Marshall football: Virginia Tech defense expects test from Herd
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - The Virginia Tech defense, long one of the most vaunted units in college football, has returned to that perch in 2013. Coordinator Bud Foster's group is second in the Football Bowl Subdivision in passing yards allowed and total yards allowed and opponents are scoring just 16 points per game against the Hokies.
Those are numbers many felt the Hokies would put up last season. And the fact they didn't became one of the greatest motivating factors for their torrid pace this season.
The veteran-laden Tech defense faces another great challenge this Saturday when it hosts Marshall - and its scoring-happy offense - at noon on ESPNU. It's a test both sides can't wait to take.
It's not that Virginia Tech's 2012 numbers were awful. The Hokies were 18th in the FBS in total defense (333.2 yards allowed per game) and tied for 31st in scoring defense (22.8 points allowed per game). Those stats just weren't near where others felt they should be.
"At the beginning of last year, we were kind of put on a pedestal and people were saying this could be the best defense ever and we let them down," redshirt senior linebacker Jack Tyler said. "We didn't play well, didn't execute and we saw what that was like, where we weren't going to have the red carpet rolled out for us and we were going to have to achieve those goals."
Tech suffered through some un-Hokie-like games on defense last season. It gave up 35 points in a loss to Pittsburgh, 48 points in a loss to North Carolina and 38 points in a loss to Clemson. The Hokies finished last season at 7-6, their lowest win total since 1997.
So Foster and the Tech defense doubled down on their efforts entering 2013. They decided to toss away all the preseason talk, just shut up and play.
"Coach Foster instilled that in us pretty early in the season," Tyler said. "It's not just going to happen. We're going to have to work for it. People could say we could be the best defense ever and we have to just work for it and play the game and play the defense called and do our job."
It helps when a defense is stacked with veteran players, like Tech's is. In their first three games of the season, nine of the Hokies' 11 defensive starters are juniors or older. That's a lot of players with three, four or five years experience at Tech Coach Frank Beamer's disposal. With that lineup, the Hokies have allowed 190.7 yards per game and just 106.3 yards through the air.
Even in the Hokies' 35-10 loss to top-ranked Alabama, only two of the five touchdowns the Crimson Tide scored came against the defense. Alabama gained just 206 total yards.
What that veteran presence does, Beamer said, is speed up the progress of two already-talented freshmen, defensive backs Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson. Fuller already has one interception and Facyson has a team-best three.
"Those two guys are really talented kids," Beamer said. "I said after the game Saturday, they're not only very athletic, but the game makes sense to them. They've got a good feel for the game and I've been impressed with those two. I think they play at a high level, particularly being freshmen."
The Herd will bring a more balanced offensive attack into Saturday's game - its 214.67 rushing yards per game is 45 yards per game better than last season - but it's still one of the top passing teams in the FBS, 21st in the country at 312.7 yards per game. Tight end Gator Hoskins said Marshall is getting ready for a tough day.
"They believe in their secondary and like to play a lot of one-on-one," he said. "Us as a receiver unit, we just have to win the one-on-one matchup."
Marshall knows winning any matchup won't be easy, but it has the firepower to give it a try. That's what has both the Herd and the Hokies anxiously awaiting the game. Marshall's strength, its offense, faces off against Virginia Tech's strength, its defense.
"These are the fun ones," Tyler said. "You know you'll have to come to work with a little different attitude, with a different mindset, because you know you're playing the best of the best."
Marshall offensive coordinator Bill Legg agrees, saying that anyone who wouldn't be excited for this challenge shouldn't be in football. He knows Foster will bring the same type of tenacious defense he always does.
"It's fire versus fire," Legg said. "They're going to come screaming off the ball and I've told the kids, you'd better be prepared to attack the attackers. I promise you this, they're going to attack you every play."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at email@example.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.