without a doubt," said Foster. "If there is an issue with Lyndell, it might be that he’s in a little bit of a comfort zone right now. I think he’s got a lot of pride and I’ve challenged him here the last couple of weeks to be more productive."
Foster added that he'd like to see Gibson increase his "arm violence" when he's on the field. I'd never heard that term before, but Foster defined it as "You can’t move your feet unless you move your arms. ... That gets great turnover with your feet." In general, he'd like Gibson to play faster than he is currently.
The real problem, though, is that there aren't many alternatives to Gibson right now. The Hokies are lacking in depth within the linebacking corps, especially now that it appears, barring injury, freshman Chase Williams will redshirt this year.
Foster said redshirt freshman Tariq Edwards has tremendous athletic ability and will likely see some more playing time this week, but the coaching staff is still looking for more consistency out of him. Oakton grad Jack Tyler has also played well against the run when called upon, but Foster worries about how he'll hold up in pass coverage.
Whatever the solution may be, the Hokies can't afford to give up so many explosive plays much longer, especially in the run game. Even the secondary, which gave up just four completions all game against the Demon Deacons, allowed a 73-yard touchdown pass.
As Foster pointed out Monday, Virginia Tech will soon be facing some tougher defenses that won't allow Tyrod Taylor and company to rack up 605 yards in a game. And with a nationally televised game against Georgia Tech and its option attack just around the corner, fixing the run defense is first and foremost on everyone's mind.
"The running game, to me, that’s where I think we’ve got to be a lot better because I don’t want people coming in and thinking they can run the football on us," said Foster.
| October 19, 2010; 9:59 AM ET
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