As some of you may remember, Virginia Tech rose to prominence in the early 90's on the back of elite special teams, a grind-it-out conservative offense, a state of the art weight training program, and most significantly, on the back of a radical defensive approach that took recruits that nobody wanted and turned them loose like the dogs of war on opposing defenses.
Bud Foster called this scheme his "attack defense" but the base alignments were 8 man front's following the model of the famed Buddy Ryan 46 defense used by the Bears and Eagles in the 80's. The defense was predicated on putting 8 men in the box, and bringing a wide variety of unique blitzes to confuse and outman the offensive line, while in the secondary attempting to hide coverages and trick the defense into throwing into their quick blitz read, where a Hokie defensive back sat waiting to take the ball the other way. The entire defensive approach featured a bully mentality and a big play fervor. When things went well, a Hokie game featured numerous sacks, tackles for losses, interceptions, and the band wearing out the theme from Empire Strikes Back.
This morning, I actually stumbled across a presentation that Bud Foster made to the AFCA back in 1999. It offers some terrific insight into the Hokie mindset at that time.
I admit, I got chills when I read Charley Wiles bullet on defensive line play:
"Feet in neutral zone by the time the ball disappears into center’s crouch."
Sadly, the wide tackle six approach saw it's end as the Hokies were decimated by sophisticated passing attacks from the 2002 Gator Bowl through Aaron Rodgers legalized murder of the secondary in the 2004 Insight Bowl. Accordingly, Bud Foster abandoned the 8 man front look, and turned to the "Field Strong" formation described in the link as their base defense. While the 8 man front may be gone, the blitz pressures and coverages remain imbedded in today's Hokie D.
The "Field Strong" basically is a 4 man defensive line, two middle linebackers, and the whip linebacker playing outside as a hybrid linebacker/safety almost exclusively to the boundary side of the field. Each player in the front 7 has a certain gap responsibility, but unlike other 4-3 and 3-4 base defenses, the defenders often stunt to a gap and hold their position rather than pursuit to the ball. The wide variety of stunts are designed to make backs read holes that are not there, causing them to run right into the mike or backer who have moved across the formation to meet the back in the hole. Because of the gap fit responsibility, a tremendous amount of pressure exists for the whip and the safeties to be sure tacklers anytime the ball carrier penetrates the line. Meanwhile, the defensive linemen must be quick enough and flexible enough to slant heavily (sometimes 2 gaps) each way, which lends itself to short, stocky defensive tackles who can get to a spot then hold their gap responsibility.
Meanwhile, passing downs allow the Hokies to easily switch the whip for a nickel back. In passing situations, the Hokies use more defensive backs than the old days, but Foster's mentality hasn't changed. The "nickel" linebackers have almost no pass defense responsibility, and instead are used in a variety of blitz packages designed to outman the offensive line and force the quarterback to make quick throws, where the designed hidden coverages in the secondary await to pick off the pass.
A terrific example (which of course I cannot find a good video of) is the 2010 interception of Stephen Morris by Jayron Hosley against Miami. In an obvious passing down. The Hokies showed a blitz up front, and Jayron showed a cover 3 look by bailing out and back pedaling before the snap. Morris, who was a first time starter, had thrown quick 5-7 yard hooks against the Hokie blitz all day. Well, Hosley was disguising his true intention. With deep safety help, Hosley stopped his back pedal and planted on the snap, and he stepped in front of the quick curl and picked off the pass to seal the game. It wasn't a great "instinctual play" by Hosley, but a calculated play call and design by Foster. Hosley was excellent enough to execute the design up there with the very best ball hawk the Hokies have had.
I am ready for some football. Thanks for reading!