There's nothing that can be done about Coale's reversed catch (I will go to my grave knowing it was a catch). Virginia Tech missed another opportunity to win a big non-conference game . Even so, last season has a lot of positives to build on starting with the defense that performed well all year despite numerous injuries and dominated Michigan in the Sugar Bowl.
Return of the Lunch Pail Defense
In 2010, the defense benefitted from 32 turnovers (8th nationally) which helped hide the flaws of a D that ranked just 52nd nationally. An elite defense doesn't depend on turnovers. The Hokies needed to do better. The return of a top defense would be the key to a successful 2011. Foster's gang responded and delivered another top ten D. Next year's team has the potential to improve on that.
James Gayle is hungry.
A look into a few defensive categories and how the 2011 VT defense ranked nationally:
|Pass Efficiency Defense||14||112.05|
|Tackles For Loss||37||6.57|
There are 19 reasons to believe Virginia Tech will have an amazing year on defense. They're the number of players returning from last year's two-deep. In 2011, 6 first year starters --Derrick Hopkins, James Gayle, JR Collins, Tariq Edwards, Kyle Fuller, and Antone Exum-- had great seasons. Starters Bruce Taylor, Antoine Hopkins, and Jeron Gouveia-Winslow return from season ending injuries. It's a testament to Bud Foster's greatness that a young defense despite losing three starters would still finish ranked 10th in the nation.
The returning defenders were very productive in 2011. The defense returns 8 out of top 10 leading tacklers on the team and the returning players accounted for 81.5% of all tackles from last year. VT returns defenders that accounted for 97.6% of the sacks and 94% of tackles for a loss last year. Returning players will need to step up on causing turnovers as players leaving accounted for nearly half of the Hokies interceptions and slightly over a third of the forced fumbles.
|Defender||Total Tackles||Tackles for Loss||Sacks||Interceptions||Forced Fumbles|
2011 defensive statistics for a few important returners. It's important to note that Bruce Taylor had 53 tackles and 5 sacks in just 8 games.
The future looks especially bright on the interior of the defensive line. The experienced and dependable Hopkins brothers return. Sophomore Derrick Hopkins was the star of the group this past season with 51 tackles and 3 sacks despite facing a double-teams for a good bit of the season. There's a lot of depth at DT, something that was severely lacking in 2011. Luther Maddy and Corey Marshall are two rising sophomores that saw significant playing time filling in for Antoine Hopkins. Fans should especially be excited about Maddy who came in as an unheralded true freshman and was able to move past more experienced players on the depth chart. Highly touted 4-star recruit Kris Harley is looking to make a name for himself after redshirting. Nigel Williams and Alston Smith are two promising defensive tackles in the 2012 recruiting class . One of the reasons the SEC keeps winning national championships is because of dominate defensive line play (Glen Dorsey, Terrance Cody, Nick Fairley) so it's especially fortunate that it looks like we have quality depth developing.
The defensive backfield is the most inexperienced group, but Torrian Gray has consistently been able to field excellent units. Virginia Tech does extremely well recruiting defensive backs due in part because of its track record of sending DBs to the NFL (Deangelo Hall, Brandon Flowers, Kam Chancellor to name a few). Safety Antone Exum and CB Kyle Fuller return, but Grey will need to replace starters FS Eddie Whitley and CB Jayron Hosley as well as top backup in Cris Hill. Exum lead the team in tackles while Kyle Fuller was the defensive MVP. Fuller was an important cog that kept the defense running smoothly last year. He filled in at Whip for G-W and Alonzo Tweedy and lead the team in tackles for loss. It will be very interesting to watch what happens with the depth chart in the spring as there is a lot of young talent on the roster including: Detrick Bonner, Kyshoen Jarrett and recently enrolled freshman Donaldven Manning. Fuller is versatile enough to play several positions.
The future of the defense is bright.