When Western Carolina quarterback Eddie Sullivan tossed a second quarter interception to Detrick Bonner on Saturday, he awakened something in Virginia Tech’s secondary.
Bonner took the pick 37 yards down the field for a touchdown — the first time Tech has notched a defensive score since the 2010 ACC Championship Game.
While the touchdown was certainly an exciting moment during the game, it was more significant for the way it ignited a desire for big plays in a Hokies secondary that is rapidly developing into an elite unit.
“It just makes us hungrier,” said freshman cornerback Brandon Facyson. “As a secondary, we thrive on missed opportunities by the offense.”
It might seem strange that a program commonly referred to as “DB U” would need any extra motivation for its defensive backs to make plays, but it was a rough offseason for the secondary.
When senior cornerback Antone Exum tore his ACL in the offseason, many doubted that freshmen like Facyson and Kendall Fuller would be able to take his place.
“There was a lot of hype about whether we can get it done or not,” Facyson said. “We try not to listen to all the media. We try to stay away from all that and just play our game.”
After the unit totaled three interceptions on Saturday, two coming from Bonner and one from Facyson, those doubts were pretty much erased.
“I feel like we are making plays as a group already at an early stage,” Bonner said. “Our young guys are getting the idea that we can all make plays and it’s bringing them along.”
Bonner might’ve gotten all the glory for his big play, but without the assistance of some of those young players, the touchdown never would’ve happened.
“I thought it was a great play by Kendall Fuller with the tip,” Bonner said. “When the ball is in the air, I thought ‘We’ve just got to make plays,’ and that was my opportunity.”
Fuller’s pass break up that led to the touchdown was just one instance of the freshmen in the secondary making an impact.
Two weeks ago, Kendall blanketed Amari Cooper, Alabama’s most dangerous receiver, and since then, he and Facyson have developed an immediate chemistry.
“Kendall and I, we talk all the time, just trying to get the calls right,” Facyson said. “Even back in the dorms we go over our things together.”
This week’s matchup against East Carolina will put that newfound camaraderie to the test.
The Pirates run a high-tempo spread offense, and quarterback Shane Carden has thrived in it so far this season.
“I don’t think I’ve seen a more accurate guy, to be honest,” said defensive coordinator Bud Foster. “I’m just impressed where he puts the football. He puts it on the money. He doesn’t run, but he’s athletic enough to create plays and find things that aren’t there and buy time for his receivers to get open.”
Carden has thrown for seven touchdowns and 638 yards in the team’s first two games, all while completing an impressive 79.7% of his passes.
Accordingly, the secondary is preparing for quite the workout down in Greenville.
“As a defensive back, you always want those games where the quarterback throws a lot,” Facyson said. “So we go into this game licking our chops. Defensively, we’re going to make up a game plan that’s going to fit this perfectly.”
Wide receiver Justin Hardy has been Carden’s primary target so far, piling up 227 yards and a touchdown in just two games. The secondary will be keeping tabs on him as well.