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Hokies Leaning on Defense to Lead

By BJ Bennett
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While the other side of the football continues to develop, the pressure will stay on the defense to keep the Hokies in games.

They threw some different things at us that they hadn't shown on film.
~A.J. McCarron

Virginia Tech's offense continues to be a very real work in progress. After mustering just 212 total yards, 77 of them on one play, in the season opener against Alabama, the Hokies saw modest improvement against overmatched FCS foe Western Carolina. Virginia Tech compiled 462 yards of total offense and 24 offensive first downs. Inconsistency, though, continued for quarterback Logan Thomas. After going 5-of-26 with an interception against the Crimson Tide, he threw two more picks against the visiting Catamounts. First-year coordinator Scot Loeffler appears to have plently of work left to do.

On the other side of the line of scrimmage, veteran defensive coordinator Bud Foster may have one of the best units he has ever had. Though Alabama scored 35 points in week one, 21 of them came off of defense and special teams. Foster's Hokies controlled the Crimson Tide at the line of scrimmage, holding Alabama to their lowest offensive output since September of 2008. The Crimson Tide, with the season-opener serving as their only barometer, are currently the worst statistical offense in BCS conference football by a wide margin. So far, only Miami (OH) and Florida International have been less productive.

As if shutting down the back-to-back national champions wasn't enough, the Hokies did so without veteran Antone Exum in the lineup. A potential All-American defensive back who tore his ACL back in January, Exum has yet to take a snap this season. The hope is that he will be ready within the next month. Without him, Foster and the Hokies have been able to maintain, if not exceed, the status quo with a deft mix of athleticism and aggressiveness.

"They threw some different things at us that they hadn't shown on film," Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron explained after the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic.

Defensive dominance is no novel theme in Blacksburg. Foster has been the defensive coordinator at Virginia Tech since 1995 and has been one of the best at his craft ever since. Nine times during that span have the Hokies ranked in the national top nine in scoring defense. Virginia Tech currently has the game's fourth-best unit in yards allowed, surrendering just 184 yards per game.         

Even without Exum, the pass defense has been extraordinary. Alabama has the nation's 117th ranked pass offense. After not throwing his first interception of 2012 until the tenth game of the season, McCarron was intercepted by the Hokies in the second quarter of week one. Virginia Tech added three more interceptions against Western Carolina, allowing just four total completions. Detrick Bonner recorded two of the picks, taking his first 77 yards for a  touchdown. Had the VT offense not scored a single point, Bonner's effort would have still been enough to win.

“I hope it’s the first of many this year,” Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer added of the defensive score. 

Led by senior linebacker Jack Tyler, the Hokies boast a defense that is simply overwhelming opponents so far this year. Their next two challenges are East Carolina and Marshall, the teams ranked second and first in Conference USA in scoring with 41.5 and 53.5 points per game. From there, Georgia Tech's triple-option, then North Carolina's tempo-spread await. 

Offense, for the Hokies, remains a question mark. Hindering progression is the fact that injuries have completely depleted the group. There is also youth at key positions. Debuting against the nation's top-ranked defense from last season obviously didn't help. Virginia Tech, Loeffler specifically, needs Thomas to settle into form. Considering the overall talent on the field, there is reason to expect growth. But how long will the process take?

While the other side of the football continues to develop, the pressure will stay on the defense to keep the Hokies in games. So far, Foster's unit is more than holding their own. What remains to be seen, however, is just how long this defense can hold on.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: / Twitter: @BJBennettSports