Digging into the Defense

A statistical overview of Virginia Tech's defense in the first half of the season. Plus, some nuggets on insanely bad red zone scoring luck.

[Mark Umansky]

Congratulations: you have made it through half a season of watching Virginia Tech football!

Pour a cold one, hit the Hokie Pokie, whatever your celebratory inclinations, there is reason to rejoice: the hardest part of Tech's schedule is now behind them. According to ESPN's FPI, Tech is now projected to finish with 4.5 wins. Saturday's game against Wake Forest is a literal coin-flip. And outside of Louisville, there isn't a game left on the schedule that the Hokies can't reasonably win.

This means that there will be a lot of close games down the stretch, and the outcome will have less to do with talent and more with coaching, execution, and perhaps a bit of luck. It's easy to consider 2023 a throwaway year, but this six-game stretch is quite critical for Brent Pry's Hokies. If they can win five games and look competent doing so, that's considerable progress. If they win three games or less, something has gone seriously wrong.

With the season at the midway point, we have enough of a sample size to make judgements on where the strengths and weaknesses with this team lie. Today I offer some statistical insights, focusing specifically on Tech's defense.


Oddly enough, the Hokie defense is performing exactly to their preseason projections in the SP+ rankings (51st). That number has fluctuated slightly throughout the year, but we are now at the point where preseason projections — which for predictive models like SP+ carry significant weight early on — are mostly phased out, so we have a clear grasp of where the defense's true abilities lie.

There are two ways to interpret this. One is that Tech is treading water with limited talent. The other is that Tech's coaching staff isn't elevating the talent they do have. Like most things, the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Let's start in the trenches.

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