Virginia Tech-East Carolina Preview
By BY HANK KURZ Jr.
BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) Virginia Tech's maligned defense was so dominant in the Hokies' opener that the starters played only a half.
But that was against Appalachian State. The Mountaineers are a traditional Football Championship Subdivision power, but the Hokies are the 11th-ranked team in the country and are expected to dominate an FCS opponent.
A truer defensive test will come Saturday against pass-happy East Carolina.
The Pirates averaged 37 points last season employing a spread offense and scored 37 in their opener, moving the ball mostly with quick-hitting passes and not much time between plays.
Hokies coach Frank Beamer gave his first unit high marks after it held the Mountaineers to 61 first-half yards, but said the backups will need to keep improving this week.
"There's no question it's going to be fast and furious," Beamer said of the game in Greenville, N.C., on Saturday afternoon. "They're going to play, but they're going to get better. I thought they got better in this first ballgame from the time it started to the time it ended. There's a lot of want to and a lot of good ability. We've just got to keep going."
Defensive consistency has been a Hokies' hallmark. Coordinator Bud Foster's group led the nation in total defense in 2005 and 2006, and typically ranks among the stingiest in the country. Last season, it was 52nd, and got embarrassed by Stanford in the Orange Bowl, 40-12.
Turning that around has been a goal all summer.
Defensive end James Gayle, who registered the Hokies' lone sack against the Mountaineers, said watching film showed that the defense earned the impressive numbers against Appalachian State.
"I feel as a defensive whole we played very well, even though most of the guys only played the first half" because it was 38-0 at halftime, the sophomore said. "I feel like the short time we were out there, we played much better than we played last year. The linebackers were more efficient, the defensive line was more efficient, and the secondary was good like usual."
Pirates coach Ruffin McNeill said the defense looks the same as it always does.
"It's that typical defensive line that Tech has every year - quick and athletic," he said. "This team will have athleticism, strength and power, a typical Bud Foster defensive line."
And in the secondary, cornerback Jayron Hosley had nine interceptions last year.
"Another year, and they have another All-American at defensive back in Jayron Hosley," McNeill said. "He's one of those guys who can cover and has a chance to be a top draft choice."
Hosley and his fellow defensive backs will get tested as tacklers this week, too, because of Pirates quarterback Dominique Davis' affinity for throwing short passes, and quickly. Last week, Lance Lewis (13-108) and Justin Hardy (11-91) combined for 24 catches, three for TDs.
"This offseason I've been working at everything a corner needs to work at to become a better player, and definitely tackling is a key part of becoming a defensive player, and being a cornerback as well," Hosley said. "It's definitely going to be a challenge and I'm up for it."
The Hokies have also sped things up at practice, sometimes using two scout teams to allow the offense to reset more quickly, and giving the defense a sense of how frantic it can be.
As for Gayle, he's heard that his pass rushing specialty might not come into play as much this week because of the speed with which Davis gets rid of the ball, but he's hopeful.
"It's going to come to a point where he's not going to be able to pass it quick," he said. "If they're down, he going to have to sit in the pocket and pass. As long as we play defense like we can, we can get to the point where I'll be able to be an effective pass rusher."
Updated September 6, 2011