Coming into the college football season, Virginia Tech’s defense was considered one of the best in country and was even being compared to elite teams like Alabama.
Eight weeks into the season, Tech has disappointed as a team.
But even with an underwhelming 4-4 record, the season is far from over. If Tech either wins out or wins three of the next four, it still has a legitimate shot to make it to the ACC Championship game.
While the entire team has played below expectations, the defense has been especially disappointing. At times, the unit has looked like the defense they were expected to be, but there have also been spells where it looked like one of the worst in Tech’s recent years.
As a team — and as a defense — Tech’s worst game this season came in the 48-34 loss to North Carolina.
It was one of the worst defensive performances in the program's history against the run. They gave up 339 rushing yards to the Heels in total — the third highest in the Beamer era — while UNC back Giovani Bernard set the record for an individual with 262. They also gave up a record 48 points in ACC play.
The main issue for Tech’s defense has been the defensive line which was supposed to be a strength with six returning players from last year.
The North Carolina game was a perfect example. The defensive line was getting blown off the ball, leaving gaping holes for the North Carolina running backs. It also had just a single sack in the game.
Another area of the defense that has been a letdown is the secondary. Before the season, there were several key position changes, which have not worked out nearly as well as the coaches had hoped.
Former safety, now cornerback Antone Exum has experienced major growing pains, but it has been the entire unit that has failed to live up to expectations.
In the 27-24 loss to Cincinnati, quarterback Munchie Legaux, who is considered a very average quarterback, had 392 passing yards, including a game-winning, 39-yard touchdown pass over Kyle Fuller. Tech’s secondary was also flagged for pass interference four times over the course of the day.
Although the defense has had some pretty low points this season, it has started to look like a better unit in recent games, especially on the line of scrimmage.
In the first six weeks of the season, Tech had a total of just eight sacks. In the last two games the defensive has collected 10 sacks with Luther Maddy and James Gayle playing very well. Maddy alone has had four sacks in the last two games.
Another section of defense that has been strong this year is the linebackers. Led by senior Bruce Taylor and junior Jack Tyler, it has been the bright spot on defense. Ignoring the North Carolina and Pittsburgh games, the defense is giving up just 124 yards per game.
Although the Clemson game resulted in a loss, Tech held Clemson’s explosive offense to under 300 yards. In the game, the defense was placed in many bad situations after turnovers which resulted in so many points.
The Duke game was another example of how good the defense could be. The defense surrendered just 13 points, all of which came in the first quarter, and held Duke to field goals in crucial situations. If the defense plays that well in the remainder of the games this season the Hokies have a very good chance to win every game.
The remainder of Tech’s games this season will reveal how good this defense really is. If it can live up to expectations and continues to improve, the group could lead the Hokies to the ACC Championship. But, if it continues to play far below its potential, this could be a very long season in Blacksburg.