Bud Foster looks like he would be just as comfortable swinging a pickaxe in a coalmine as he is stalking the sidelines at a football game.
Accordingly, the Hokies’ rough-hewn, no-nonsense defensive coordinator has tried to impart this hardworking mentality on to Tech’s defense, and it’s produced some remarkable results over the years.
Perhaps no performance was more impressive than the way the Hokies shut down the vaunted Alabama offense in the season opener.
Now, the challenge is for the team not to lose focus against Western Carolina and avoid the pitfalls of the 2012 season.
“Last year we opened up with Georgia Tech and then we fell off the face of the planet,” Foster said. “I told our kids today that we’re punching the clock and doing it from start to finish. We just started. Will we play that way every week?”
Tech managed to hold the Crimson Tide to just 206 yards for the game, the second fewest yards the team has amassed during Nick Saban’s tenure. That’s a sign of a defense that came to play.
“The confidence is there,” said linebacker Tariq Edwards. “We just know we have to fix up some small things, maybe some major things as far as special teams. I think we’ll just go ahead and be a great team.”
Edwards was one of the most important components of the rejuvenated unit. After having a breakout season in 2011, he limped through an injury-ridden 2012 season, but recorded six tackles and two pass breakups against the Tide.
“He had to knock some rust off early,” Foster said. “But it was good to have him back out there having some production and making some plays.”
His partner in crime at linebacker, Jack Tyler, was similarly dominant in the run game. He frequently burst into Alabama’s backfield to disrupt running back T.J. Yeldon as he notched eight tackles on the day.
“(Tyler) is as instinctive as a guy we’ve had here, he’s got great vision,” Foster said. “I don’t know what he runs in the (40-yard dash), he’ll probably tell you about 4.7 (seconds) or 4.8, but he plays at about a 4.6, he just doesn’t waste steps.”
But it wasn’t just the veteran linebackers that turned out impressive performances in Atlanta. Josh Trimble also impressed coaches in his first start at outside linebacker.
“I think he played really well,” Foster said. “The Fuller kid played outstanding there for his first ball game, as well as at corner, but I was real pleased with how that group played when it was all said and done.”
Foster is referring to freshman Kendall Fuller, the game’s biggest surprise. He made an impact all over the field while playing both outside linebacker and cornerback in his first collegiate game.
“We prepared and trained and worked hard throughout camp and throughout the preseason, and it kind of showed right there in the game,” said Fuller.
Yet, the younger Fuller was hardly the only standout in the secondary. His older brother, senior cornerback Kyle, grabbed an interception and broke up two passes against the Tide.
“He had a great cover game,” Foster said. “Was he as good last year? No. But I think you see a guy working with a little bit of a chip on his shoulder and that’s only going to make him better.”
Tech’s vaunted defensive line also gave Yeldon and quarterback A.J. McCarron fits all night long.
“I just felt like our front four was always working,” Edwards said. “You could tell how those guys were working hard over the summer, I’m very proud of those guys.”