Hokies hallmark D ready for some consistency?
BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP)The stout defense that has been a hallmark of Virginia Tech 's rise in national prominence hasn't been its consistently stingy self this season.
Sure, it was terrific on a big stage against No. 9 Miami, holding Jacory Harris and the Hurricanes down in a 31-7 victory. But then it gave up 397 yards and 26 points against Duke.
It was great again last week against Boston College, holding the Eagles to two first downs and 28 yards through three quarters, and now may face its toughest remaining challenge.
The fourth-ranked Hokies (5-1, 3-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) play Saturday at No. 19 Georgia Tech (5-1, 3-1), and they know that more of the missed assignments and shabby tackling that led to big plays for the Blue Devils will burn them against Georgia Tech.
No problem, defensive coordinator Bud Foster said.
"I think the kids have taken ownership here, especially after the Duke game and after this week, with really showing if we put it all together what we can do," Foster said.
"We did it against Miami, we did it against BC and we're going to have to do it this week to give ourselves a chance against this offense."
The Yellow Jackets, featuring coach Paul Johnson's triple option, have the nation's No. 4 rushing offense, averaging 277 yards, and the No. 24 offense overall, averaging 427.
It also has two of the league's most dynamic players in tailback Jonathan Dwyer, the reigning ACC player of the year, and quarterback Josh Nesbitt, who ranks second in the ACC in passing efficiency and third in rushing.
Nesbitt, at 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds, has carried the ball as many as 32 times in a game and thrown for as many as 266 yards in a game, making him hard to prepare for in practice.
"He's a special athlete," Hokies defensive tackle John Graves said. "It's very hard to simulate somebody of that caliber who can make some of the cuts that he makes."
One of the Hokies problems this season has been the tendency of some of their younger players to freelance rather than stick to their assignments.
Against Georgia Tech, the Hokies' game plan will be simple: Do your job.
Linebacker Jake Johnson admittedly has struggled with the concept, but said he now understands that his desire to pulverize a ball carrier is second to fulfilling his role.
"I know if something's going on over there, I still have to get my assignment because there's 10 other guys on the field that are going to do their jobs and they're counting on me to do mine," Johnson said. He also said he thinks the group is finally catching on.
"Yesterday we had a real great practice and I think we'll just continue on that path," he said. "Against Duke (two weeks ago) ... I don't think we were as focused as we should have been. I think we'll stay focused and have our eyes on the prize and win the game this week."
The prize, of course, is the ACC championship, and the winner Saturday gains a leg up if the race comes down to a tie. The Hokies already earned that advantage against Miami.
Johnson, whose defense allowed more than 400 yards in the first half against Florida State last week in a game the Yellow Jackets still won, would love to have Tech's concerns.
The Yellow Jackers are yielding an average of 385 yards per game; the Seminoles had 539.
"I think they've always played pretty good defense other than the Alabama game where they got wore down," he said of the Hokies 34-24 season-opening loss to the No. 3 Crimson Tide.
The Hokies led that game 17-16 entering the fourth quarter before Alabama took control.
"They were on the field. They couldn't make a first down. They got wore down a lot," Johnson said, allowing the Hokies' struggling offense in that game to share culpability.
"They gave up some yards and points to Duke, but if you watch the tape, I don't know if they were ever in danger of losing," Johnson said.
Danger of losing has never been the standard for the Hokies, which probably helps explain why the defense has finished in the top five nationally four times in five years.
Johnson and his teammates want to keep that tradition going.
"We've shown with Miami and Boston College that we can eliminate the run and stop the big plays," he said, "so I think we're just going to carry on from those two weeks."