Hokies: Communication at root of their struggles

BY foxsports • September 16, 2010

Bud Foster gathered his defense together at a routine 6:45 a.m.

Instead of splitting the players up by position, however, Virginia Tech's defensive coordinator kept them together, dissecting what is going wrong for the reeling Hokies.

In a season that started with high expectations, time is already running short. Foster's defense, with seven new starters, has been burned by fundamental miscues like missed tackles and missed assignments.

''We were going over the calls, communicating together, just so you could feel each other and you could feel how it's supposed to feel when you're out there, how things were supposed to go,'' cornerback Rashad Carmichael said. ''He wasn't really too much upset with us.''

Things weren't expected to go like this.

The Hokies are off to an 0-2 start for the first time since 1995, including their first loss to a Football Championship Subdivision team - James Madison - in Frank Beamer's 24 years as coach. They have fallen out of the Top 25 for the first time since late November 2008 with an upcoming matchup against dynamic East Carolina (2-0) on Saturday at Lane Stadium.

The Pirates will arrive having averaged 50 points and 482 yards in victories against Tulsa and Memphis, but first-year Pirates coach Ruffin McNeill expects his team to be greeted by a Hokies squad that is turning the corner.

''I know coach Beamer and have known him since 1989,'' McNeill said this week. ''I had a chance to go up there and study with him and his staff when I was at Appalachian State. Bud Foster, the defensive coordinator, is really a great, great coach.

''I know those guys are not happy with where they are and I know they will do a great job getting that team together.''

To Carmichael, that means continuing to boost the morale of the younger defenders the way his teammates did when he struggled in his first start two years ago. It came against the Pirates, and while he knew what he was supposed to do, it wasn't always that simple.

''I was in that position where I knew what I was doing, knew what I was supposed to do, but when guys started motioning around, stuff started moving, your brain ties up your feet a little bit,'' he said of the 2008 game. ''You've been studying so much and watching so much, and then it happens and you're like, `Man, I missed it.' It all comes with experience.''

It would help, too, to get an offense that was supposed to carry the Hokies early in the season to start doing what it has been expected to do. Even with a roster loaded with skill position players like dual-threat quarterback Tyrod Taylor, tailbacks Ryan William and Darren Evans, and a big receiving corps led by Jarrett Boykin, the Hokies have struggled.

Much of that falls to the offensive line, which is also having communication issues.

''We give a lot of effort. Just sometimes, we don't get on the same page,'' center Beau Warren said. ''After two losses like this, you have to come together. And execute.''

Getting the running game going will help, tight end Andre Smith said.

''I feel like the ability to just punch them right in the mouth has always been our way,'' he said. ''We definitely need to start off that way.''

The Pirates would seem to be a good opponent to help make that happen. They have won a pair of shootouts, 51-49 over Tulsa and 49-27 against Memphis. They also have allowed some gaudy numbers by their opponents, including 356 yards per game passing and 496 overall.

Familiarity means McNeill knows what his defense can expect to face.

''We know Virginia Tech believes in the ground-and-pound style,'' he said.

Now, Smith said, the Hokies need to begin imposing that identity on opponents.

''The consistency is a huge factor,'' he said. ''It's not that we don't care as much or people are not putting in the effort, because everybody, especially this front, and everybody on offense are playing their hearts out. What we've been talking about a lot is we're not playing well.''

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