At Bristol Motor Speedway, Bud Foster’s defense found itself in a field position nightmare.
As the Virginia Tech Hokies’ offense coughed up eight fumbles, losing five, six of Tennessee’s seven scoring drives started within 58 yards of pay dirt. The final score hinted at a defensive meltdown. It was a mirage, and the Hokies have spent virtually every snap since reaffirming their ability to shutdown opponents.
The first example can understandably be viewed with skepticism. In new coach Justin Fuente’s ACC opener, the Hokies did not give up a single point to Boston College, the league’s least potent offense over the past two seasons. Boston College struggles to score against just about everyone. After the game, Foster said, “I hope it’s just the start of good things to come.”
East Carolina, out-of-conference scourge of the ACC in recent years, presented a different problem. While Fuente’s coaching staff focused primarily on the trademark physicality of Boston College the week prior, the Pirates’ spread attack challenged the unit to defend sideline-to-sideline. The Hokies did just that, holding the Pirates to 17 points — 10 scored in garbage time — in a 37-point rout on Saturday afternoon. East Carolina, which entered the week with five straight wins against ACC opponents, including two consecutive upsets against the Hokies, churned out yardage, but the Hokies dominated every phase of the game and repeatedly slammed the door on third- and fourth down.
Squaring off against a program that beat North Carolina State and fell six points shy of another Power Five win against South Carolina this season, Virginia Tech looked like it competed at a different level entirely in Week 4.
The reemergence of Foster's group, which took a surprising step back by finishing 59th nationally in scoring last season, underscores why Virginia Tech could find itself in the ACC Coastal mix with the likes of reigning division winner North Carolina, Pittsburgh and Miami. The Hokies might very well boast the Coastal's top defense. The conference's only teams ranked higher in efficiency (Boston College, Clemson) compete in the other division. The Tar Heels' troubles against the run are well-documented, Pittsburgh's secondary has looked vulnerable and, while productive to date, Miami's preseason suspensions of three of its top players should not be forgotten.
Fuente's first coup as head coach was keeping Foster in place, setting up an two-pronged dynamic to the coaching duties that could buy his offense time to get acclimated to the new system. For the past two weeks, that has been Virginia Tech's reality: The defense is flying around and the offense is finding its footing. Quarterback Jerod Evans is starting to look like a difference-maker (14 total touchdowns) and Isaiah Ford once again looks like one of the league's top wideouts.
It's all starting to come together — and not a moment too soon.
The Hokies' chances in the Coastal will essentially be decided in October.
Fuente's team gets a bye week before facing North Carolina, Miami and Pittsburgh in a three-week span. East Carolina provided the best win of the young season — for a variety of reasons — but the schedule's difficulty is about to be cranked up a few notches. If the past two weeks offer any clues, Virginia Tech, particularly its swarming defense, is up for the challenge.