The Virginia Tech Hokies came into Thursday with the 12th-ranked run defense in the country, allowing 123 yards per game. By the end of the night, they were the 80th.
The biggest question — what happened to the strong, young Hokie defense that had been so firm against the run this season?
They allowed over triple their usual average on Thursday, with Georgia Tech rushing for 465 yards and seven touchdowns, leading to a 49–28 loss.
Georgia Tech was led by redshirt-freshman quarterback Tobias Oliver, who made his first start of the season against the Hokies. Oliver ran for 226 yards and three touchdowns on Thursday night. He capped a performance by Georgia Tech that stood as the most rushing yards allowed to a team in the Bud Foster era, and the fourth-most all time.
This was the first time since 1973 that the Hokies have allowed 40 or more points in three games and the first time since 1974 that they’ve lost by 20 or more points in two straight home games. At the end of the game, there were a lot of questions that needed answers.
It all started in the trenches. After the game, multiple players and coaches said the team had prepared to stop the fullback dive first and foremost, and Georgia Tech ended up running quarterback sweeps most of the first half, hitting the outside and creating one-on-one matchups with corners. This led to the mike linebacker, Rayshard Ashby, getting held up and stopped from moving to the ball. It did not help that there was no lack of mental mistakes, with the Hokies having multiple missed tackles, a targeting penalty and multiple face mask penalties.
This is all to say it was not a stellar day for a Bud Foster scheme that has been surprisingly disappointing this season. As was predicted, the Hokies stacked the box with safety Reggie Floyd almost playing in a linebacker role all night to help stifle the run. It may have helped even more, though, to hang Floyd on the outside to help contain the outside run once the coaches realized the Yellow Jackets were favoring the sweep. Tech could not force the Yellow Jackets to pass at all, with Oliver throwing one incomplete pass throughout the whole game.
Maybe the biggest problem, though, was that the defense and the coaches were not prepared for backup quarterback Oliver to get the start. Oliver thrashed the Hokies’ defense all night. Oliver is a bit taller and longer than TaQuon Marshall at 6-foot-2, and runs with a bit more power, as he tricked and stiff-armed multiple Hokie defenders on Thursday night.
What strikes as the most interesting, however, is that every Tech loss this season has been to a quarterback who was not the starter at the beginning of the season, with losses to ODU’s Blake LaRussa, Notre Dame’s Ian Book and now Oliver. This is also Virginia Tech’s third loss to a Georgia Tech backup quarterback. Perhaps the coaches just did not have enough film on Oliver, leading to the defense being completely unprepared; by the time adjustments had been made, it was just too late.
Not to be forgotten, however, the Hokie defense was ravaged by injuries and ejections in a physical game Thursday night. By the end of the game, the defense had lost all three of its linebackers and two of its four defensive linemen. Linebacker Dylan Rivers exited in the first quarter with an ankle sprain, followed by nose tackle Jarrod Hewitt in the second with an ankle injury as well. Whip linebacker Khalil Ladler was then ejected in the third for a targeting call. When one would think things could not get worse, outstanding mike linebacker Rayshard Ashby had to exit the game in the fourth. This was followed by an injury to defensive end Robert Porcher with only three minutes left in the game. The Hokies’ front seven were banged up more and more throughout the game, and that would only add to what was a nightmarish night.
The Hokie defense will be in for another challenge next Saturday against a top-25 rushing offense led by sophomore phenom AJ Dillon when they face Boston College. The Hokies’ defense will need to replenish and rejuvenate quickly if they don’t want the hole they are currently in to become a canyon.
If the past is any indication, though, legend Bud Foster should be able to get his unit back on track and hopefully lead Virginia Tech to a strong end in a season full of highs and lows.