The numbers this season haven’t always reflected the traditionally stingy Virginia Tech defense, but the Hokies’ final scores have.
Virginia Tech had to replace seven starters on defense heading into this season, and there were some growing pains along the way, but as the Hokies prepare to face Florida State in Saturday’s Dr Pepper ACC Championship Game in Charlotte, N.C., they do so with one of the nation’s top defenses.
Virginia Tech ranks No. 13 in the stat that matters most -- scoring defense. The Hokies are holding their opponents to 17.92 points per game. It’s a huge improvement, considering that three weeks into the season, this group was No. 82 in the country in the same category, allowing 27 points per game.
“I think we've come along,” said coach Frank Beamer. “You know, probably the consistency, and then I think maturity a little bit, making adjustments during the game because every game is not exactly the way you practice all week. I think, as the game has gone along here lately, we've been able to get better. That probably shows that we're able to adjust a little bit.”
And it’s paid off in a 10-game winning streak and the first undefeated season in ACC play since Florida State in 2000. While the Hokies defense has been in bend-but-don’t-break mode for portions of the season, it has also kept its tradition of coming up with game-changing plays in the most critical of times. The Tech defense has allowed just six fourth-quarter touchdowns this season.
Against rival Virginia last weekend, the defense held the Cavaliers on a first-and-1 at the Virginia Tech 14-yard line, earned a fourth-down sack, and held the Hoos to just 1-of-12 on third-down conversions. Against North Carolina, the Hokies allowed just 97 total yards in the second half. The Hokies had four interceptions, forced a fumble at the goal line and also came up with a fumble recovery on special teams.
Against Miami, Virginia Tech had interceptions on the Hurricanes’ final two possessions and forced three fumbles in the game. And while the Hokies allowed Georgia Tech 426 yards, Rashad Carmichael’s interception in the end zone sealed the win with eight seconds left.
“I've been impressed with how they're coming up with the play,” Beamer said. “They've gotten several turnovers the last few ball games -- been able to get some big plays out of their defense for sure.”
It's one underlying trend in the Hokies' four appearances in the championship game.