Bud Foster not satisfied with performance of Hokies run defense
When a team is in the midst of a nine-game winning streak -- a place Virginia Tech finds itself heading into Saturday's regular season finale against Virginia -- it's hard to nitpick at faults. As fans, it's only natural to celebrate how the Hokies' defense has forced 12 turnovers in the past two weeks alone and that they've given up just 10 fourth-quarter points in ACC games this season.
But for defensive coordinator Bud Foster, it's hard to enjoy those numbers when his unit is ranked 75th in the country in rushing defense, giving up close 165 yards per game. So how's he dealing with that, especially because this year's team will likely go down as the worst Foster-led defense in terms of stopping the run?
“Not very good right now, to be honest with you," Foster said after Monday's practice. "We talked about it this morning. That’s the one thing we’ve taken great pride in. What we’ve done over 15 years, a lot of people would like to get done in one year. I don’t want our kids to lose sight of that. We don’t want a team to feel like they can have success running the football on us, because that’s the last thing you wanna be able to do.
Since Foster became defensive coordinator in 1995, the most rushing yards per game his teams have given up came last season, when the Hokies allowed 128.38 yards per game. During those 15 years, though, Foster's unit has allowed opponents to gain an average of just 102.3 yards on the ground. They've given up less than 100 yards per game in six seasons.
The bloated figure this year has forced Foster to consider some personnel changes in his linebacking corps. The Hokies have already had a revolving door at their whip linebacker position throughout the season -- using sophomore Jeron Gouveia-Winslow as well as defensive backs Antone Exum, Kyle Fuller and Eddie Whitley there -- but Foster confirmed Monday that outside linebacker Lyndell Gibson will also see his playing time decrease this week in favor of redshirt freshman Tariq Edwards.
"Lyndell has been banged up, his shoulder has been bothering him, and it’s kind of affected his play a little bit," Foster said. "I don’t care about his pride, I wanna win the football game. He needs to be a team guy that way, communicate with us if he’s struggling.”
Like Coach Frank Beamer has said on several occasions, Foster said he likes Edwards's combination of size and quickness, "and he’s at a position where we need some more productivity." Edwards, a redshirt freshman, had the best game of his young career against Miami, recovering a fumble on a muffed Hurricanes punt return and snagging an interception in the fourth quarter, when he played a majority of the snaps over Gibson.
His one issue has been practice, where both Beamer and Foster say Edwards needs to improve in order for them to have more confidence to use him in games. Edwards addressed this Monday evening.
“It’s not as far as the practice ability, it’s just the mental part of the game," Edwards said. "Things are just starting to come to me. I’m just starting to piece everything together. It’s complicated, but I’m learning day by day. ... [Foster] just wants to trust so I’ll be be able to get on the field. He respects my ability, I’m just trying to work extra hard so I’ll be able to get on the field.”
Foster concedes that with the way spread offenses are now, defensive numbers across the board are "higher and higher" than they've ever been. In the preseason Foster warned of growing pains this year, but it seems even he didn't expect it to take this long to get his run defense on track.
"That’s one area where whether we get it done this week, we gotta get it done these next three ball games," Foster said. "If not, it’s gonna be a major, major focus in spring football. Get the right people at the right spot and keep them there and keep them healthy. ...
“I still don’t think we’re playing as good as we can play. We were a little bit all over the place [at Miami]. I will say this, we played three teams that had to win and play their best football and I think we weathered some emotion and we still came back down to playing and executing and we’ve done that in the second half. Creating some turnovers and creating some plays have really been big."
| November 23, 2010; 10:58 AM ET
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