The Virginia Tech Hokies have become known over the past two decades for having great defenses led by the same man, defensive coordinator Bud Foster. Foster is arguably the best defensive coordinator in the country and has built great defenses time and time again that have impressed many of analysts across America.
The past few years, Foster’s great defenses haven’t been as great with Virginia Tech giving up their fair share of big plays. This year, things have changed significantly for the better as the Hokies have been elite in limiting big plays.
No defense has held opponents w/o an explosive play on a lower % of drives than Virginia Tech (14.3%).
— Guy On Couch (@DavidHaleESPN) October 12, 2016
That stat is quite impressive and one of the biggest reasons for the Hokies’ defensive return to the elite level has been the play of mike linebacker Andrew Motuapuaka.
For Bud Foster’s defense, having a great mike linebacker is critical as while the Hokies have had their fair share of strong defenses without a great mike linebacker, the Hokies’ defense has been at their best when having a great mike linebacker like Vince Hall.
Andrew Motuapuaka showed his youth and inexperience last season as he made some wrong decisions that turned into big plays for opposing offenses. However, Motuapuaka did show plenty of promise last season while also having a solid season overall with 73 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recovers, 4 QB hurries, 1 interception, and 3 pass breakups in what was a solid season.
There were some, mostly fans, that wondered if Sean Huelskamp or former Hokie Carson Lydon could end up pushing for or taking the starting mike linebacker job away from Motuapuaka. However, Motuapuaka knew that he needed to step up his game and in 2016, the redshirt junior out of the 757 is doing exactly that and it’s not only helping the Hokies limit the big plays but also prevent teams from gaining any offensive momentum.
So far, Motuapuaka has 49 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 3 QB hurries, 1 fumble recovery, 1 interception, and 1 pass breakup and while he may not have as big of numbers in some categories, it’s the fact that he is making the right decisions and then finishing those right decisions with tackles that is making the difference.
Andrew Motuapuaka is currently averaging 9.8 tackles per game which is second in the ACC and exactly the type of tackle production that you want from your mike linebacker. Motuapuaka is making plays all over the field while also doing a great job of making sure the Hokies are in position and ready to go to make plays. His football IQ has improved a lot as he has become more committed and Bud Foster has been able to develop him more and more.
Of course, it helps that Motuapuaka has very talented players around him with Tremaine Edmunds having a great start at the backer spot and Mook Reynolds making tons of plays in a whip-hybrid role. However, it’s quite clear that Motuapuaka has made a significant improvement from 2015 to 2016.
Motuapuaka has also developed into a better leader on defense as the Hokies seem to be well-organized even against up-tempo offenses. While getting the defense properly aligned isn’t talked about much, having it done well by defensive leaders like Motuapuaka is one of those little things that can take a defense to the next level especially at a time when no-huddle offenses make it critical to be ready to go quickly.
Virginia Tech has had some smart mike linebackers in guys like Jack Tyler and Chase Williams but the Hokies now have a mike linebacker that no longer makes plenty of good decisions but is fairly athletic and can make some plays that guys like Tyler and Williams couldn’t make due to not being as athletic as Motuapuaka.
Andrew Motuapuaka got a lot of criticism for his play last season, some of which was unnecessary and excessive from fans, but the junior mike linebacker has improved significantly and is a big reason why Bud Foster and Virginia Tech have their best defense in years.