Not many quarterbacks can say they threw for nearly 300 yards with three touchdowns and a completion percentage over 67 percent against a Virginia Tech defense.
On Saturday, however, that’s just what Pittsburgh quarterback Tino Sunseri did. Adding on to that, Sunseri’s two second-half touchdowns came at terribly inopportune times for the Hokies and helped Pitt stage the perfect upset.
“I expect a higher standard,” Gray said. “We gave up a couple plays on that first drive, one to (Detrick) Bonner, one to Kyshoen (Jarrett) on the run play that I don’t expect those guys to give up.”
Heading into this season, it was very apparent the secondary of the defense would be sporting an entirely new look. Between the departures of Eddie Whitley and Jayron Hosley, the arrival of several new freshmen, and the shuffling of players’ positions, there was plenty of change in coach Torrian Gray’s group.
Throughout the offseason, players’ positions got changed around as the coaches tried to prepare for a unit lacking depth and experience.
Key players from last season, such as Jarrett, Antone Exum, and Bonner, all had to adapt their game to new positions.
Exum was one of the top defenders on the team last year at safety, where he became known for his hard hits and confidence on and off the field. This year, however, the coaching staff moved Exum to corner, a position Exum wasn’t all familiar with.
Bonner, meanwhile, made an unusual switch from cornerback to free safety. After seeing action in games last year while Hosley was out with an injury, many expected Bonner to step up on the outside edge as the starting corner. Gray, however, felt a change was necessary.
Jarrett has done the best at adapting to the new position of strong safety. He has laid some big hits in his new position and adjusted well. However, now he says he believes he must be more vocal.
“Even though we’re young, including myself, I could definitely step up and take charge and be more vocal for everyone else,” Jarrett said.
Tech’s offense certainly did the secondary no favors by turning the ball over four times against the Panthers, but regardless, Gray said the defense’s performance is inexcusable.
“Pitt came out and they were more physical than us. They punched, and we didn’t punch back the way we needed to,” he said. “We have to come out and be mentally sharp and more physical.”
The Hokies really had not faced a team that can air the ball out until going to Pittsburgh.
Fuller, who’s likely to be NFL-bound one day and is easily the team’s best defender, thinks the team can and will bounce back.
“We have to go even harder; we know we’re better than (we were against Pittsburgh),” Fuller said. “I like the energy the guys had coming back. It was a tough loss but you have to build on that and forget about it and move forward.”
This week’s matchup against Bowling Green allowed for more time for the secondary to regroup and get things sorted out. But, in order to have success in the long term, the team will have to adopt a “next man up” mentality.
Defensive coordinator Bud Foster acknowledges that approach and admits it caused problems for the unit on Saturday.
“If we have one injury, it’s going to be tough,” Foster said. “We just don’t have much depth back there. We’ve got a bunch of young kids that are probably — they’re not quite ready to play yet on a consistent basis that you can win with.”
But with the toughest part of the season still ahead, the secondary will have to lean on its veterans, like Exum, to get them through the thick of ACC play.
“(Last week,) we didn’t communicate well. We didn’t tackle well,” Exum said. “We played with more emotion the first two weeks. We have to get everything back on track and we will.”