A Look Back to the famed Hokie Wide Tackle Six Defense and How It Influenced The Current Hokie Scheme

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!

DISCLAIMER: Blog posts may not have been written or edited by The Key Play staff.


i saved that

pdf yrs ago. pretty cool to look back on it from time to time.


"My advice to you... is to start drinking heavily."-John Blutarsky

Damned good analysis

I remember seeing our defensive philosophy torched about ten years ago. Kudos to Foster and Co. for making the adjustments. Not every coach could do that.

Signature-free since 2012.

Never forget Aaron Rodgers literally laughing at our defense. . .

"That kid you're talking to right there, I think he played his nuts off! And you can quote me on that shit!" -Bud Foster

So what happened...

against Stanford in the OB? Did Jim Harbaugh out scheme us, did we execute poorly, or were we outmanned? Seems there were a lot of big plays in that game and during the year. Does the defensive scheme lend itself to this or did we have weaknesses in key positions? I would argue we had bad match-ups of speed vs. speed. But the biggest thing is probably the QB ability to react quickly to the pressure (a key part of the Hokie D). In the big games where we got burnt it was the opposing QB's abilities that made the difference. Aaron Rodgers, Kellen Moore, Andrew Luck all have great skills under pressure. But I don't think we put enough pressure on them either due to match ups on the front line and some weaknesses in coverage, both due to injuries. Not sure Tahj Boyd's skills are of the same caliber but he took advantage of us as well.

#Let's Go - Hokies

Simple. VT couldn't stop the run against Stanford. When the 8th man entered the box, the passing game opened up. Exactly like Clemson this year.

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN

Am I getting overconfident that we'll be able to better compete with Clemson this year based on the following assumptions:

  1. Your analysis above holding true, but with our refreshed/deep D-line being able to slow Clemon's run
  2. Clemson's new D-coordinator implementing a less pro-oriented scheme

from Clemson beat writer Greg Wallace via Andy Bitter: http://hamptonroads.com/2012/06/ask-another-teams-beat-writer-clemson

"I think one of the biggest reasons actually was Steele’s defense. It was a pro-style system and designed to work against pro-style offenses, which is precisely what the Hokies’ system is. Steele’s downfall came against spread-it-out, fast-paced systems like West Virginia’s.

Actually Clemson's D is not going to be all that different than what it was last year except that Venable is simplifying it without all the checks and stuff. It will be a 4-3. http://www.orangeandwhite.com/news/2012/jan/21/swinney-hired-venables-br.... One thing that the Hokies will have to do is be able to beat their press coverage on our receivers like what happened when D.J. Coles scored on that long TD. Hopefully Logan will have improved his accuracy to be able to make them pay for it.

Stop the run

Stopping the run is one of the basic tenants of the defensive scheme. So obviously if it doesn't work the scheme breaks down because it also means not being able to pressure the offense and the QB into poor decisions.

Is that a weakness of the scheme?

In these cases why couldn't we stop the run?

#Let's Go - Hokies

We were tiny on D in 2010. Remember getting gashed repeatedly by just about everybody we played? I remember the first half of the Stanford OB and watching one of Stanford's 300 lb guards kick out and just flatten Eddie Whitley. I saw that and knew we were in trouble.

"That kid you're talking to right there, I think he played his nuts off! And you can quote me on that shit!" -Bud Foster

But in the second Clemson game this year...

Through the first half, Andre Ellington was averaging like 1.3 yards a carry with 23 yards total. So something else broke down that lead to Clemson being able to run the ball like they did in the second half. (He finished with well over 100 yards.) A similar thing happened with the game against Miami, where LM just gashed us in the second half.

Logan 3:16

Hosely went out

He had a concussion and it hurt our secondary. After that Boyd was able to find quick check downs due to loose coverage. My thought is that the linebackers/DBs adjusted or started sitting back to provide passing support, this slowed pressure at the line, which allowed for easier running.

#Let's Go - Hokies

Yeah Hosley getting knocked out screwed the rest of the defense off. I think we played less aggressive which led to Clemson eventually winning.

Damn that's a turning point in both Clemson and VTs program recently.

Clemson started to rise after that game, and we started to fall.


Great stuff as always French. In that AFCA presentation could you explain what Wiles means for h.(Under Defensive Line: 10 Commandments) Escape: Rip or wipe, push with power, pull with trail, step 45 and rip your gap. I think I understand the step 45 because I believe I saw an example of that when Urban Meyer was analyzing our DL a few years back.

Holy thread resurrection!

I had to go back and read about the defense given how I did not understand all the roles.

^^^^This guy TKPs HARD!^^^^^

The helmets they're wearing are still my favorite VT helmets. I love the white helmet with the stripe and white facemask. Such a menacing look. We wore it again that season in our ACC Championship win against FSU.

The consistent 3 stripes on white was a good look.

Note- things I was wrong about when I started this off:

A) Backer is to the boundary. Whip is to the passing strength, which is most often to the field but (against teams like Pitt) can be to the boundary.

B) Bud resurrected many of the 8 man front concepts during the awful end of Beamer's departure. Instead of slanting as much (because his DL had a tendency to lose gap control and his backer couldn't figure out how to be in the correct place), Bud reverted back to shooting gaps. That left situations where Motu was one on one with a big athletic TE going down the seam. It wasn't ideal.

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN

TKP, where you get the analysis and the analysis of the analysis by the original analyst

"Why gobble gobble chumps asks such good questions, I will never know." - TheFifthFuller

Upvoted. I broke the 4th wall of telestration.

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN

Can we get this thread retitled - "A Look Back at a Look Back to . . ."

I was getting confused reading the comments and didn't see they were from 5 years and 12 months ago. Most would call that 6 years.

"I'm too drunk to taste this chicken" - Colonel Sanders via Ricky Bobby

I wish I could give you more legs. This post gave me a good chuckle

Onward and upward

I love that article. I have read it many times in the past.