The sophomore free safety has seen his role evolve over the course of the season as well. While coaches initially projected him as a starting safety, the team’s issues in coverage has led them to deploy him as a cornerback in nickel coverage, a change he’s continuing to adjust to.
“Covering the slot was definitely difficult,” Bonner said. “Duke has some good receivers; they know how to run their routes very well, and are good at catching it, so my challenge was to stick with them.”
The secondary was also considerably more successful in run support against the Blue Devils. Bonner in particular looked atrocious against North Carolina, but the defense rebounded to allow just 22 yards on the ground on Saturday.
“The whole game we read our keys consistently and we played really well,” Bonner said.
The technical adjustments of players like Bonner and Cole were undoubtedly significant, but it was also their improved mental toughness that helped the Hokies storm back.
“We’d been struggling a little bit, and to come out 20 points in the hole was tough, but I don’t think our attitude changed,” Cole said. “We just have to keep believing and keep going for four quarters and it’ll work out.”
Coaches agreed that the players’ poise was what stopped the early deficit from dooming the team to failure.
“I think it really says something about our players that they hung in there and kept playing,” Beamer said. “A lot of people would panic in that situation, a lot of people would start pointing fingers, but they didn’t do that.”
The team will have to maintain their momentum from the exciting win, as they travel to face Clemson this weekend, and it’s a sure thing that memories of last season’s losses to the Tigers will play a role in their motivation.
“We’re keeping it in the back of our minds that we lost to them, and that they are capable of scoring very quickly and that we have to come together as a team,” Bonner said.
Regardless of what happens in South Carolina this Saturday, it’s clear players like Cole and Bonner showed something against Duke.
“I’m so appreciative of our players; with who they are and what they are, and I think they made a great statement,” Beamer said.