Before I even had the chance to ask him a question, Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster began the conversation by saying it’s been at least 20 years since he’s been through a season like this one. “We’ll be all right,” he said, “we’ll survive.”
And there began the interview.
Virginia Tech hosts Duke on Saturday in a crucial game for the Coastal Division standings. Shockingly, Duke comes to Blacksburg with a 2-0 ACC record and ahead of the Hokies in the standings. Duke is one win away from becoming bowl-eligible for the first time since 1994. Virginia Tech, the preseason division favorites, is a pedestrian 3-3. What's even more surprising than the team's struggles, though, have been the Hokies' problems on defense. Last week, Virginia Tech allowed North Carolina to score 48 points -- more than another ACC team has ever scored against the Hokies. I spoke with Foster on Thursday to get his take on the defensive struggles.
Here are the highlights of our conversation:
What’s wrong? What’s going on?
Bud Foster: I think it’s a combination of things. We’ve give up too many explosive plays. A year ago we didn’t do that. You lost a guy who’s pretty dynamic in Jayron Hosley, we lost a really good player in Eddie Whitley. Kyle Fuller has been really banged up all year. We’re just having some growing pains back there a little bit right now, just giving up too many big plays. We gave up more explosive plays last week than we did all of last year.
BF: Oh I don’t know. I can’t tell you exactly. I lost track, that’s how many it was.
So what do you do?
BF: We’re going to stay positive. Several of [these players] won 11 games and went to the Sugar Bowl last year. At the same time, there are some key spots with new faces in there. But it’s the same group that played really well against a good Georgia Tech offense. I don’t know. We’re not panicking. We’ve got to perform better. We’ve got some guys who have to play better, that’s the bottom line. We’re just working hard and staying positive. We’re not pointing fingers, we’re just trying to find ways to get better and keep going.
Considering most of the growing pains have been in the secondary, how concerning is it knowing Duke’s passing game is its strength?
BF: It is a concern. You’ve got a fifth-year senior quarterback, if he plays. The other kid, No. 7 [Anthony Boone] is a complete player who can run and pass. You’ve got the receiver who set all the records [Conner Vernon], he’s a good player. We’ve just got to go play. We’ve been inconsistent in our performance. Defensively, you can’t do that, especially with how people are spreading the field and putting athletes out in space, you have to be able to match up, and right now we’ve missed tackles, we’ve lost leverage, we’ve given up big plays on simple technique. That’s been the frustrating part from a coaching standpoint. … Everything that we’ve given up play-wise has been our fault, not the other team. Now there’s going to be some execution, don’t get me wrong, they’ve got scholarships, too, but the majority of the plays we have given up have been because of our lack of execution, whether it’s a missed tackle or poor technique.
When we talked before the season, you cautioned me and said, ‘Well, now, you guys are the ones who keep saying this is going to be a great defense.’ It was almost like you kind of knew.
BF: That’s exactly right. I’ve always told everybody, ‘Ask me at the end of the year.’ You’ve got a whole new secondary, basically. When it’s all said and done, Kyle Fuller has played very little corner for us the last two years. He’s been our nickel guy. He’s been a bit of a freelancer. You’ve got two new safeties in there. You’ve got a guy playing corner for the first time. In the limited time he’s played there I think he’s done a great job in [Antone] Exum. He had some penalties in the Cincinnati game, but I think that’s a good fit for us still. Some people who don’t know think it’s not, but I think it’s a great fit for us and for them. Obviously we’ve had some injuries, Tariq Edwards is out, so Bruce Taylor was playing a position he’s not accustomed to. Jack Tyler has played extremely well. Bruce has played solid. I don’t know if we’ve had as much production inside as I’d like to have. We’re going back to ground zero, so to speak. I told the defense we’re starting all over again. I know what we can do and what we’re capable of doing. We’ve got everything in front of us. We control our own destiny here and if we do a good job down the stretch it will be one of the better comebacks in our program’s recent history.
I know you said you expected some growing pains, but has this start for the team surprised even you?
BF: The team in a nutshell is, we’ve been good at times and not very good at times. We’ve just been inconsistent. That’s on both sides of the ball. Offensively when they played well we haven’t played well. When we played well, the offense hasn’t played well. We just haven’t put it all together. Offensively we lost our top three producing players at their positions in Danny Coale and David Wilson, four linemen, your tight end, and defensively we started out with a bang and for whatever reason, Kyle’s been nicked up, and that affects things, and then he got hurt in the Pittsburgh game, and that threw us all out of whack. We just have to get back to what got us to where we are, and that’s effort, hard work, and believing in each other. … I have high expectations every year. I’m disappointed. I haven’t looked at our stats. They’re probably horrendous. It’s not about that, it’s about getting guys better. The only stat I care about is that win-loss column, and right now we’re just OK. The bottom line is we’ve got to play better. Consistently better.