Most people refer to the defensive tackles as the "anchors of the defense," and at a formidable 288 pounds, Luther Maddy makes one solid anchor.
Maddy, a sophomore, started seven games last season, but this year he’s started in each game the team’s played, sharing time with senior Antoine Hopkins.
“I think we’re all coming together as a unit,” Maddy said. “You know what happened last game; we really didn’t do too well, we weren’t too physical, but we’re trying to get back to the nasty defense that we’re used to.”
He’s only tallied ten tackles on the year, but make no mistake, Maddy is one of the biggest reasons for Tech’s early success defending the run. The defense held Georgia Tech to just 288 yards of total offense, making their recent poor showing against Pittsburgh seem quite surprising.
“We didn’t attack, we didn’t play fast, we didn’t believe Pitt was good enough to beat us, and we went out and coincidentally got beat,” said Charley Wiles, defensive line coach.
The Hokies allowed the Panthers to tally 254 yards on the ground alone last Saturday, and it was clear the defensive line didn’t play to its potential. While Maddy and company had previously swallowed up opposing running backs, Ray Graham and Rushel Shell ran the defensive line ragged.
“We were up and down in that game, so we’ve just got to work on consistency,” Maddy said. “We had some good snaps and bad snaps while getting to the ball, so we’ve just got to be consistent and do it every play.”
This inconsistency isn’t completely surprising given the relative youth of the interior line. Maddy’s fellow starter, Derrick Hopkins, is only a junior himself, so the effort these young players have set forth has impressed the veterans on the team.
“Everybody’s shown me maturity as far as learning the plays, but we don’t really have ‘young guys,’” Antoine Hopkins said. “Some guys are young, but most had experience last year, and if not, they were going hard on the scout team too, so everybody’s doing well.”
The elder Hopkins and Maddy have shared playing time at the position, yet Maddy has shown enough ability to earn the trust of coaches as a starter. Much like many 4-3 defenses, the rotation along the line has helped keep players fresh.
“I like it, personally,” Maddy said. “I get a chance to catch my breath and I get to go hard every play. Every two, three series, I get a break, and I like it.”
However, just because Maddy’s earned the starting spot for now, it doesn’t mean Antoine Hopkins isn’t still pushing to earn his fair share of snaps, and the competition has helped each player improve.
“It’s going pretty well,” he said. “Obviously, he’s still starting, so I haven’t done enough to start, so it’s kind of a learning stage for me.”
Both players did a good job of occupying blockers and controlling their gaps in the first two games, which are their most important roles in Bud Foster’s defense, but the Pitt game represented a real departure from their early results.
“We missed so many tackles,” Wiles said. “We had two plays in particular up front that we lost leverage on the defensive line.”
The Panthers’ offensive line did a particularly effective job of neutralizing the defensive tackles, and that was a big reason for their struggles.
“It was just kind of a stalemate, and that’s what the offensive lines want,” Derrick Hopkins said. “We were in the neutral zone, but we weren’t getting off blocks or making plays. We were just right there and the running backs ran outside of us.”
For all of their issues, the coaches emphasize that it’s impossible to put all of the blame on Maddy and the line for the defense’s poor performance.